LIVE: Death From Above 1979, Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR

Death From Above 1979

Death From Above 1979 // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani


By Hollister Dixon

Before we get to the festivities, let’s start with a brief history lesson. In 2001, Jesse F. Keeler and Sebastien Grainger started a band called Death From Above 1979 in Toronto. In 2004, they released an album called You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, which remains one of the greatest examples of dance-punk to ever come from somewhere that was not DFA Records (a label which forced the band to add the ‘1979’ to avoid confusion). In 2006, after a brief but tumultuous career, the duo broke up, citing creative differences (read: they really fucking hated each other). The members did more than a few things following the demise of DFA1979, including Keeler’s MSTRKRFT (formed in 2005, which contributed remixes of “Sexy Results” and “Little Girl” to DFA1979’s Romance Bloody Romance b-sides/rarities collection) and Sebastien Grainger & The Mountains (more on them in just a little bit).

Death From Above 1979 are proof that any band can reunite and face hordes of adoring fans. In 2011, the band announced that they would reunite, complete with a tour and a new album. Both of these things took time and effort to get off the ground, the latter of which finally appearing as this year’s fantastic The Physical WorldYou’re a Woman, I’m a Machine never had the impact on me that it had on a lot of my peers, but even still, it’s hard to ignore how much that band had – and still has – going for them. They were a band that arrived sounding fully-formed, producing music that sounded simultaneously expertly-crafted, and completely unhinged. Because of this, it would be extremely difficult to pass up the opportunity to see what they could accomplish in a live setting.


Biblical // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani


But first up, we have Biblical. In those pre-reunion, post-breakup days of DFA1979, the band established an oddly cult-like following, and having Biblical as their tour support is a definite nod to this. Biblical is a four-piece from Toronto, featuring two former members of Sebastien Grainger & the Mountain  – Nick Sewell (bassist/vocalist) and Andrew Scott (guitarist/keyboardist). And, most importantly: Biblical fucking rock. Like, in a way that few openers I’ve seen in my concertgoing career have rocked. They took the stage to the sound of ancient infomercials, and played through one of the tightest sets I’ve ever seen. Throughout their four (or maybe five?) song set, Sewell bombarded the crowd with incredible and borderline-hypnotic bass riffs, all the while displaying the kind of stage presence usually reserved for frontmen with a decade more experience than he’s got. My only complaint is that the set was only 40 minutes long.

This is what stoner rock is all about, and if they continue along as they have been (their debut record, Monsoon Season, is just as impressive as this live performance was), even Sleep – the unshakeable guardians of the genre – will have their work cut out for them. If they aren’t headlining mid-sized rooms by this time next year, someone needs to be fired. See this band, now.

Death From Above 1979

Death From Above 1979 // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani



And then, we have Death From Above 1979. One of the most fun things about reunion shows is comparing the stages the band is playing now, compared to those in their heyday. A quick Google search for old tour dates reveals that, during the band’s final tour in 2005, they performed at the 600-capacity Berbati’s Pan, for a measly $8. 9 years later, Berbati’s is the home of Voodoo Doughnuts, and DFA1979 are performing at the Crystal Ballroom, a room that hold 1000 more people than that. Not a bad upgrade, and probably a safe one: I can’t imagine the kind of crowd I saw at the Crystal during DFA’s set in a room that small. For a nice portrait of what the band were like back then, and to a different degree still are today, have a look at the trailer for the documentary made about the band, Life After Death From Above.

The thing you need to understand about Death From Above is that they make music that sounds dangerous, and because of that, they themselves become a dangerous act. Listening to You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, it’s hard to shake the definite sense of dread that their songs put forward. From the opening piano plunk of “Turn It Out”, which segues brilliantly into Jesse Keeler’s gutwrenching bass-borne pig squeals, you get the sense that the music you’re listening to is a different breed of aggressive. The crowd matched this intensity, with a massive moshpit forming almost immediately after “Turn it Out” began, only dying down briefly between songs. It’s was sometimes unsettling to watch, but it’s hard to ignore the band’s raw power. On a different night, I would have relished the opportunity to toss myself into the thick of things, but it felt worth it to stand to the side and watch the interplay going on onstage.

Death From Above 1979

Death From Above 1979 // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

Watching these two people perform live, it’s easy to ignore (or not realize) the bad blood that used to exist between the two. Watching these guys, it’s hard to deny that they’re both at the top of their game. It was a thrill to get the opportunity to watch a band in absolute lockstep with each other, managing to create unhinged music while perfectly in sync.

As I’ve talked about very recently, the most incredible thing about the business of band reunions is that every band can find their spotlight, if  they really want it. Death From Above, though, are a strange example of a band having found that spotlight early on, thanks to the power of the internet and word of mouth, but calling it quits to avoid self-destructing. That power never went away, meaning they’ve only gotten bigger in the 8 year since they split. I’m not sure what their relationship looks like now, but I can’t help but be happy about their return, especially considering the impressive amount of energy they still have. And the next time they come around – and I really hope there is a next time – I’m jumping in that pit.

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