Monday night rock and roll shows are always unpredictable when it comes to turnout, but Murder By Death can pack a room. And that they did at Rough Trade in Brooklyn on April 18th, selling the place out and filling it with their diverse and dedicated fans. Punk rockers, granola heads, and everyone in between showed up for the Indiana five-some, singing along passionately to every song, new and old. It was the old stuff, though, that seemed to be the focus of the night, and the audience loved every minute of it. Playing songs from their early days as a band, despite releasing a stellar new record, Big Dark Love, just last year, the band covered nearly their entire 15-year career.
It wouldn’t be a Murder By Death show if it wasn’t loud, and the band brought their signature volume and depth to the space. Unfortunately, the sound was off, with each instrument so turned up, it was like they were in a competition to outdo each other. And font man Adam Turla’s incredibly rich, deep tones were often drowned out. None of this seemed to be the fault of the band, though, as the speakers at Rough Trade sounded like they’d been blown out. Still, the band did their best, not allowing the sound quality to plague their performance and having a ball on what was one of the last nights of their tour.
Songs like “I Came Around”, “Ball & Chain”, “White Noise” and “Lost River” capture MBD’s signature quirky darkness. There is a fantasy element to many of their songs (not unlike The Decemberists), and they bring their own wacky brand of theatricality to folk-rock tunes. Sarah Balliet’s cello is often the star of the show, and due to its cranked up volume, it could have been mistaken for a horn. And her ability to switch between playing it to the tune of sweeping, romantic strings, to plucking the daylights out of it like an upright bass was astounding and mesmerizing, particularly when the band broke out into “Brother”. She later switched over to the keyboard and lit up the stage from there, too.
The setlist was hefty and included “Ghost Fields”, “Send Me Home”, “Foxglove”, “Solitary One”, “Dream in Red”, and the deep cut “Pizza Party”. A MBD show feels like being surrounded by friends, singing along together in a beer hall, some in perfect harmony and some blissfully out of tune. The crowd would not rest until the band came out for their encore, playing what Turla called “two bruisers”, which included “Sometimes the Line Walks You” and which closed the show on the same electrifying note with which it began.