Death In June

The Vex Arts

September 12, 2013

Better Than: The actual death of the west.

Death In June kicked off their Death of the West American tour last night at Vex Arts. The arrangements were sparse, emphasizing founding member, driving force, and native Brit Douglas P. with his acoustic guitar and some heavy percussion in the background. All told, the set was nearly two hours long.

They took the stage in front a backdrop featuring the band's iconic logo inside of an American flag. They wore concealing masks, one of many images and tropes associated with an act that is just as much performance art as music. The first 15 minutes were nothing but very spare martial industrial: Two men banging on drums with mallets, bells and a maraca. The smell of incense filled the room.

Douglas P. in the Iconic Death In June Mask; Credit: Nicholas Pell

Douglas P. in the Iconic Death In June Mask; Credit: Nicholas Pell

“To a free world!,” Douglas shouted at the end, greeted with raucous assent by the crowd.

Then the masks came off and they began a more traditional set. While they have 30 years of material to work with, they concentrated on some of their more well known songs. “Ku Ku Ku” off of 1992's But, What Ends When the Symbols Shatter? kicked off the more musical part of the evening, followed by “Tick Tock” off All Pigs Must Die, and “Peaceful Snow” off the album of the same name. The crowd swayed and sang along or just stoically stared at Douglas, who is possibly the only man who can pull off “intense” in a pair of camouflage shorts.

When it came time for “She Said Destroy,” perhaps their most recognizable track, it all seemed a little rote and formulaic. Douglas looked positively bored. Most in the crowd seemed to love it, but the spark just wasn't there as on earlier songs like “Symbols of the Sun,” or later tracks such as “Little Black Angel,” which might have been the most enthusiastic number of the night.

The contrast between the crowd and the performer came off as strange, but endearing. Douglas P. played ringmaster over screaming hoards of American louts beneath him. But while the contrast between American barbarism and British high culture was a big jarring, Douglas seemed to enjoy the juxtaposition, coming across as downright avuncular, especially when quipping in a pitch-perfect “northerner doing a southerner accent,” “Yeehaw! Death In June will rise again, motherfuckers!”

Not long into the set, Douglas solicited requests from the audience, and was met with screams so cacophonous that he clearly couldn't make anything out. He repeated his request, thought it was hard to tell if he was just conning the audience. After all, it wouldn't be a Death In June show without a little crowd manipulation.

Without the textures available to him in a studio, Douglas was unable to recreate his normally dynamic experience at Vex Arts last night. He and the drummer were certainly capable, but there was something off about the whole ordeal. For a group that has made such rich use of textures and tone shifts over the years, seeing them as little more than a man singing with an acoustic guitar wasn't so much disappointing as it was odd.

What was disappointing? The encore. There's something very perverse about a man who once said “We don't want to become a part of a normal rock 'n' roll thing” taking the stage for an encore after an extended drum solo.

The Crowd: Beardos, aging hardcore dudes and a dollop of goths trying too hard.

Random Notebook Dump: This would have been worth the price of admission for the limited to 50 Lethal Amounts printed posters.

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