It’s 10:45pm. A lone guitarist stands facing a sweat-soaked audience. A single spotlight shines on singer/drummer/guitarist and front man Conrad Keeley, gaily rocking from side to side to a blues riff as the lights prepare to go down. The end of the encore, the evening and another incendiary live show by Texans …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead.
Tonight, they are equal parts volatile, visceral and intricate veering from boisterous punk to shoe gaze melodrama in moments – this is …Trail Of Dead in their most comfortable setting. Away from the confines of the studio, let loose on a crowd which is as eager as they are to be sucked into a whirlwind of clever agro-pop.
But while …Trail Of Dead may have the finishing blow, the opening punches are pulled by Nashville two-piece Forget Cassettes. Led from the front by Beth Cameron, resplendent in a Karen O style skin-tight white dress and with the wail of an otherworldly PJ Harvey.
With a bit of help from ..Trail Of Dead’s bassist and her own drummer Doni Schroeder, she builds an ethereal, swirling giant of a first track, which paints the picture of Forget Cassettes: the subtly of Sonic Youth or Slowdive cut with the raw energy of Polly Jean or Hot Snakes. It’s a potent combination.
One minute, KOKO reverberates with echoed keyboards and reverberated bass hooks, the next necks are jerking to a punk-tinged crescendo. It might serve as an education for some of the fans here tonight who missed out the thoughtful, complicated side of indie in the nineties when Cameron drops to her knees in a flurry of white noise for the final track, hitting notes which quite literally pierce through your head.
The sound is encompassing but almost wasted in the KOKO’s high ceilings, and while Forget Cassettes may not have the melody to match the raw grit and technique in forming a soundscape – Cameron and Co provide a suitable setting for the main event.
Anyone who has experienced a …Trail Of Dead live show will know the routine. A blast of sometimes incendiary, literate yet abrasive rock, coupled with an almost epic way of building melodies into all out aural assaults. Stand In Silence has an anthemic feel to it, layered rhythm guitars and an underlying tension which mounts steadily throughout as Keeley wails into the mic.
Likewise, Naked Sun begins as a glam-rock stomp and morphs into a theatrical highlight. Older tracks Another Morning Stoner and especially Totally Natural/A Perfect Teenhood bring the Camden crowd into the equation, the latter being a perfect example of how the furious hard-edged rock in the vein of At The Drive In or Dinosaur Jr, can morph into slow-burning, Sonic Youth with chorus-style endings.
As the crowd respond by turning the KOKO floor into a mass of overheated bodies, the band turn up the heat. Singer/drummer/guitarist and second front man Jason Reece lives up to rock ‘n’ roll expectations by scaling the walls, threatening to throw his less than slight frame onto the beer-soaked heads of the punters below and, as they bound into Caterwaul, another anthemic rallying cry from 2005’s Worlds Apart, the night peaks.
They end with Mistakes & Regrets, a nod to their more emotional and angst-ridden side, departing one by one and Keeley is left to give us Clair De Lune on his own, under that solitary light. Heads and ears are sore, but the smile as he bounces from side to side says it all, …Trail Of The Dead sure know how to slay a crowd.