For a couple of hours last night, I felt both 14 and 40 simultaneously. It’s the kind of feeling you can only get when you’re watching a favorite band from your younger and more vulnerable years thrash away at an otherwise-unbearable volume. Sure, the body can take the abuse of the unruly masses for only a couple of songs these days, but it doesn’t compare to the euphoria of a fucking great performance.
I had been waiting ten years for this show, and I was not going to be content observing the proceedings from a safe spot in the middle of the crowd. I was one of the few people to give these guys radio play back when You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine first came out, and since then I had desperately wanted to see DFA1979’s furious intensity translated into a live setting. Instead, due to mostly just bad luck, I had to be content during that long wait to merely play their album hundreds of times or attempting to track down whatever live footage I could find (like their brilliant performance on Conan). A couple of years later, Sebastien and Jesse broke up, and it seemed like any chance to see the duo live was lost to history. Of course, we all know now that the band reunited a few years ago, but still I wasn’t any closer to seeing these guys. There was the initial insistence on playing far-flung festivals that I had no intention of attending, but even when circumstances conspired to put us in the same city at the same time, it wasn’t enough–I was there the year that they surprised SXSW with their reunification, but due to my outdated phone I heard the confirmation hours after their tiny venue had already overfilled well past capacity, and had to be content to learn the details secondhand the next day. So yeah, I was going to through caution and good sense out the window and get as close as possible, the terrors of the pit be damned.
As soon as the opening piano chords of “Turn It Out” were triggered, the crowd began to lose its (collective) mind as their anticipation reached a fever pitch. When the drums and bass finally kicked in, all hell broke loose and any chance that I had of being in control of my own movements went out the window, at least for the rest of the song; I found myself tossed from the far left of the stage all the way to the central barrier dividing All-Ages from Boozers with no idea how I got there, though I was jumping up and down to the beat the whole time. “Right On, Frankenstein” brought a similar pattern of events, but when a shoelace came undone, I decided that it was best to make a break off to the side and fix the issue for safety’s sake. And as a result of the wisdom that can only come with age, I took the opportunity to camp out at the side for the rest of the show, getting all the benefit of being close to the stage with much less wear and tear on the body.
With the physical terror no longer a concern, I was able to focus more clearly on the music. The band placed an emphasis on the new material, playing all or nearly-all of The Physical World, and the crowd displayed a remarkable amount of enthusiasm considering the album was only released two months ago. Sebastien and Jesse played their parts brilliantly, as they were effortlessly able to recreate the sounds of the album, and showing that the years of touring experience have served them well. When the band dipped into their early songs, the audience found an extra gear and responded in an even more frenzied manner–during the climax of “Little Girl” one fan was able to launch himself completely above the crowd, as if shot from a cannon, to the delight/terror of those around him. It was also fun to see the duo take the opportunity to stretch certain sections out and play around with the structure of the old songs, breathing new life into decade-old material.
The Crystal Ballroom can be a fickle place to play for a lot of bands, with its wonky acoustics and expansive layout, but Death From Above 1979 was able to keep the feel of a punk club; all elements (bass, keyboards, drums, and vocals) came through with great clarity, and the band tried to keep all sections of the audience involved. Sebastien was surprised to see a balcony way in the back, opining that those people decided to sit so far back “just to get a look down the shirts of the audience below”; he also expressed bemusement at the strict separation as required by the OLCC, a sentiment with which we share. The stage show was modest, with their trademark logo being the sole decoration and a line of white strobe lights being the main effect, but this minimalism served them well when they expertly deployed a sudden shift to red lights during the chorus of “White Is Red.” But the coolest effect was probably the cheapest one possible–during the final song of the encore, Sebastien emptied a bottle of water onto his drumset before launching into the coda of “The Physical World”, and the effect of seeing the water splash high into the air during that brilliant finale was mesmerizing. Hundreds of cameraphones went up to capture that moment, but it felt better just to experience the moment on its own. So, sorry I have no actual footage of this–you’ll just have to see it for yourself when Death From Above stops by your town.