Texan rockers …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead have just released their ninth album, conveniently entitled IX, and tonight they roll into The Art School for a gig that veers between the awkward and the outstanding.
First though, Canadian alt-rockers Your Favorite Enemies bring the vitality, with a massively energetic forty-minute support set.
Though a moderate success in their native country, the six-piece are little known in Britain and sadly the crowd is small, but the lucky ones who are present are in for a treat, the six-piece are on brilliant form, recalling the burnished alt-metal of Deftones or the widescreen glory of Smashing Pumpkins.
At times their sound harks back to more conventional American rockers like Pearl Jam, while at others the guitarists wrench hails of screaming feedback reminiscent of Sonic Youth.
The sextet have so much energy that it seems there is barely room for all of them on The Art School stage but the best moment of the set comes during their closing song.
Apparently unimpressed by the small audience, both guitarists take to the crowd only for the group’s frontman, Alex Foster, to begin throwing cymbals from the stage to a waiting roadie in the crowd.
Handing out drumsticks to audience members, they finish their set in the middle of the dance floor with Foster perched atop the bass drum of the now reassembled kit.
It is a final punk rock gesture that ensures the audience would not forget them in a hurry.
It’s fair to say that Conrad Keely, frontman with Trail of Dead is not known as merciful figure and true to form the Austin rockers’ set is truly one of two halves.
For the opening six songs guitars sprang out of tune, Keely cursed at the soundman and the cult rockers appear to be teetering on the brink of collapse, despite bassist, Autry Fulbright II’s attempts to lighten the atmosphere.
From ‘Awestruck’, a melodic highlight from 2012’s excellent Lost Songs, however, something appeared to click into place.
Suddenly Keely was lifted, his slouch disappeared and Trail of Dead were off on a musical odyssey that was as uncompromising as it is brilliant.
Blurring the line between razor-sharp post-hardcore, compact prog rock and loud, explosive shoegaze, the group traverse cuts from across their career with ruthless energy, particularly on a merciless ‘Catatonic’.
As limbs fly in the pit, Keely seemed an entirely different individual from the curmudgeonly figure who had slouched on stage and by the end of the show the crowd are so energised that they managed to call the band back for a genuinely spontaneous encore.
Even with the lights lifted and a backing tape playing the band out, the audience stomp and clap until the quartet reappear, pleading with the sound technicians to give them one more song.
A gig of two halves then, but the good more than made up for some early jitters.
Words: Max Sefton
Photos: Celia Varelo Sixto