Last Friday evening at Pizza Luce, The Deaths took the stage to a minimal crowd. Which in Duluth is a relative term, but this was minimal for even Duluth’s meager standards. A Minneapolis band, The Deaths have the psychedelic charm of Pink Floyd organ with a Beatles Rickenbacker guitar dominating the strings. Their latest hit, “Birmingham," sounded like the Mop Tops had returned, but with an eeriness about them.
At times, the singing on “Birmingham" sounded like Ozzy Osborne took the mic and sang with the Beatles trying to emulate Eddie Money. Imagine the song “Waited So Long" without two tickets to paradise. Again and again they question if the song “will be heard in Birmingham." Since we are discussing British invasion emulation, we’ll assume for argument’s sake that Birmingham is the one in England and not the one in Alabama.
Another quirk to get out of the way was when a guitar player takes on the Rickenbacker, they need to remember that the sound it makes stands out like a fart in an elevator. It was copied so much back in the 60s that even the Beatles had to change guitars by Rubber Soul. The sad thing is that, like other beautifully abused things, now no one plays one anymore. So to hear singer/guitarist Karl Qualey play one was, in a word, refreshing.
To throw you off more from the usual Friday evening of live music, the band played several tunes from Spinal Tap to end out their show. This lightheartedness won me over. How refreshing that a band would drop their delusions of grandeur and play an ode to everything wrong with music! A sort of shot aimed at those musicians who take themselves too seriously. I couldn’t get in back to see if the amps went to 11, but the sound coming out was not ear-piercingly loud.
Why anyone would need to wear earplugs to a bar today is beyond me. Are all soundmen/women deaf today or what? The one at Luce usually does pretty well, but when Cloud Cult played there last winter, I had emo blood spewing from my ears that lasted all night. The worst is in St. Cloud when I saw Hydrophonics a few weeks ago and my ears rang for two days straight. Hip-hop does that to a person, I guess.
The Deaths caress your ears with great songs and make you wanna dance. They are raved about back in the Twin Cities and are the “it" band right now. Originally from Fargo, the band even had a blurb in Spin Magazine recently.
Their music was steady and worthy of a much larger crowd. There was the song, “The Sisters," that had a total “fab" feel, but the tempo idled behind. When you hear music today, lyrics get lost or are sung way too fast. With The Deaths, the delivery was slow and articulated. Great harmonies in the chorus made the band feel polished.
Even though Luce is an Uptown-esque bar on the corner of Lake Avenue, it still lets in young people to watch live music with the drinking crowd. Many nights, there are young people (the under-aged) watching up front, waiting to buy a CD from the band. They buy a moment with this mythical figure who has come down from the clouds to the Earth after playing. That one CD sale means more to that fan than any album they will buy the rest of their lives. It will be played and become the anthem to that young fan, who becomes a rolling stone and heads out into the great unknown. A lot of musicians blow it off as another fan buying their album and use the $10 for the gas to get home or a celebratory beer. But to that one kid who was out with the animals, watching the gods, it is priceless.