Five Reasons to See ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead at The Rebel Lounge in Phoenix

Winter nights and dudes in black. ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead comes to town. Will they be naughty or nice or both?
Winter nights and dudes in black. ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead comes to town. Will they be naughty or nice or both? Buddy Hachar

It was over 20 years ago that I first saw or heard of …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. That’s a long time, but I remember absentmindedly watching the long-defunct music show, Farm Club, on the USA network one night and being intrigued by the band name. Being a fan of long band names, I had to check them out. Holy hell, I was blown away.

Since the band is making, at least for me, an incredibly important stop in Phoenix on Thursday, December 16, at Rebel Lounge, I thought I would share my top five reasons for taking the time to do what I did back in 2000 or so and check’em out.

Reason #1: …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead is one of the best debut albums of the last three decades.

From the first distorted sounds off of 1998’s eponymous debut, the band has delivered the goods. “Richter Scale Madness” (which was done live on the Farm Club show) is an open-fisted A-bomb of a song that propels both band and listener to a heightened state of awareness better than any drug. The songwriting duo of Conrad Keely (guitar/vocals) and Jason Reece (drums/vocals) have steered this ship since the beginning and their often epic songs swirl, sway, punch, and kick like no other band I’ve ever heard. Equal parts indie, noise, punk, shoegaze … they're a pure Texan freakout in the tradition of bands like Scratch Acid, Butthole Surfers, 13th Floor Elevators, and Cherubs.
“Half of What” is as close to perfect indie rock as you might find. Propulsive drums, scream-y/pretty vocals in all the right places, and guitars that make a bass player like me want to switch to a six-string says it all. As much as I love “Richter Scale Madness,” I love this song even more. Onward, though, because the record is just at the halfway point when “Half of What” comes to an end.

As the band lays the groundwork for what would come next on the latter half of their debut album, And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead creates a formula that mixes beauty and brutality while blending killer tone and lyrics that actually make you think. Who doesn’t love that?

Reason #2: …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead make incredible music.

Does this seem redundant? Strap yourself in. I’m going to gush more here for a bit because, well, if I thought their first album was great, I was even more impressed by the second one. Madonna (1999) is like an elephant: huge, majestic, beguiling, and completely powerful. Keely and Reece do such an awesome job of picking opening songs for their records that I may cry if they don’t play “Mistakes and Regrets” at the Rebel Lounge this week. I just love the song, especially when the line, “And there is nothing left to say / That has not been said / If I shout, you wouldn't listen / I don't think it'd even sink in” is sort of half-sung, half-shouted midway through. It's reminiscent of every instance when frustration and the reluctant acceptance of finality meet in life.

Since I’m being honest, though, I’d be super happy if the band just played the whole Madonna record in its entirety. There's not a weak song on the album and as good as “Mistakes and Regrets” is, Trail of Dead (as they are sometimes called) is really just getting started here. “Totally Natural” and “Blight Takes All” set the stage wonderfully for “Claire De Lune,” which has probably been on many a mix-tape (playlist? CD?) sent to an unrequited love. “What good are promises if nobody honors them” is such a haunting lyric and the way it is delivered on “Claire De Lune” between lush guitar and subtle, haunting keyboard work is just perfect. If you weren’t already convinced to add this record to your collection, go and do so now.

Reason #3: Source Tags and Codes has one of the best songs seemingly about getting high in the morning ever written (that’s not actually about weed at all).

“Another Morning Stoner” must have gotten its name from how the original riff must’ve sounded because the lyrics are anything but stony unless you're smoking something that makes question the nature of life's most delicate moments. Wait, maybe it is about smoking weed after all. Either way, it’s a beautiful song and, again, shows how Trail of Dead takes a gorgeous, almost classical-esque riff and mixes in a little fuzz, a dash of distortion, and wistful, passion-drenched vocals to make something just a notch above almost everything else. A grand song on an elegant record that shows Trail of Dead rounding into a silky-smooth song machine. Well, at least a silky-smooth song machine that can also cut right to the bone.
“Baudelaire” follows “Another Morning Stoner” and the guitar riff sounds like something that could have been on the original Valley Girl soundtrack with a strong nod to both the Plimsouls and the Mael Brothers (Sparks). “How Near, How Far” is another song built for lovers to listen to as they watch the sun set from Piestewa Peak. Trail of Dead are really quite romantic, although when you listen to the lyrics, you’d have to think that maybe Keely and Reece haven’t been the luckiest dudes when it comes to love. Lots of angsty heartbreak happening in Trail of Dead songs. Prepare to sway a bit when you see them play … at least between banging your head.

Reason #4: By reputation, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead have a reputation for being a terrific live band.

While I will be seeing them live for the first time with all of you this week, I’ve seen lots of video. Did I mention that I was a bit obsessed with them a few times in my life? I’ve considered traveling to see them on several occasions as they haven’t been to Phoenix at any point that I can remember (and yes, I know I will get an email on this). In fact, the live performance on Farm Club captured my attention completely. So much so that I went out and bought the first two records on CD the next day. I gobbled up every live video I could for a long time and the boys have never disappointed me. Sure, they have probably mellowed a bit and we have to consider that we are still in a pandemic, but seeing them in an intimate venue like Rebel Lounge (don’t call it the Mason Jar) is a huge treat.

Check out the video and see if Trail of Dead’s energy doesn’t just come right out of the screen.
Reason #5: Consider this an early holiday gift from the music gods.

Bands like …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead don’t come around that often and who knows when they will come back to Phoenix again? Even though I only touched on the first three records above, Trail of Dead has cranked out consistently good records for almost a quarter-century at this point. Their latest release, X: The Godless Void and Other Stories is really good and it would certainly be a treat to hear any of the songs (especially “Don’t Look Down” if you’re reading this, fellas) played live at a respectable volume. Besides, the excellent Death Valley Girls (check out their song “Seis Seis Seis”) are supporting Trail of Dead on this tour and the quite bitchin' and local two-piece Noonday Devils open the show.

…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. With Death Valley Girls and Noonday Devils. 8 p.m. Thursday, December 16. The Rebel Lounge, 2303 East Indian School Road. Tickets are available here. The show is 21+ and proof of either COVID vaccination or a recent (within 72 hours) negative test is required for entry.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.
Contact: Tom Reardon