Concerts

10 Dead Sara Songs You Must Hear Ahead of Their BFD Festival Appearance

RIP us because Dead Sara will be playing in Dallas on May 29.
RIP us because Dead Sara will be playing in Dallas on May 29. Jason Kempin/Getty
On Monday, 97.1 The Eagle announced the highly anticipated return of their flagship BFD festival, set to take place on Sunday, May 29, at the Dos Equis Pavilion. Among headliners Bush and Seether, one band that stands out is Los Angelino rock trio Dead Sara. The band has developed a dedicated cult following over the past decade and are frequent visitors to DFW. Given their return post-COVID to a larger stage, it’s worth highlighting the band and a few of their best songs.

Dead Sara epitomizes rock ‘n’ roll in its modern form — guitarist Siouxsie Medley is the rock, and singer Emily Armstrong rolls. Medley’s right hand is metronomic, with a knack for unorthodox riffs and tunings that make her one of the most interesting guitarists in the world today. Armstrong is one of the most dynamic and commanding front-people (of any gender) in all of music, and her extraordinarily dexterous voice ranges from a gentle coo to a gravel-throated attack that has been compared to both Janis Joplin's and Axl Rose's.

More than a decade into Dead Sara’s existence, Armstrong's voice is alive and as powerful as ever. At that point into Led Zeppelin’s career, the cracks had already begun to appear in Robert Plant’s voice. Completing the band’s core trio is drummer-turned producer/engineer Sean Friday is the first current member of Dead Sara to release solo material under the name Bitch Camp.

Ahead of Dead Sara's first DFW appearance in nearly four years as a part of the BFD festival, here are our picks for the band's 10 best songs:

10. “Lemon Scent”

