Once obscure punk pioneers Death came through Austin last Thursday, playing one of the last Red 7 shows before the venue shutters permanently on August 28. While the name of the band fit the venue’s situation to a T, Death actually play an upbeat, rocking show bolstered by guitarist Bobbie Duncan, a session player from New York who joined the group when they reformed in 2009. The rest of the group, Bobby and Dannis Hackney survived founding member, David who formed the concept for the group and wrote much of their original material.
The Detroit act rose from unknown status to international phenomenon on the strength of the documentary film, A Band Called Death one of 2012’s best rock and roll films. The movie has an Austin connection with Alamo Drafthouse distribution arm, Drafthouse Films involved. The film was released not long after Drag City Records put out unpublished Death studio recordings entitled, …For the Whole World to See.
Death are currently on tour in support of their record N.E.W. (also on Drag City). The material was largely written and arranged by Duncan. While the guitarist is responsible for creating new music the de facto bandleader is bassist and vocalist, Bobby. Dressed in a samurai warrior costume of sorts, the front man brought big smiles and positive energy to the stage at Red 7 in sharp contrast to the band’s moniker and the fact the performance was one of the last at a venue that had successfully operated for seven years before being forced to close due to rising rents.
Playing a garage-punk style unheard of before 1976 when the band formed, Death ripped through an 8-song set punctuated by an intense version of single, Politicians in My Eyes, the infamous track discovered by vinyl record collectors that began the group’s resurgence. Other highlights included Keep on Knocking. A song composed by David Hackney, the track is remarkable for the prescience of the material. It sounds like the punk music of the late 70s and early 80s that followed a half decade later.
Let the World Turn followed with an unmistakable nod to 70s metal bands complete with a drum solo by Dannis Hackney. Where Do We Go From Here??? with its muted bass intro and fast tempo turned the focus back to the proto-punk sound that makes the deceased David look like a musical visionary. He famously told his brothers to save the Death master recordings because, “…Somebody is going to come looking for these someday.”
The sold-out Red 7 audience was into the gig, forming a mosh pit in front of the stage, crowd-surfing and occasionally running onto the stage with the performers. The band closed out the show with a rocking three-song encore leaving a sweaty, satisfied morass of fans to head to the merch table to snap up a vinyl copy of their album or a T-Shirt emblazoned with their “missing man formation” logo.
It was the perfect atmosphere for a show as much about beginnings as was about endings. As one era came to a close for an Austin music venue, another was just beginning for a band called Death.
Stream the entire album N.E.W. via Vice Magazine’s exclusive preview and check it out yourself.
Keep On Knocking
Let the World Turn
State of Mind (God Is Love intro (Marvin Gaye))
You’re a Prisoner
Where Do We Go From Here???
Politicians in My Eyes
Story of the World
Can You Give Me a Thrill???