Disclaimer: I was really looking forward to this show when I purchased the $17 ticket. Yes, the price was a bit steep, but Trail of Dead is an indie rock legend and Surfer Blood, though new to the scene (they just released their freshman album, Astro Coast), received positive reviews from that powerhouse of indie propaganda, Pitchfork.
The Loft is a fairly classy mid-size venue in downtown Lansing. I can't tell you about the drink prices, but earplugs were fifty cents (a steal compared to most). The clientele was your typical hipster crowd and only about two thirds of the attendees seemed truly interested in the bands.
The opener was Dallas, TX band True Widow. Their sound was solid 90s grunge fare; lots of low, growly distortion, a tempo that never strayed far from comfortable and a solid, slow-moving bass line. Nothing new or exciting, but definitely enjoyable for anyone who's ever seriously sported some baggy, ripped jeans. They didn't garner a lot of attention from the sparse (at that point) crowd, but the overall vibes were positive.
Next up, Surfer Blood. Their music, Beach Boys reincarnated into energetic indie rock form, is fun, playful and upbeat. I expected an exciting set from these guys. Maybe these expectations were too high, but the band, at least in my opinion, didn't come close to fulfilling them. Instead, it sounded like they were playing their album. If I wanted to hear their album, I would listen to their album. A live show should be more than just the studio sound. For goodness's sake, shouldn't their feet leave the ground at least once?! The "stage antics" they did use seemed forced and expected. My impression was that they knew what a good show was and were trying to emulate that with, as you might guess, forced and somewhat trite results. However, they were not without their fans! Two girls stood right up under John Paul Pitts's (the lead singer/guitarist) nose, singing along with every word that came out of his mouth. Usually I would admire that, but not when it's accompanied by the manic, girly freakouts more commonly witnessed at Beatles concerts. To sum, I was underwhelmed.
But Trail of Dead saved the day! These guys are rock 'n roll pros and it showed. They've been around for sixteen years, though their first (and best reviewed) full-length album, Source Tags and Codes was released in 2002. This record has been one of my top plays since I first heard it junior year of high school, though mone of their music since then has really done it for me. However, that album alone was reason enough to attend this show. Plus, I heard they gave a completely insane live experience. Well, it may not have been insane, but it was definitely chaotic! The two guitarists and drummer took turns playing each other's instruments, the lead guitarist strummed so hard I thought his pick would break and spit and profanities flew everywhere. Surprisingly, they chose to play three songs from Codes ("Homage," "How Near How Far" and "Another Morning Stoner"), a decision loudly welcomed by the most inebriated members of the crowd. Even in a live setting, it was obvious how much better, more concise, energetic and tightly-wound, these three songs are compared to their newer material. However, they were selling the whole package and I absolutely bought it.
Though no set is without its flaws, the only one I found in ToD's was the young, hopped-up-on-something teenage metalhead in the front. Fellow concert-goers gave him a wide berth, the roadie shot him more than one dirty look and the lead singer shot some very confused looks over his head at the crowd. Most of the time I would accept kids like this as part of the experience; you get all kinds. However, no one wants to be around a flailing kid too zoned out to be aware of his surroundings.
So. Trail of Dead rocked, but the show was not worth $17.
Coming soon: a recap of the May 11 tUnE-yArDs show and a new popular music podcast!