Death From Above 1979 - 2019 promo

Live Review: Death From Above 1979 @ The Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver – May 29th 2019

Three objective truths: the Earth is round, a hotdog is not a sandwich, and no band delivers a heavier sonic gut-punch than Death From Above 1979. The duo took the Commodore Ballroom stage in Vancouver with great sound and fury on Wednesday evening, much to the delight of everyone present. Showcasing their new work—Outrage! Is Now—and old—Heads Up—the Toronto-born duo proved that their music is only getting better with age.

Drummer/singer Sebastien Grainger and bassist/keyboardist Jesse Keeler (JFK) made waves in the 2000’s for their album You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine before disappearing into the ether, only to reassemble in recent years. On Outrage!, the pair blends popular accessibility with eardrum-shattering heaviness to create a record that feels well rounded but intimately linked to their essence; distortional melodies mapped on to a punk framework.

The show began with a full play-through of Heads Up, an often overlooked element to their musical catalogue if only because of the significance of their follow up release (You’re A Woman…). It was a 15-minute reminder of the unpolished roots of the band, filled with precocious angst and attitude. While the album is essential to the most invested fans, DFA really are a “the sequel is better” type of band. That being said, seeing the grown adults play with the same ferocity they possessed when writing “Dead Womb” and “If We Don’t Make It, We’ll Fake It”proved how deep their passion runs.

After the retro recall, DFA went through a menagerie of hits: “Romantic Rights”; “Right On, Frankenstein!”; “Nomad”. With only three full-length albums to their name—in a career that spans two decades—the band has a surprising number of recognizable favourites. Even their previous release (arguably taking bronze on the podium) still shines when cherry-picked for a live show.

Please forgive this brief moment of pedantry: Grainger is many things but a falsetto is not one of them. As with previous DFA sets that I’ve seen, the singer is just not up to the task of hitting those high notes whilst demolishing the drums. This point, however, is a totally forgivable offence for two reasons. Firstly, doing double-duty on the vocals and drums never easy. Secondly, I didn’t expect a pitch-perfect performance, I expected a fucking aural assault—which was delivered in spades.

JFK’s intensity peaked mid-show but waned as he casually toyed with the audience during the encore, teasing out song requests. He’s generally a frenzied performer, so revealing the humanity that lies behind the jet black hair and screeching bass added context to his enigmatic persona.

I’m an unabashed Stan for DFA, as evident here. Their music was the soundtrack to my high school experience, and it’s rejuvenating to see their talent reemerge. Beginning with Heads Up and finishing with “Pull Out”—yup, exactly what you imagine—Death From Above may be getting older but their spirit will stay young forever. 

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