After making New Yorkers wait six weeks for their first headlining gig because bassist Jesse Keeler was bedridden with the flu, Toronto duo Death From Above 1979 was the acknowledged elephant in the room at the Bowery Ballroom on March 10.
They’ve been called everything from fake metal to emo, and the capacity crowd couldn’t demystify the argument. There were pogoers, moshers, headbangers, the usual clap-then-fold-your-arms-back contingent, and a lone crowd surfer. Hopefully the surfer landed on a group of swooning girls up front, where comedian and scenester David Cross had to endure their hysterical shrieks. Holding court at the downstairs bar, he said, “I love the band, but not like a 20-year-old girl does.”
DFA 1979 emerged to the sound of wistful minstrel fare, but the element of melody quickly faded under the low-end quakes of “Turn It Out,” the opener on the unit’s debut full-length You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine. Keeler staggered about the stage, gripping his bass like an out-of-control tommy gun, pounding out rhythmic hooks thicker than his Ron Jeremy pornstache. Mohawked Sebastien Grainger was militaristic both in terms of his precise drum attack and his startlingly un-slacker-like posture. Since he’s the primary vocalist, he can’t slump over his kit.
Grainger is often taxed with juggling his multitasking: On the rave-up paean to make-up sex “Blood on Our Hands,” he took an extra measure between each line in the chorus to recharge before spitting out the next phrase. During the frenetic and furious foot-stomping first single “Romantic Rights,” he skirted his vocal duties to save the tinny cadence on his hi-hat until he left his cozy corner on the right side of the stage. Standing on an amp in front of the band’s logo—fittingly, an image of Grainger and Keeler with trunks instead of noses—he chanted, “Come here baby, I love your company/We could do it and start a family,” while Keeler kicked and thrashed beneath him.
Ultimately, though, their raw emotion and clamor seemed too far removed from the hyped crowd. The canceled January show at the intimate Mercury Lounge would have left the crowd slipping and sliding in the sweat and filth of pachydermatous noise spray. Instead, dry patrons joined a long after-show queue at the coat check.