Published on June 20th, 2010 | by Lisa McInerney5
Review: Murder By Death at Crane Lane
Living on the verges of the city, I rely heavily on public transport to get me in and out of gigs and other such entertainments. Having very sensitive ears, I rely heavily on my iPod to save me from the kind of toss they play on national radio and broadcast on public transport. Not that there are strange political war-cries or creepy calls to arms or any of that … no, even without media-sponsored social upheaval, Ireland has her own aural crosses to bear. And Irish country music would be the splinteriest of ’em all.
Having been brought up in South County Galway, Clare FM was a constant in my early life, in the same way that the parish priest is a constant in the life of local head shop owner; it niggled and whined and battered me in-fucking-cessantly. Philomena Begley in the morning. Nanci Griffith over the tay. And everything in between was way down yonder on the Chattahoochee or I fell into a burning ring of fuck-off and there were times I prayed for swift death or deafness, whichever was handiest for The Man Above (Conway Twitty, as far as my mam was concerned). And whenever I voiced my displeasure, which was probably fairly often, my parents would be condescendingly understanding and tell me that one day, I’d learn to love country music – all its sanitised agonies and dead-eyed yowlings – because it was “my” music. Not in that I was the kind of potential alco that would get off on its sugary misery, but because I was Irish. My mam, in particular, truly believed that over-emphasised drawls and songs about coyotes’ wails were as Irish as Padraig Pearse, and that one day, perhaps after eating too many strange mushrooms, it would all become clear to me that highjacked Americanisms were the best cultural building blocks there were.
I mention this because when I turned off my iPod to get off the bus (I always turn off mah choons before I leave the bus, for fear the bus driver would think me sensory-deprived and muggable), I caught a couple of bars of Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler”, and damn near sank into the doldrums when I realised how familiar its lyrics were. And yet, a couple of hours later, I was getting off on the most American music I’ve heard in aeons, truly evocative blood-pumping stuff, music you know has a real, unborrowed, non highjacked culture behind it. I was revived by Murder By Death.
Murder By Death is an American folk-rock band. The “American” part is important; when they started playing, I was immediately anchored to a time, a place … where they were coming from, I suppose. It’s so easy to think of American culture as Hollywood Throwaway – bleached, superficial homogeny, red carpets, cheerleaders, everyone learning a valuable lesson in the end. To hear Murder By Death is to get a real sense of an actual culture behind the high-fiving globalisation – to get a sense of there being a real country with real customs behind that all-encompassing Stars n’ Stripes. To an American, I doubt my surprise would be understandable – of course there’s a “real” culture in there, for fuck’s sake – but you see so little of it from outside the fifty states. When it comes to Cork wearing a checked-shirt-sneer, it really blows you away.
It blew the local crowd away to the extent that I don’t think most of us knew what to do about it. We hugged the bar, instead of hanging by the stage – an Irish custom, and an unfortunate one. With Megadeth having just played in the Marquee, the Crane Lane was filled with more than just the usual suspects, Monday night student-types peppered with shorn-headed loopers in black hoodies, as if the indie AGM had been stormed by a small chapter of Nick Oliveri impersonators. The band seemed disappointed that we didn’t congregate at their feet, perhaps feeling as if their Cork appearance wasn’t all that well advised. I hope not, though, because they’d be wrong. This was a Monday night. In a very small city. And the Crane Lane was packed.
Frontman Adam cuts a fine and invigorating figure, a man with that enviable “rare pair of lungs”, and cellist Sarah could do with being given the status of modern heroine – delicate, intoxicatingly talented, and well able to hold her own with the boys. The songs were rip-roaringly moreish, and the set properly long, no five-songs-and-fuck-off-for-pints crap here, which is something I’ve gotten from more than a small percentage of bands in recent times. Here, have a taster.
Conclusion? Eye-opening, eargasming stuff from a band that, five albums in, should be bloody massive. Instead, they’re today’s little culch.ie secret. Life is odd that way. But for all of you lot dragged up on borrowed country and your parents’ oddly-twanging proclivities, this is a band that could mean a hell of a lot to you. At 1am last Tuesday, I found myself losing it to the most deliciously alien yet reminiscent music … “I am going to rue the day,” I thought, “that I heard these songs and didn’t know enough to sing along.”
Good Morning, Magpie, the new album from Murder By Death, is available now. Buy it buy it buy it.