Is there a more fitting show location for Indiana’s Murder by Death ("MBD") than the Arizona Desert? MBD acclimates perfectly amongst the hot, dry, dusty landscape because their music sounds like an amalgamation of ghost towns, drunks, and the devil…when he went down to Georgia. Phoenix’s young venue, Crescent Ballroom was bathed in red and black as MBD ripped through an hour and a half set filled with songs from all five (soon to be six) albums.
Long-time fans were treated to a few rare tunes off their first album, Like the Exorcist, But More Breakdancing as well as songs (“I Came Around,” “Go to the Light”) from their upcoming album, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon. And of course, no MBD show would be complete without fans dressed in their MBD long johns, a pink sash-wearing propane tank who shares the same name as the lead singer of Aerosmith, showers of sparks courtesy of the band’s talented utility man Scott Brackett (ex-Okkervil River), Adam Turla’s whiskey-soaked voice ("This song’s about a wake for an asshole."), and Sarah Balliet’s haunting cello, which ultimately sets the band apart from their alt-country counterparts. Everyone in attendance seemed to enjoy the show, and for good reason; a good chunk of MBD’s catalogue consisted of drinking songs (Kentucky Bourbon). The Phoenix crowd seemed especially hot for MBD’s mashup of “Walk the Line”/”Radar Love” (yes, Golden Earring’s one-hit-wonder). MBD were joined by tour-mates Ha Ha Tonka (as well as everyone in the crowd) for the sing-along finale, and rarity, "The Devil Drives."
MBD has frequented Phoenix a handful of times in the past, and this show was a glaring statement in how far the popularity of the band has risen. Case in point, when they played with Metal Hearts at The Brickhouse (RIP) in 2006, the crowd was sparse and far less feisty. Even band front-man, Turla, said it (The Crescent Ballroom) was their best show in the valley of the sun. Something’s brewing; the band was able to raise over $180k on their recent Kickstarter page in support of their new album. Not bad for a band who played for drinks in front of mostly hardcore and screamo kids when they were on Eyeball Records. One has to wonder if success and larger venues will hinder the saloon-like undertones of MBD’s music, so the best advice that this reviewer can give is to witness them sooner than later. If you’re a fan of Johnny Cash, Voltaire, Cursive, or miss the dust bowl-inspired HBO show, Carnivàle, you should enjoy MBD’s 10-year (slightly cirrhosed) body of work.