With Street Arabs
Club Dada, Dallas
Saturday, August 22, 2015
Rock 'n' roll's sordid history is littered with rejects. Not just rejects in spirit, but also the might-have-beens, the almost-made-its and the gone-too-soons. Some get validation years later for being ahead of their time, but few get a second lease on life. For four decades, that was the case with Detroit's proto-punks Death — but not anymore.
On Saturday night, Death made its first-ever appearance in Dallas, 40 years after it released its first (and until this year, only) record, and it was an historic night. Following in the footsteps of such Motor City trailblazers as MC5 and the Stooges, Death — formed by brothers David, Bobby and Dennis Hackney — took an approach to rock that was a harbinger for the coming punk rock sound, years before that scene found its footing. But the world was not ready for a black proto-punk band in 1975.
40 years later, Death were plucked from the cracks of history and their debut album was given a posthumous release in 2011. That was followed by an even more influential documentary, A Band Called Death, which reintroduced the band to multiple generations of punks that completely missed them the first time around. It also made them instant cult legends.
After making several trips to Texas and skipping Dallas every time, Death came to Club Dada for the first time ever this past Saturday. It was a pleasant surprise to see a healthy line to get in form right when the doors opened. Outside of a select few metal heads who showed up for the '80s metal band that also went by the name Death (sorry gang, no "1,000 Eyes" for you), there was a special energy amongst the growing crowd fueled by genuine excitement for the band’s Dallas debut. Local support came by way of Dallas garage rock disciples Street Arabs.
Street Arabs came out of the gate in full garage rock glory, inspiring a small but enthusiastic mosh pit at the front of the stage — a pit that got slightly more active over the course of their set. The quintet are to be applauded for a total commitment to form, boasting a total absence of leads, solos or any other self-indulgent rock tendencies. This is pure American garage rock stripped down to only the barest essentials of punk attitude and reckless abandon. Both guitarists Matt Powers and Aaron Barker and drummer Dan Guerra took turns on vocal duties, the lack of any fixed frontman configuration keeping the focus wandering all over stage.
After an hour break in between bands, the comfortably packed crowd was rewarded with the almighty Death. Red lights beamed down on the band and a quilt hanging behind center stagethat featured the Death logo and pictures of the current lineup as well as the deceased Hackney brother (David, who passed away in 2000), allowing him to share the stage with his brothers in spirit.
Right from the start, their veteran status was completely evident. It's rare to see such a dynamic and capable rhythm section. There's something inherently special about brothers who have been playing together longer than most of their audience has been alive. They're able to pull off a level of musicianship rarely seen in any punk band.
Death's main set was dominated by songs from their original lineup. “Keep A-Knockin',” “Views,” “Rock 'N' Roll Victim” and “Freakin' Out” were particular standouts. The current lineup's arrangements do occasionally lean toward metal rather than the punk rawness of their original recordings, but after 40 years and one lineup change it might be foolish to not expect some kind of update to their sound. Regardless, the audience didn't seem to mind, as evidenced by the healthy mosh pit in the middle of the room and beaming smiles everywhere you looked.
After a solid hour, Death left the stage before quickly returning for a four-song encore of mostly newer material that, while it still rocks, is considerably more straightforward structurally than their earlier, groundbreaking material. The tune “Playtime” stood out from the new material for not necessarily recalling their older songs as much as it did '80s California punk. They appropriately dedicated it to all the skaters out there.
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At one point bassist Bobbie Hackney asked how many people had seen their documentary. An enormous roar came back, reinforcing what an impact the film has had on Death's mighty return to action, and the grateful band greeted it with grin. They were plucked out of obscurity for a second chance at rock 'n' roll glory that few bands ever get — especially 40 years after their prime. Death's was a level of sincerity and confidence that permeated every note and every drum hit.