Death From Above 1979 is an easy band to get romantic about: two EPs (2002’s Heads Up
, 2004’s Romantic Rights
), one classic album, (2004’s You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine
) and a handful of you-had-to-be-there live shows that still live on as indie rock lure. Following this relatively small creative output, there was a cataclysmic breakup between the band's two members, Jesse F. Keeler on bass, synths, and backing vocals, and Sebastien Grainger on vocals and drums, that appeared to be as volatile and abrupt as their best songs. The band’s mythos provided a particular generation of music fans -- who came of age in the mid-aughts and, painting in broad strokes here, were weirdly obsessed with authenticity and mercurial musical talent -- a moment in their history they could point to, remember, and longingly look back on.
So, after Keeler and Grainger reconciled, played a reunion show at the 2011 SXSW that promptly ended in a riot
and led to rumors about new music and further touring, a big question remained: Was the music actually that good? As one of those weirdly impressionable music fans who immediately loved Death From Above 1979 in the mid-aughts, I can safely say, with tons of bias, that yes, their music was f****** awesome. That setup alone was radical for an “indie rock” band: drums, bass, vocals, synth. That was it. The fact that Keeler could play a bass guitar like Lemmy, Grainger had howling vocals and the hard-hitting caveman drumming charisma of John Bonham, and that they both embraced the slippery influence of dance punk from bands like The Rapture and Radio 4, resulted in You’re A Woman
becoming a singular album that hasn’t really been repeated or aped since. Tracks like the rusty, psychotic buzz saw “Romantic Rights,” the scary sex disco “Black History Month,” and, of course, their signature rager “Blood on Our Hands” still vibrate with white-hot energy that hasn’t cooled in 11 years.
When the duo finally returned with new material in the form of the 2014 release The Physical World
, it was heartening, first and foremost, to hear that they had lost none of their energy and verve. Yes, the production was slicker and the mid-tempo tracks were a bit tamer, but it was still an album of thrashing id, made evident from the album’s opening track “Trash Talk,” which swaggered and kicked down doors to Keeler’s leviathan bass guitar and a tinkering cowbell lifted straight from “House of Jealous Lovers.” And now, Death From Above 1979 comes to Pittsburgh for the first time ever when the duo performs at Altar Bar on Aug. 3. For fans of this now legendary band, 11 years hasn't come soon enough. Tickets available here.