Live Review: Death From Above

What a real rock concert should be like

Justin Scott // managing editor

Canadian rock duo Death From Above doesn’t make sense. How bandmates Sebastien Grainger and Jesse F. Keeler can summon so much volume and energy from a bass guitar, drum kit, keyboard and microphone defies most conceivable notions of music and incites controlled chaos amongst those listening. This was on full display when the two returned to Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom on Nov. 21 to bring their signature sound to the storied venue. Although the group has seen their style evolve over the years, from the moment they took the stage they showed that Death From Above is still made up of two undeniable masters of noise.

Breaking onto the scene with 2004’s unforgettable You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, Death From Above 1979 – as they were known then, having since dropped “1979” – immediately carved out their own niche in the music world and garnered a devoted following. Their debut studio record was full of punk angst and sounds, but had an electronic feel and rhythm to it that allowed them to traverse genres and set themselves apart.

Photo: Justin Scott

However, after years of non-stop touring, they burnt themselves out and by 2006 the duo was no more.

Flash forward to present day and they’re touring their second record in the past six years. 2011’s Physical World was good, but it had the same tentativeness one would have if they went on a first date with an ex from five years before. On the other hand, 2017’s Outrage! Is Now exhibits a band that is back together and making the music they want to.

Outrage! is Now’s intro track, “Nomad”, set the tone right off the bat. Death From Above was going to be as loud as ever, but decidedly more rock n roll than dance-punk. It didn’t take long though, for Grainger and Keeler to play the face-melting “Turn it Out” from You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine. The crowd lost all control as bodies flew and sweat and drinks coated the floor.

Throughout the evening they played tracks from all three of their albums, including “Blood on our Hands”, “Little Girl”, “Trainwreck 1979” and “Outrage! Is Now”. They then ended their encore with “Pull Out”, playing it “as fast and hard,” as they could.

Photo: Justin Scott

Grainger was playful with the audience throughout the performance, as if to give himself and those in attendance a break between songs. When they started “Freeze Me”, a radio-ready single off their latest album, the group’s sampler malfunctioned and cut the piano out. Unfazed Grainger turned the moment into a memorable one for those in attendance. “Let’s pretend that didn’t happen,” he said. But also, let’s use that as a bonding experience,” he continued, charming the crowd, “We’ll remember this as the time the band was playing their hit song and the computer broke four bars in, and they had to start again.”

The concert didn’t disappoint. Although the band’s sound has evolved, it hasn’t lost its appeal. While newer tracks have been written to sound fuller, they’re still amped up to max volume, and older tracks like “Black History Month” still sound as good as they did over a decade ago. Death From Above’ show wasn’t just a good performance, it reminded people what a rock show should be.

Photo: Justin Scott
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