PHX AM After Party feat. DEATH The Pressroom 4/5/14
The PHX AM After Party, sponsored by local board shop Cowtown Skateboards, is always an interesting happening. Over the years, the company has put together some of the more eclectic shows to hit the Valley in celebration of one of the better skateboarding contests in the country.
It is a veritable amalgamation of skateboarding and musical talent, fantastic for people watching, and always on the cutting edge of what is über-cool. This year's party, which took place Saturday night at The Pressroom, was no exception. It was stellar from beginning to end.
There was a definite buzz in Phoenix for the past few days about this show. Detroit's proto-punk phenomenon, Death, was the headliner, and while there was plenty to be excited about when it came to their first ever Arizona appearance, the entire show was a very pleasant surprise, even down to the venue itself.
The Pressroom is relatively new to the downtown scene, and to the benefit of all area concert goers, it seems like we have another great spot to see a show. For the good folks at Stateside Presents, who have been partnering with Cowtown for the past three years on the after party, this was their first time putting on a show at the Pressroom, but it certainly didn't seem like there were any major issues.
The sound was great, the space is ample, and other than some terribly long lines for the multiple bars around the venue, the buzz among the crowd was very positive about the Pressroom.
Opening band Dephinger, which is usually much more at home in a dive bar, sounded huge coming through the massive PA and tore through its brief set with reckless abandon. These local skate punks have been tearing up stages around the Phoenix area for the past 15 years and never sounded better than they did on Saturday night.
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DJ Smite admirably handled the set changes; he masterfully mixed some killer tunes throughout the evening. The lanky fellow, who goes by Patrick offstage, has a great ear for cool party music and kept things lively between bands. After Dephinger finished up, Dam-Funk took over and I was blown away by his soulful vocals over some excellent funk meets house grooves. Even though it may have taken the crowd a little while to get into it, by the time Dam-Funk finished, he had a lot of people's attention and folks were yelling for more.
Next up was Los Angeles-based band the Allah-Las, which sounds like every cool California-inspired '60s pop band all rolled up into one, but the members pull it off in a surprisingly pleasant way.
The crowd seemed to be very into them, and with their smooth musicianship and excellent vocal melodies, there was really no way you could not just sort of melt into their comfortable blend of beach music and early Oasis.
They are clearly influenced by the Paisley Underground music scene of the early '80s, and this was confirmed by a great conversation I had with drummer Matthew Correia backstage. The only complaint I heard from anyone in the crowd about the Allah-Las was that they played too long, but I think that could be more easily attributed to the anticipation of what was coming next.
This night belonged to Death.
From the get-go, the Vermont-based band (by way of hometown Detroit) owned the Pressroom and the crowd just ate up everything Death had to offer. The two surviving Hackney brothers, Bobby (bass and lead vocals) and Dannis (drums), are joined by their neighbor Bobby Duncan (guitar and backing vocals), and the enthusiasm and love they have for both their music and the crowd was palpable.
All three current members of Death are top-notch players. Bobby Hackney threw out some iconic bass lines, Dannis was spot-on with the tempos all night long and provided a killer solo midway through, and Bobby Duncan just about stole the show with his complete and total shredding.
It's rare to see and hear such positivity from a rock 'n' roll show without it seeming schmaltzy. When it is genuine, though, even the most jaded hipsters can let down their guard and just have fun, which is what the crowd absolutely did. There were guys and gals on stage dancing with Death and doing stage dives during the whole show and the band seemed to love it.
Death definitely has the elements to their sound which are blatant pre-cursors to punk rock. When the band ripped into "Keep on Knocking" and "Freakin' Out" you can't deny the pure punk energy in the music, yet its musicianship and song writing skills were far more advance than the bands that came shortly after them, at least in looking at the first wave of punk rock chronologically.
Bobby Hackney has a great voice, as well, so he definitely will never fit the mold of the "punk" singer but he can sure drive a song in the right direction with his frantic bass playing. Brother Dannis kept the band firmly rooted in the moment with his skillful drumming, which also reminded every drummer in the house that he was playing these beats years before anyone else was, which is nothing short of amazing.
All in all, I was blown away. It was a joy to experience the show and to get an opportunity to talk to the band as well. After their set, they spent a great deal of time hanging out in the venue, taking pictures with fans and signing posters and recordings.
Bobby Duncan told me that he is convinced his bandmate's late brother David, who was the original guitar player and driving force behind the band, is responsible for bringing the three of them together to bring David's prophecies of both success and acceptance for Death to life. If David did have a spiritual hand in guiding Bobby Duncan to the Hackney brothers, he chose very well indeed, as Bobby D. fits in perfectly.
Even the opening acts seemed to be genuinely in awe of Death, which was especially great to see at a show like this where the influences and sound of the openers was all over the place. Hopefully, we won't have to wait too long for Death to return to Phoenix. The band has a busy summer ahead of them, but seem very eager to spend some more time with all of their new fans in the desert. Especially if it gets them away from Vermont in the winter.
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