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Murder By Death

Camden Barfly, 11 January 2006

Written by Tom Howard

So here we are. After a couple of years the guys from Canada return come back with their long awaited second release Neon Bible. As a consequence a little journey to London is always good to promote their new material and the Brixton Academy has no problem in selling out tickets of their four concerts in March.

Supporting artist is Patrick Wolf who’s also coming back on the scene with a lighter, more about online funnier and probably less difficult album than his previous offerings. His was a good show, try nothing to complain about and he certainly knows how to impress the public with his vocal qualities.

Suddenly it’s nine o’clock: lights down, what is ed public screaming and from the video projectors a preacher is explaining to us God’s law. In the background an enormous neon bible illuminates in red while some other neon’s appear in front of the stage.
Keep the Car Running, The Well and the Lighthouse or Ocean of Noise, the last one much better live than on the album, are among the first to be performed before coming to their relatively old hits.

As for Arcade Fire they represent everything a big band should be: multi-instrumentalists (Régine Chassagne), violins, horns, organs, lots of different materials and a show that offers all the songs that a fan can ask. The lead vocalist Win Butler is constantly supplied by choruses, shouts or backing vocals while the rest of the band seem unable to rest and keeps moving around the stage. Well, static is definitely not the word to define them. Chaotic in their movements and epic in their anti-minimalist concept of music probably fits better for a band that concentrates on orchestrations.

A really good live show that makes you come back home and listen again to the new release if, just like me, you’ve been a little disappointed the first time you heard it. Even if I am definitely a bigger supporter of Funeral, I am beginning to think that probably in a couple of weeks I’ll be playing Neon Bible constantly on my earphones.

Barfly on a Friday night – rammed. Not as you might expect with sweaty youths, help oh no, visit an older crowd is in tow tonight for a couple of hot, new electro-ey acts – wicked.

The (definitely) sweatiest, (maybe) youngest and (for sure) the wearers of the tightest t-shirts in the room were To My Boy. Two in numbers they are, fun, energetic and exuberant also. Bands at this stage in their careers are always interesting – eager to please, healthy muscles, a certain fearlessness. Their willingness to give it their all oft supersedes any professionalism but fuck it, whipping the top floor into a frenzy is no mean feat.

My mood however, was one of confusion. There’s quite a bit going on with these see – bleepery, speedy beats, quirky vocals – and it’s a tad overwhelming on first listen. Amalgamation occurs, rawness abounds and blurring naturally follows.
This may or may not be their fault. On record (Myspace) they are crisp, tight, original and a blast. Edgy, difficult, noisy, spikey, everything you need really if electronica is to be worth a watch – I Was A Cub Scout with more of an eye for a frolic or two. If you need a reference point, that’s it.

Fujiya & Miyagi play a different fiddle. Deep, bassy, witty, cynical, cocky, patronising and… middle aged. Oh the contrast, but here it is: the night began with a flurry, a cider-blur and now, clarity. A more perfect combo of support/headliners I cannot recall.

Fujiya & Miyagi pretend to be Japanese and sing about it. They also chant there own name and in Collarbone sing about which body parts are attached to various other bodyparts: “toe-bone up the ankle bone, ankle bone up to the shin bone, shin bone up to the knee bone,” after declarations of having “to get a new pair of shoes, to kick it with her, now kick it wid you…” because of numerous broken bones thanks to tripping over his shoelaces.

In many ways they have to be heard to be believed. It’s clever, it’s funny, and it’s also so very danceable. There’s a proper bassy, krautrock undertone to the tunes, which are short, sweet and riddled with various “uh, uh’s” and diversions into French.
“You’re off your, you’re off your, you’re off your bleedin’ rocker” they speak/sing at you. Street-speak yes, but smarter than The Streets. Non-aggressive thirty to forty year olds providing a wave of sound upon which to ride, laugh and think. What else do you need?

Murder By Death ooze hard-man, viagra order tattooed, more about cowboy charm. They’re not as dirty as I’d imagined (although it’s pretty dark, hospital and after being in the Barfly for an hour or so, everybody’s dirty) but the three dudes are every bit as manly. They look exactly like cigarette and alcohol ravaged young men should – beards, sideburns, check shirts, earrings, all the gear.

They hail from Indiana and, I imagine, are hard drinking under-achievers. They don’t give a shit, of course, because they’re pissed, hopefully, but they’ve two albums out already in the U.S see, while their pending third long-player, In Bocca Al Lupo, will be the first on general release in England from March.

Three albums right, that’s like six years of hard toil with very little international reward, which, on this performance, is gob-smacking. Their sound is immense. The gents play the drums and geetars whilst petite female Sarah Balliet’s attractive hacking at her cello makes up a whisky-drenched, wild west sound pounding below the impressively lithe Adam Turla’s tales of jail break, lost love, alien invasions and the apocalypse. Indiana, it seems, gives one plenty of time to ponder.

I was cynical at first, big time, because there’s a real Johnny Cash-ness to Turla’s voice. “Deliberate, surely” – was my initial reaction. “These blood-sucking bastards are milking the world-weary Americana vibe,” was the immediate follow-up. But I think perhaps I’ll put aside my barbaric loyalty after this live show. His voice is monstrous and true and after all, MBD are all about the loyalty. To friends, family, fans, anyone on a wavelength: “I know there’s better brothers/but you’re the only one that’s mine,” they boom on new single Brother. Their craft is in storytelling, and they create blood-smattered, sweaty, sand-worn-boots-in-a-saloon-bar yarns. Clint Eastwood wouldn’t be out of place in the crowd; The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is on repeat on the tour bus.

This, of course, is probably bullshit. Clint Eastwood, believe it or not, isn’t actually a cowboy, but when it matters, you trust him. Perhaps MBD drink Smirnoff Ice and watch romantic comedies, but the point is, like the greats, like Cash, Dylan and Waits, they tell stories that are believable. Yes I can believe that Turla’s brother was in jail, why the hell not? Crucially as well, they have a sensitive side. Carefully weaved throughout their songs are echoes of sadness in love. Turla’s mid-gig me-and-my-guitar performance of Shiola was warming indeed. The honesty of the lyric “She is plain/but she is mine,” would’ve made Cash proud. I’m being hasty and presumptuous lumping them in with perhaps the three greatest of all song-writers, but they are of similar ilk, and it’s a damn


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