Pioneer-outlaw grizzle merchants The Dead South filled the O2 Academy and Getintothis’ Roy Bayfield was there to follow them down the whisky trail.
The Dead South, a folk/bluegrass fourpiece from Canada, have become a massive juggernaut, notching up multimillion YouTube views and selling out venues, and true to form they have pulled a big crowd in Liverpool, roots music enthusiasts jostling with folks just looking for a good night out.
First on is Del Suelo, a writer and musician who, like The Dead South, hails from the landlocked prairie province Saskatchewan. Intriguingly he has released a novel and LP as companion pieces, The Musician’s Compass: A 12-Step Programme, dealing with life on the road, addiction and mental health.
His amiable style engages the front third or so of a venue that reminds him of a hockey rink back home. It would be great to hear him a more intimate venue.
The Hooten Hallers from Missouri are up next, with a volcanic set of out-there rhythm and blues. The Dead South will give us exactly what we expect but it’s The Hooten Hallers that deliver the night’s surprises. Punk energy drives their ramshackle blues; Andy Rehm‘s stand-up percussion, Kellie Everett‘s baritone sax and John Randall‘s ‘Tom Waits’ gnarlier brother’ vocals creating a mesmerising and infectious devil’s brew.
Liverpool needs to see these again.
The Dead South emerge in a thick fog of dry ice illuminated by retro-looking spotlights and a row of giant light bulbs that look like something Thomas Edison has provided. In their hats, braces and dusty-looking jeans, they appear as wanderers in dark corners of Americana, hard-travelling troubadours, dangerous guides to the whisky-ravaged frontier.
The band image has been skilfully crafted from the stagewear to the merch – black and white, iconic images of ‘Western tie guy, skinny tie guy, bolo tie guy and beard guy’ creating a compelling brand. The crowd greets them with rapture and they launch into a series of high-energy set openers, The Recap, Dead Man’s Isle and Every Man Needs a Chew cranked out without a pause.
The cello, mandolin, banjo and guitar combination generates fierce exuberant energy, parts of the crowd hurling themselves about with drink-spilling abandon. Nate Hilt‘s vocals give the drinker’s laments and outlaw tales emotive power, his leathery rasp tricked out with a kind of micro-yelp that never quite turns into a full Jimmie Rodgers yodel. The Dead South have nothing to prove to this crowd, for whom (at least for tonight) songs like Boots and Miss Mary have become personal anthems.
After a while the show seems like a bluegrass Ramones set, with one speedy-picking banger after another, somewhat lacking in light and shade – then they slip into Black Lung, a mesmerising mining song and evidence of the band’s range. It would be interesting to see what longer periods with the adrenalin dialled down a bit would bring, but that would be a different night, and maybe a different band.
There have been voices shouting for That Bastard Son since the start and now it (he) arrives to mass delight – bringing the odd sight of couples dancing together and happily singing along to the bleak lyrics about ‘liquor and dirty whores’. In Hell I’ll Have Good Company takes things to a higher level of ecstatic crowd-engagement as both band and audience replicate the video’s hypnotic marching and finger-clicking moves.
Deep When the River’s High continues the hardboiled western noir theme and love song Honey You bring the main set to a redemptive end. Consensual cousin lovin’ epic Banjo Odyssey and Travellin’ Man do the encore thing in fine style then it’s time to go; past the merch stall with its tempting Dead South beard balm and out into the rainy night where – appropriately enough for an outlaw band – there’s an argument about knock-off t-shirts brewing on the pavement.
Images by Getintothis’ Peter Goodbody