…And You Will Know Us by The Trail Of Dead Concert Review

By Garth Brody

As “…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead” exploded into their set this Monday night at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston with “Isis Unveiled” – the single off their most recent album, “The Century of Self” – more than a few hands rose up to cover unprepared ears.

Trail Of Dead (as they are known by those who do not care to drop ten words on a band name) played very hard. They played so hard, in fact, that during every song, a roadie silently tuned the guitars from the previous song. Let that sink in.

Over the course of a single song, vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Conrad Keely’s guitar took such an intolerable thrashing that it was unplayable for the next song. That’s dedication. Because when you play the kind of complex and subtle compositions that Trail Of Dead play, it takes a certain dedication to the live aesthetic of punk rock to play as hard, loud, and fast as they did. The noise was unrelenting, the energy was high, and their music somehow lost none of its depth in all that sound.

Trail Of Dead is a six-piece art/indie/noise/hard rock outfit currently comprised of Jason Reece, Conrad Keely, Kevin Allen, Jay Leo Phillips, Aaron Ford, and Clay Morris.

They released two albums, in 1998 and 1999 to a warm critical response, but it wasn’t until their 2002 major-label debut “Source Tags & Codes” that they garnered generally glowing reviews, including a rare 10/10 from Pitchfork Media, and achieved relative commercial success, reaching no. 73 on the UK Album Chart.

Three releases later, they are still performing regularly and making earth-shattering rock albums, now under their own label, Richter Scale Records.

The first opening act Monday night, “Midnight Mass,” were tight but boring, much like their pants, even with some help from Trail Of Dead’s Jason Reece and later on, Conrad Keely.

“Midnight Mass” was followed by “The Secret Machines,” who had much more to offer in terms of musicality and personality. Much of their personality came from the bassist and singer, Brandon Curtis, whose unique vocal style fell somewhere in between Rob Halford and Gene Ween. With artfully crafted space rock ballads, they set the stage perfectly for Trail Of Dead’s sonic supernova.

When asked to describe their sound, vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Jason Reece said, “It’s like taking an old Chevy pick-up that is rusting and falling apart, and driving on I-10 in Texas, and encountering extraterrestrial life and unidentified flying objects … that feeling of being in awe of something you can’t really explain.”

It isn’t until one hears them perform live that the Chevy crashes headlong into the UFO. Both Jason’s and Conrad’s vocals raged and strained as though they were holding on for dear life against the raw power of the instrumental onslaught.

The inventively primal arrangements lent a sense of timelessness to the group’s dynamic, which makes describing them without invoking geological phenomena a challenge.

The avalanche force of Trail Of Dead came primarily from their directed use of noise; the guitars towered with heavy distortion and feedback, the two-drummer set-up blasted overlapping rhythms, while the bass and keys filled out the sound with driving harmony.

They reveled in the noise, playing extended instrumental sections as they moved wildly and violently about the stage – particularly bassist Jay Phillips, who stomped around like a T-Rex at the more frenzied moments.

The show felt loose and even playful (in spite of the weight and intensity of the music) with band members jumping on and off each other’s instrument’s, swapping guitars for keys, tripling up on vocals or sharing cymbals. At one point, all the members of “Midnight Mass” hopped back on stage for crowd vocals. Conrad even made a few jokes between songs, including one where he threatened to play “some acoustic, Fleet Foxes type stuff.”

The looseness, the loudness, the anger – Trail Of Dead delivered bountifully on everything good about rock music. Exceptional songwriting and musicianship backed up a rousing sense of rebellion that reached its pinnacle at the very end of their encore, when Jason rose from behind the drum kit and slowly approached the microphone, as though he wasn’t supposed to. As the song built to its climax, he began to rhythmically chant, then shout, “Fuck you!” over and over, until the noise washed away and his last call closed the set.

Garth Brody can be reached [email protected]