With a prominent appearance at the indie-mecca that is All Tomorrows Parties imminent, Trail of Dead are back on old stomping ground at ULU to limber up.
Their absence for over two years from these shores (time spent perfecting an imminent new record) has clearly made the heart grow fonder amongst their faithful, who are out in considerable force. England expects.
The job of getting us in the mood falls to those clever London noise-merchants Part Chimp. And when I say noise, I mean noise. A Health and Safety-contravening racket. Last time I saw them, most of my friends made their excuses and left before they’d finished tuning up. But how wrong they are – for this is an excellent band. Taking their lead from the insane genius of Trumans Water, their songs are a heady brew of the cerebral and the downright brutal.
Such qualities are exactly why we love Trail of Dead too, and a predictably huge roar of appreciation greeted their arrival on stage. Personnel changes have been made over the last year – we now have a two drummer line-up and a new bassist. It was soon clear too that their sound has undergone an overhaul as the first new song was aired – a gentle, poppy affair with a curiously epic, rock-musical structure.
No sooner had I started to ponder the disappointment of this shift from the incendiary, aggressive Trail of Dead of old than the opening riff of the classic Mistakes and Regrets rang out, and the crowd let out an instinctive cheer. The song illustrates all that is great about this band: from the complex beauty of Conrad Keeley’s guitar lines, to the barely-contained passion of the rhythm section, it really does have everything.
The other great thing about Trail of Dead, particularly live, is drummer Jason Reece. In many ways, he is the heart and soul of the band: bursting with passion and overspilling anger, he sings on about half the songs, swapping places with the absurdly talented Keeley. His bellowing performances of Homage, The Day The Air Turned Blue and Caterwaul – much of the time whilst buried in the moshpit or balanced dangerously on top of a speaker – are compelling to watch. Amongst all this confrontational bravado, he dedicates the latter of those songs to the great man, John Peel, a Trail of Dead champion. A poignant moment, of course.
To cap this night of fiery wonder is the usual ritual sacrifice of instruments. Their sound is perhaps mellowing but their behaviour, thankfully, remains anarchic. Drums are hurled then stabbed repeatedly with sticks, mic stands are torn asunder and guitars thrown dangerously high in the air, leaving a mass of tangled wreckage littering the stage. A great end to a mighty gig.