If you're looking for a view of death in Chicago the industrial corridor that is Elston Avenue is a good place to start. If you're looking to see O'Death you'd be on the right track as well. Just a bit too late.
Rolling up to The Hideout is always a bit of a leap down the rabbit hole. Wandering into to the back room for O'Death's set was an introduction to a stage worth of mad hatters. This is not mellow music to fall asleep to. These are not musicians gently caressing songs from precious instruments. This band plays as those possessed by particularly unsavory demons with no regards to how much their strings or vocal cords can withstand.
Only the lead singer is remains still through the set. This serves to make the contortions, swaying and thrashings of the rest of the band all the more pronounced. As the fiddle player said of his lead singer "He has to be still to sing like that. For him all the flailing's in his heart." Still, bets could certainly be placed on how many stings will be left on the fiddle player's bow at the end of a set.
Even on a Sunday night the crowd O'Death draws still dances til the band plays no more. They look more like they're attending a heavy metal show than some alt country gig. This music whips people into a frenzy. It goes beyond toe tapping, demanding concentration to keep the body still. The lead singer's slightly eerie voice, nasal and wining but in an inhuman and entreating way, is backed by insistent drums. Perhaps it's not a genre yet, but O'Death is as Appalacian Punk as you can get.
It's music that isn't meant to sound nice or sweet. It's dissonant, on the verge of breaking down. The whole band was adamant about this talking to them after the set. Or at least most of them, as the bass player had completely lost his voice and could do no more than nod and pack up his gear. The fiddle player put it best: "We aren't looking for a vibrant sound. When you're playing like this, with so much going on at once, it's better for each instrument to have a thin sound instead." Or as the banjo and ukelele player put it "a boxy plunky sound." They want each instrument to be heard, not blend together.
In choosing their instruments O'Death is careful to find ones that fit their tone. They've swapped ukeleles with other bands, only to find that they sound too sweet. Certainly, having them stay in tune for more than one song at a time is a perk. But when their player has a habit of dropping them off boats into say . . . the Atlantic Ocean, maybe a less than top of the line ukelele really is a better choice.
One way or another, O'Death knows the sound they're after, and what it will take to deliver it. On stage they are madmen. Listening later to their new album Broken Limbs, Hymns and Skin, it keeps the feet tapping. It is still not relaxing music. It's music to get the house cleaned up fast, music to get to work on time when you jump on your bike fifteen minutes late, music to play late into a dance party.
And should you be inspired by their music it should be mentioned that you have the chance right now to show it. O'Death is teaming up with Murder By Death to release a split 7" with each band covering one of the other's songs. Murder By Death will cover "Home" and O'Death will cover "Brother." Murder By Death has started a contest for artists to submit art for the cover. So be inspired by one Death or the other and see where it takes you.
More on the 7Series by Murder By Death after they play next week . . .