Cowboy noiseniks smash London to itty-bitty pieces...
It would be so very easy to sneer at Trail Of Dead. They’re a
bunch of Dungeons & Dragons-playing nerds who sing about art and opera,
sneaking poncey words like ‘diatonically’ into their high-brow lo-fi songs.
Main guitarist/vocalist Conrad Keeley has a slight overbite, an elfin
face and a penchant for sketching scenes right out of Conan The
Barbarian in their album artwork. He’s even writing a fantasy book,
ferchrissakes. But you have to admit, he and his fellows rain down guitar
blows more deadly than any number of 100-sided dice.
Entering to ‘Ode To Isis’, an overture of strings and Valkyries,
the band offer an epic show from the off. They smash into the angular twists
of ‘Will You Smile Again?’, the post-rock rhapsody that sets the tone
of their new album ‘Worlds Apart’. Then it’s straight into the
bombastic ‘It Was There (That I Saw You)’ with barely even a pause
for breath. Now with six members where there were originally four, the sheer
brute force of sound is carnage. Chunky Jason Reece is joined by
second drummer Doni Schroader, resulting in a synchronised beefcake
ballet. Better still, the extra musicians give Conrad and
Jason the chance to really act like showmen.
“It’s good to be back in London,” babbles Conrad,
sincerely. After all, this is the city that gave him his first set of
bagpipes way back in 2001. He even remembers which songs they played last
time they were here. Geek.
Despite such nerdy inclinations, TODtend to be less self-conscious
and more conscious these days. Poptastic recent single ‘Worlds Apart’
(noticeably absent tonight) cusses a self-obsessed America. See, TOD
make commercial, major-label rock that – crucially – has brains.
Their fans appreciate it, too. While the band’s name implies that their
very presence will be marked by an orderly queue of corpses outside the
Electric Ballroom, tonight, as usual, TOD attract a crowd who
are anything but lifeless. This audience came to see guitars and vocal
chords torn to shreds and that’s exactly what they get. To show their
thanks, fists punch the air, limbs flail, testosterone is spent; the whole
crowd surges as one. The onstage bombast never lets up, not ever.
Danny oozes sex appeal, the first Dead boy to do so, as he winds
lewdly around those basslines. Conrad and Jason swap between
guitar and drum duties again and again. Guitars reach the end of nearly
every song out of tune, or, worse still, smashed in half by Jason
midway through. Are they really able to do this every night? With new, improved showmanship to match their craftsmanship and the added
aural assault of extra members, Trail Of Dead have finally met their
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swollen ambitions. Their boundless energy and melodic hardcore dirge is
utterly compelling, more sonic death than Sonic Youth. Conrad
bashes out the black’n’blues guitar riff to ‘Richter Scale Madness’
with a mic in one hand, the very air trembling around us. This is a band
whose allure is primal, as loud as a temper tantrum. They can easily be
heard as far away as native Texas – and perhaps even in Conrad’s
fantasy land, too.