Live: …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead
The Ruby Lounge
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead have a reputation (and ominous band name) that precedes them. They break shit and anyone attending a gig of theirs, whether knowingly or not, is bound in an unspoken contract that acknowledges this fact. White trainers and smart phones may not leave in the pristine condition in which they arrived. Trail of Dead don’t mean to cause any harm, but when they fly off the handle, collateral damage is part of the deal.
Frontman Conrad Keely begins with an apology for their previous appearance in Manchester at Deaf Institute. “We’ve got violent memories here in Manchester. I’d like to apologise for our last gig at Deaf Institute. Things got… out of hand.” A half-hearted sentiment perhaps—are they really sorry? “Tonight, we’ll play until the instruments explode.” I guess not then.
Making no more bones about it, Keely launches into ‘Ode to Isis’ and ‘A Million Random Digits’, two muscular tracks from their reliably heavy new album IX. The crowd don’t totally warm up until the opening chords of ‘Totally Natural’, for which they go Totally Fucking Ape. Soon the air feels like vapour and that annoying pillar in the middle of Ruby Lounge has become a tool for refuge from the moshpit (and a place to lean).
The crowning centrepiece of the pit is a shirtless man with hair down to his waist, windmilling his locks in a three-metre radius about him. Elsewhere, a woman heroically crowdsurfs to the bar to order a beer, while on stage Keely mercilessly destroys at least three guitars. This gig has hit its stride. Then, an impossibly perfect moment midway through the thunderous ‘Homage’: someone starts blowing bubbles in the centre of the moshpit. A dozen delicate little balls of light drift into the airspace, floating above an anarchic mass of flailing arms and contorting bodies. I can think of no better visual snapshot of Trail of Dead’s music: glints of beauty emanating from a fury of chaotic noise.
The band’s current tour appears to be about bringing the chaos back to their live shows, which means a simple, exhilarating formula of build-up/freak out/repeat, but the craftsmanship on show in classics such as ‘How Near, How Far’ and ‘Claire de Lune’ is a reminder that Trail of Dead are about so much more than the volume. I’m normally loathe to giving too much credence to the snobs over at Pitchfork Media, but the notoriously rare ‘10.0’ rating they gave to Source Tags & Codes in 2002 speaks for itself.
After nine albums and 14 years of bad behaviour, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead have become a cult unto themselves. I’m a member, and you should be too. Just don’t jump ship when it gets a little loud.