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Wrong Music for the Night

SHOW #40: Murder by Death with Ha Ha Tonka and The 4 On The Floor at The Bluebird on 8/16/12

I hadn’t expected to go to this show, in fact I was thinking that I might take the week off. Then I won tickets and, well, I can’t turn down free tickets when I’m on this quest. So I went to the show almost completely blind. I’d never heard anything by the headliner or the first opener but oddly enough I’d seen the second opener a few months back when they opened for Langhorne Slim. Unfortunately for me and my girlfriend, who was in attendance too, there was a lot of tired from (for me at least) a few too many late nights battling the triads. Because of said tired this review may have been compromised. So, you know, you’ve been warned.

The 4 On The Floor

As is somewhat standard at The Bluebird the instruments were too loud for The 4 On The Floor’s set. I’m not sure that they lyrics mattered all that much but it would have been nice to hear them. The reason I say I’m not sure thy lyrics mattered is because these guys were rocking out exceptionally well. They had this great blues influenced rock that felt very southern despite the fact that they hail from Minnesota. The guitar work was energetic and soulful and the drums had just the right groove to them.

Perhaps the highlight of their set was the lead singer. He is probably the only person I’ve ever seen perform that sings with his hands. They were all over the place, gesturing to the audience, pointing to the sky, indicating where his heart is. The gestures were big and sweeping and, to me, highly entertaining. Though I may have found them entertaining in unintended ways. Which is to say that I found them funny and I don’t think they were necessarily supposed to be funny. Even when he was playing his guitar and thus unable to sing with his hands he still managed to wring a ton of emotion out of his face and body language. Really this is one of the most emotive singers I have ever seen. Perhaps a little too emotive as it all seemed a little over the top.

Still this was a pretty decent band who I’d probably like to hear in recorded form at some point so I can see what words went with all those gestures. I also wouldn’t be opposed to seeing them again, maybe in a smaller setting with better sound, because musically I really did like what they were doing because I’m a blues man at heart.

Ha Ha Tonka

Everything I said about Ha Ha Tonka before still holds true. They were still a ridiculous amount of fun to watch. They were still creating great harmonies. They still had way too much in the drum department. I honestly feel that this band would be greatly served by a simplification or reduction in their percussion. A smaller drum set, maybe some more creative percussion away from the drums like the Lumineers do. Because there is so much good in their voices that burying them beneath a cacophony of drums just seems like a waste.

Now, I would never suggest ditching the drummer because he fits in with the group and he adds to the vocal harmonies they create I really just feel like it needs to be lessened. If they would just focus more on the strings and the words they would be so much better. Of course there is a high probability that this is entirely my own bias because I hate excessive drums.

All my drum ranting aside you should still make a point of checking these guys out because they have so much energy and they create this infectious, fun atmosphere that will lift your spirits and get you moving. They are having so much fun in what they are doing that you can’t help but join in. So do. Do join in. Go see these guys. You’ll have a hell of a good time.

Murder by Death

I had no idea what to expect going in to Murder by Death, aside from an intriguing band name. I had a friend tell me that they were very good and that the lead singer sounded like Johnny Cash. They were also describe to me as Alt-Country with a Cello. These are all good signs. These are all things that I like. Perhaps I got my hopes up too high.

Full disclosure, I did not stay for Murder by Death’s entire set. So I feel like I can’t really judge them. I’m not going to say that they are bad because I’m almost certainly missing a lot of the information required to make such an assessment. However I will say that on this night this was not the right music for me to be listening to. In the half hour that I saw everything felt very one note and that note was slow and dour. There was some angst there, and while I’m not opposed to a little angst in my music there was just too much for me. Also the slow sad sound sort of piled on top of my sleep wanting mind and created this friendly little cocoon in which I wanted to curl up and pass out.

Another issue I had with their set was the sound, though in this case it wasn’t the drums, at least not exclusively, everything that wasn’t the cello was loud. So the cello was essentially inaudible which removed a layer from their music that I was very much looking forward too. You can’t really blame the band for that though. A bad sound mix is a bad sound mix and The Bluebird is famous for those.

In the end, despite the affect my lack of sleep had on my experience I don’t know if I would see Murder by Death again, they just aren’t my thing. It was just too much slow, too much rock, and too much dour for me. There were plenty of people there who love them though and maybe you, dear reader, will be one of those people.

It’s actually kind of frustrating that there is a ton of acoustic stuff out there by this band that I love like this:

But their performance was much more along these lines. It could have been a much better show:


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