People go to concerts to experience and come face to face with art. More importantly, people go to concerts to feel something, whether seeking common ground, sadness, rage, or joy. It is becoming more and more of a rare thing to go see a band and leave the venue being overwhelmed with a range of emotions so robust that it is difficult to relax and go to sleep. Dead Sara, it is a pleasure to meet you.
Not since the Gaslight Anthem in 2007 has a relatively new rock band emerged with such a gargantuan level of musicianship, songwriting, and stage presence. Hailing from Los Angeles, CA, the female-fronted Dead Sara has been touring in support of their latest record Pleasure To Meet You.
Their tour stop in Baltimore, MD on November 8th, 2015 was nothing less than spectacular. The Ottobar, quite frankly the best place to see a band in Baltimore, is extremely small. It has the same vibe and feel that I remember from CBGB in New York when it existed, though the restrooms are much cleaner. The venue itself will only hold a couple hundred people – if that much. Dead Sara took the stage and played this dive as if it was Madison Square Garden. They have something to prove, and they are doing it one show at a time.
The set opened with the somber “Sorry For it All.” It is a track that begins as something beautiful and quiet, but builds into a crescendo that is comparable to a strong undertow building into a large wave that crashes to the shore with intense force. It was a perfect way to warm up the ears of the audience before trouncing into “Test On My Patience,” “LA City Slum,” and beyond.
Front-woman Emily Armstrong is a truly unique talent. Her voice can go from Jewel to Janis Joplin at the snap of a finger. It is a rare occurrence to see a vocalist in rock music with that wide of a range. One minute audiences are hearing a sweet songbird, and the next a tsunami of emotional chaos that can send shivers up the spine of even the coldest individual. It’s truly something special when the microphone is in her hand.
The band was in particularly high spirits, playfully bantering with the audience and each other while they dealt with sporadic technical difficulties, once even launching into an improvised “Sweet Home Alabama” to fill in the gaps. It is evident that the band (Emily Armstrong, Siouxsie Medley, Sean Friday, Chris Null) enjoys what they do and enjoys playing together.
Their set contained a balanced mix of their self-titled debut album as well as Pleasure To Meet You. Particular highlights included the radio-friendly “Something Good,” which is not only just an insanely great song, but a huge step in developing and growing their own musical style and songwriting. When a band gets to a point they can thrash punk rock like Nirvana one minute and then deliver harmony like the Black Crowes the next, then it is apparent there are a wide array of musical possibilities for their future. When every song has its own feel and style as Dead Sara does, then they have opened up so many roads to take going forward by not limiting themselves to one sound. That is what Pearl Jam did and it seems to have worked out pretty well for them.
The audience was treated to the truly west-coast sounding punk gem “Radio One Two,” then caught completely off guard when the first chords of “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine rattled the floors of the Ottobar. Lead guitarist Siouxsie Medley absolutely nailed the Tom Morello-penned guitar solo followed by everyone in the building chanting the famous lyrics F**k you I won’t do what you tell me.
Medley has positioned herself as one of rock’s up and coming guitar icons. There have been many critics and fans alike in the past that have said ‘girls can’t play.’ For those of that opinion, exhibit A demonstrating how untrue that statement is would be Siouxsie Medley. From her we see the creativity of greats such as Tom Morello with the showmanship and stage presence of someone like Mike McCready.
As Dead Sara’s set progressed into its closer, “Weatherman” which was extended into an almost eight-minute celebration of rock n’ roll, it was solidified in this writer’s opinion that Dead Sara is for real. Stellar musicianship from drummer Sean Friday, who is a rare drummer that has the ability to combine raw power with finesse, and bassist Chris Null who drives the entire machine proved to be the catalyst and the spark of the fire that is this band’s music.
Dead Sara has a bright future ahead of them. As they complete this tour and continue work on their third full-length LP, it would be a good idea for rock fans to familiarize themselves with this band. Many say that rock is dead. That isn’t true. It just isn’t mainstream at the moment. The mainstream is like a pulse and sometimes rock music taps into that. Sometimes it goes years and it doesn’t. Regardless of that, there are a vast number of people that would rather hear a band like Dead Sara belt out their hearts and souls in a club than go to a massive stadium and hear a pop star deliver a product. Dead Sara’s appearance in Baltimore, though at a small club on a Sunday night in November, did a great deal to keep the fire of rock n’ roll burning that was lit so many years ago for those that were fortunate enough to witness it.
The set list was as follows:
Sorry For it All
Test on My Patience
Lemon Scent/Dazed & Confused
LA City Slum
Face to Face
Radio One Two
Killing In the Name/Freedom