In critical circles, much has been made of the Trail of Dead's affectations: They're "art rock"; they're "androgynous," attiring themselves in black and flicking cigarette butts (clove, most likely) at convention, all the while hiding a lyrically unoriginal ambivalence behind the wall of noise they so expertly generate.
But none of this was apparent from their set, except the noise, which was glorious. Guitarist Kevin Allen, staid and un-showy in a John Entwhistle sort of way, just stood back by his amp and murdered his guitar while the other three band members leapt around the stage and traded off instruments and vocal duties. Conrad Keely and Jason Reece switched between playing guitar and the drums, while bassist Neil Busch sometimes traded his bass for guitar, creating a visceral, three-pronged attack that shook spectators and demanded movement.
When hipsters refer to a show being "off the hook" or "over the edge," it's usually a pretty hazily defined point that only becomes real once the band has gone past it. Trail of Dead crossed that line about a third of the way into the set and never looked back.
They kicked off with the first song from their current release, Source Codes and Tags, thundering through almost nonstop to the climactic howl-fest, "Totally Natural." The set included a good mix of new songs and cuts from their Merge-released gem, Madonna.
The Trail of Dead doesn't depend nearly as much on sonic effects as the no wave bands they get compared to, instead opting for a display of pure power and conviction. The screams were delivered with genuine emotion, while the softer passages were downright hypnotic. When they threw a guitar on the floor or came out into the crowd or kicked over the drum kit at the end of the show, it seemed new and exciting all over again, as if the band was truly carried away. Whether or not that's true, only they know, but most of the crowd seemed to agree that they weren't just going through the motions. Either way, the show maintained its urgent appeal, channeling chaos into a tight, furious spectacle that allowed the Trail of Dead to make an impact that lingered long after the final feedback faded.