You’re lying to yourself if you say you do not have one. Whether each person’s list contains people, places or things is constrained only by their imagination. The joy is found in crossing off an item from the list.
On a late spring April evening in Columbus, this author was able to put a checkmark next to an item that, to be honest, was a longshot of ever being realized.
Playing our fair city for the first time in their 40-plus year history, Death came calling for the final show of the first leg of their Final Curtain Tour 2019. They are, quite literally, the most important band that many of you have most likely never heard of.
Instead of the usual lineup of local and/or traveling opening bands, they opted to educate those in attendance by showing the documentary, A Band Called Death, released in 2012. The film chronicles the 1970’s Detroit rock band, from inception to their new-found popularity decades after first recording their music. For any that want to know the history of the band, this is a must-see movie.
Shortly after the film’s conclusion, the lights faded as the band took the stage. Comprised of Bobby Hackney Sr. (vocals/bass), Dannis Hackney (drums) and Bobbie Duncan (guitar/vocals), the power trio wasted very little time with small talk.
Launching into the upbeat Keep On Knockin’, the first track from their seminal debut 7-inch …For The Whole World To See, the opening notes had the crowd shouting their approval at the high energy number.
With a quick count-off from Hackney Sr., the fast pace of The Masks showcased a tight band, with the song going from almost melodic to “wow” fast before you knew what hit you.
Rock-N-Roll Victim kept the tempo high, with an in your face rock feel that was at times both dirty and nasty. Listen to any track from the Bad Brains eponymous debut EP, and you’ll know they were into Death before it was cool. Channeling the ferocity of the MC5, with the poignancy of Patti Smith, I felt as though time was bending, arcing towards some small club in early 1970’s Detroit.
Slowing the pace slightly, the mellow strains of Duncan’s guitar coupled with Hackney’s vocals announced the beginning of Let The World Turn. It encompassed a funky groove, before gaining steam with a somewhat foreboding feel, punctuated with stabbing riffs from Duncan’s axe. Dannis had his time to shine with an extended drum solo, before the trio came back together with the same mellowness that began the number.
The band then proceeded to pummel the crowd with The Build Up, from their 1980 gospel album, The 4th Movement. Sounding like a heavier, darker version of Alice Cooper, the tempo changes throughout the tune proved this band can play complex song structure as well as any progressive rock band. Their influence on Living Color is unmistakable.
The staccato shout of “DEATH!” was the precursor to the fast pace of Freakin’ Out, sounding just as fresh today as it did when it was initially recorded in 1975.
The myriad tempo changes of You’re A Prisoner showed once again that they are not afraid of breaking the rules of typical song structure. The funky, rock-heavy riffs of Bobby and Duncan perfectly complimented the sharp backbeat of Dannis’ drums. A voice next to me nailed it succinctly by saying, “Simply amazing.”
Where Do We Go From Here??? carried a proto-prog feel as Bobby almost growled the lyrics. The upbeat tempo continued, while also sounding melodic, as the band came around to the chorus.
The slower, funk-laden groove of Cease Fire carried whispers of the Motown sound, while the poignant lyrics bore deep into the listeners psyche with Bobby’s emotion-filled vocals of “We got to cease fire. We got to reach higher…”
With Earth Day recently passing, they appropriately launched into Give It Back, which Bobby said was a song from the archives. They proved that a song about Mother Earth doesn’t need to have a “hippy” feel to it. On the contrary, they rocked the number in a way that easily made your blood flow with the need to do something now.
Knowing there was one song that had not been played from …For The Whole World To See, the anticipation was palpable in the form of goosebumps along my arms. They did not disappoint, launching into Politicians In My Eyes, albeit just a touch slower than the original recording. This gave the timeless lyrics added gravitas, with Bobby’s vocals sounding like a cry for help. The number culminated in an anthemic rock ending that left the audience wanting more.
After a short break, the band returned to the stage for a two-song encore. Playtime, with its 1960’s pop rock feel and pace washed over the exultant crowd, before they went hard and heavy with Can You Give Me A Thrill??? The fun they were having playing this music was evident on their faces as they extended the number into an eight-plus minute tour de force.
Satiated by the fact that the bucket list was one item shorter, I merely sat on a barstool and soaked in what I had just witnessed. The ease with which they sonically transported the crowd through the preceding four decades was, in a word, breathtaking.
- Keep On Knockin’
- The Masks
- Rock-N-Roll Victim
- Let The World Turn (with extended drum solo)
- The Build Up
- Freakin’ Out
- You’re A Prisoner
- Where Do We Go From Here???
- Cease Fire
- Give It Back
- Politicians In My Eyes
- Can You Give Me A Thrill???
Credit all images: Chad Kessler / MIMC