Last Night: The Murder City Devils at Great American Music Hall
Sunday, Feb. 15, 2009
Great American Music Hall
Better than: The Murder City Devils shows around the turn of the '00s -- where certain members were so smashed the sets didn't finish as much as they fantastically imploded.
There's one thing you're pretty much guaranteed to hear every Valentine's Day: couples fighting. While I was lucky enough not to be involved in a spat personally, I definitely bore witness to them all over the city Saturday night -- young lovers in the liquor store arguing under their breaths in the early evening, raising their voices on the street close to midnight, and cutting loose into those loud, vengeful shouting matches way past last call.
But if you really wanted to hear the sound of hearts getting ripped from chests at top volume, it was all about Sunday night's Murder City Devils shows at the Great American Music Hall.
That band plays nothing if not gothic punk rock 'n' roll anthems for the young and the reckless, for self-destructive lovers/fighters. And whether or not you've ever loved to hate, or hated to love, their live sets offer an excellent communal catharsis.
After taking eight years off (the band officially broke up in 2001), the Devils couldn't have picked a more fitting evening to stage two back to back comeback shows in San Francisco. Not only was it a very cold, rainy, Northwest sorta evening, but being the day after Valentine's Day, the Devils picked up where the lovers' left off -- nailing the soundtrack to that that bleary-eyed, sore-throated, it's-all-going-to-shit-now hangover that makes you want to draw blood and beat your chest all at once.
And while the band members have grown up (and into various projects, ranging from the Melvins to Pretty Girls Make Graves--R.I.P.), they easily tapped back into that hungry, uplifting angst on stage. At the early show I hit, the group played through all the hits -- among them "Idle Hands," "Rum and Whiskey," "Press Gang," and "Broken Glass" -- with a vigor that spread to the crowd.
Although the show was sold out, a huge chunk of the floor was left open for the wide-swinging mosh pit. Shove-happy dudes took their turns inside the crowd centrifuge during the more aggressive parts, but this being the Devils, there were plenty of melodic dirges that slowed the pace and brought out the young girls in flannels to march around the edges of the pit. (The look last night was so Seattle it killed me: lots of neck and sleeve tattoos, black hoodies, black hair: the uniform the years I lived up there to a T). Those who wanted less physical contact still shouted out the words and raised their fists at the appropriate times, bringing out more crowd participation than I've seen at show for a while.
As much as I love the Devils, it still surprises me that their following remains this strong and loyal. The band was around for just four years, between 1997 and 2001, less time than it's been broken up. But between Spender Moody's desperate, raspy howls and the dramatic music of a band influenced by the Misfits and the Stooges, the Seattle act definitely left scars when the members called it quits.
After the show came to a close, I'd wished there was more Murder City Devils to come, that this wasn't just a one-off tour. Loving and drinking leaves so many casualties it seems unfair to say goodbye to one of the great, underrated bands celebrating heart failure so spectacularly.
Personal bias: I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, so all those cynical Sub Pop bastards -- from Mudhoney to the Murder City Devils and later acts like the Catheters -- will always have a nostalgic place in my heart.
By the way: The show sounded excellent -- not only because of the band, but because of their soundman, Phil Ek, a recording genius who has had a hand in pretty much all the best indie rock coming out of that area. He'll be working with San Francisco's own Dodos on their next album.