Murder By Death and Ha Ha Tonka at Tractor Tavern 8/10Posted by Adam Barnett
My first impression of Murder By Death circa Red of Tooth and Claw’s 2008 release: “Frontman Adam Turla’s voice is pretty f*cking deep.” It still catches me off-guard because it’s not that noticeable after a while. But that’s because his vocals fit so perfectly with the band’s alt-country tendencies, and that’s just part of its appeal.
Formed in Bloomington, IN in the early aughts, the quintet has managed to cram everything from whiskey-craving bar songs to dark, scream-your-freaking-head-off surprises (like the one at the end of this song) into five albums. The sixth, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon is due out on September 26 on Bloodshot Records. To support it, the band is currently on tour with an August 10 stop in Seattle at Tractor Tavern.
Murder By Death shows get rowdy. When you combine drunk people with songs about drinking (among other things) performed by a band that is probably also drinking, the result is utter chaos, sweat and fun times. Upon seeing the band a couple years back, my face saw someone’s elbow. But it didn’t matter because it proved the authenticity of the music to me. It doesn’t make sense to attend a Murder By Death concert and listen from up against the wall; this is roots-inspired rock meant to get listeners down and dirty. Also, don’t be fooled by the warm and soothing strings of cellist Sarah Balliet, because she can and will go all Ugly Organ on you.
St. Louis-based labelmates and openers Ha Ha Tonka further emphasize the evening’s theme of Middle Americana. With three albums under its belt, the most recent being 2011’s Death of a Decade, the band has proven itself far more capable than its undeservedly acclaimed, boring pseudo-pop bands the kids seem to love these days. Harmonies are indeed present, but there’s depth to Ha Ha Tonka, a subtle honesty that goes beyond making “listenable” albums. Though, it’s not an overbearing honesty embodied in slow, boring music. Ha Ha Tonka is a very fitting warm-up to a potentially very rambunctious evening.