Dead Sara’s two biggest musical strengths are 1. Riffs, and 2. Hooks. Check and check. The riff in "Lemon Scent" is a brilliantly simple two notes, and the song’s hook is so shockingly sticky it’s surprising that no one had come up with it before. Throw in Null’s heavy, guitar-like bass riffage, and you have one of Dead Sara’s most complete rockers. 9. “Heaven’s Got a Back Door”
During the transition from releasing independently to their current partnership with Warner Brothers, Dead Sara added more pastels to their gritty monochromatic brand of rock ‘n’ roll, and on the decidedly slicker EP Temporary Things Taking Up Space, they were able to close things out with an idea that had been kicking around their live set for years. And the added slickness didn't hamper their fundamentally sound songwriting and ability to know a good riff when they hear one. 8. “Hypnotic”
Here's where DS gets funky. In the midst of the pandemic, the band was forced to piece together its third full-length LP Ain’t It Tragic separately, with drummer Sean Friday serving as the band’s in-house producer/engineer, doing a brilliant job, especially on the album’s colorful and oblique single co-written with legendary producer Mike Elizondo. Medley’s simple fuzzed-out riffs anchor Friday’s stomp, and Armstrong struts all over, spitting out quotables like “Oh my goddess.” 7. “Something Good”
Armstrong and Medley share an appreciation for folk music, and while there’s nary an acoustic guitar in sight in their output, the genre’s homespun warmth is center to the band’s ode to much-needed self-reflection. As they sign: “Are you gonna dance your heart into the moment? Are you gonna lie to yourself in attempt to reason? Are you gonna hold yourself so highly regarded?” 6. “L.A. City Slum”
Siouxsie Medley is the queen of the two-note riff. When she locks in with Friday’s pummeling beat, it rings out like a storm siren, almost like a warning to the listener to take shelter immediately. “L.A. City Slum” is one of the few moments in Dead Sara’s discography when the band navigates some pretty impressive rhythm changes — right down to the song’s chaotic, sax-assisted bridge, evoking hints of FunHouse. 5. “For You I Am”
It seems to be an unspoken tradition that Dead Sara end their records with big slow-burners. Armstrong’s songwriting has always been on the oblique side, turns of phrase and lines that offer fleeting glimpses of a situation rather than spelling them out. Her love and breakup songs are the same way, but when she sings her words into the ether, the catharsis negates and overcomes any obliqueness. Here, as the song grows into a churning volcano of anguish, it’s not necessary to know whether Armstrong is pleading for salvation or heading into the light. “I fear I'm losing something for everything,” she sings with a gloriously audible shakiness that grows with the song, before she spends the song’s final two minutes shredding her voice. “I’m slowly dying! I’m slowly dying! I’m slowly dying!” The single marks the most impressive vocal performance she’s ever given and one of the finest rock vocal performances of the last decade. 4. “Fish Out of Water”
An early Dead Sara tune that (as of 2022) can only be found on YouTube, “Fish Out of Water” is a head-spinning song, to say the least. From its twangy, smoldering guitar riff to its wind-up drumming, the fact that “Fish Out of Water” has so much forward momentum is a testament to Armstrong and Medley’s compositional telekinesis. 3. “Sorry for it All”
 What originated early on as an acoustic reverie found its true home as the closing track on Dead Sara’s debut LP. Lyrically, “Sorry for it All” plays with the idea of blame (“This song is not for you, it's for everything I wish to be”), in which Armstrong’s narrator seems to be the victim of the end of a relationship, but in true Emily Armstrong fashion, there’s a haze of emotional obliqueness, suggesting that she may be addressing herself or some version of herself. “They've told me never let go who I am, so hold me and promise that I can't,” she sings near the song’s climax, where she lets out a yell of catharsis not dissimilar to Elton John’s in “Love Lies Bleeding.” The song also marks one of Friday’s finest drumming performances, starting with his complete absence (in a Bruford-like moment of the drummer knowing that not playing a thing is sometimes more important than anything else) before he finally enters a third of the way in, growing from a simple kick to imaginative flourishes around the kit that showcase his melodic style of drumming. In the early years of Dead Sara’s burgeoning fame, “Sorry For It All” served as the band’s set opener, an unusual choice given its place at the end of the album, but it certainly turned heads as it served to elevate the emotional energy of a crowd and prepare them for what was next. 2. “Timed Blues”
Other than Neil Young’s obvious masterpiece "Like a Hurricane," there are few songs that can reasonably be described as sounding “like a hurricane.” “Timed Blues” brews, stews and strikes hard with the power of the blues. It contains not one, but two of Medley’s best riffs: her open-tuned, finger-picked, bluesy opening fanfare, and her monstrous drop-d battering ram of a slide guitar riff. Combine that with Armstrong’s chilling banshee wail and an additional contribution from Chris Null, who provides the song’s tempestuous wail on his own slide guitar, and you get a song that overwhelms like, well, a hurricane. 1. “Weatherman”
“Everlong,” “Seven Nation Army,” “My God is the Sun.” “Weatherman” is one of those songs. In a post-Nirvana world, truly great hard rock songs have become increasingly scarce, but the ones that make their mark are breathtaking. Touting a guitar riff that could have feasibly been written by Jimmy Page or Tom Morello, “Weatherman” is an instance of pure bottled lightning with no true contemporaries. By 2012, “hard” rock was melting away for it’s more pensive alternative and indie counterparts. Imagine Dragons was months away from breaking big, Muse had gone fully electronic, and most of the early 2000s rock staples were stagnating. When Dead Sara made their debut on the national stage, taking over rock radio with “Weatherman,” hopping aboard one of the final incarnations of the Warped Tour, and opening for Muse on their triumphant 2nd Law Tour, the group became one of the final victors in the quest for hard rock Valhalla. The song’s perfection meant that the band was not burdened with being asked to replicate it in follow-ups, freeing them up to pursue other styles. A decade later, the song still feels fresh and dangerous. The band’s four members sound like fighting caged animals, each ratcheting up push-and-pull tension until the song’s explosive climax. Going for the kill, indeed.
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Vincent Arrieta
Contact: Vincent Arrieta