Death From Above @ Uline Warehouse, Summerfest
July 4, 2017
Canadian punk band Death From Above treated Milwaukee to a rare performance last night. Back from a nine month touring hiatus, the duo chose Summerfest as the first stop along their string of select festival appearances this summer, most of which are in Canada. It was also the their first show under their new name—singer and drummer Sebastien Grainger and bassist Jesse Keeler have been Death From Above 1979 for over a decade, marking a new era for themselves with the suffix drop.
Grainger and Keeler drew enough people to fill maybe a quarter of the available space at the festival’s Uline Warehouse stage, but their pull was magnetic; attendees crushed themselves as close to the stage as they could, packed in a way that gave the illusion of a full house if you peeked back from the front of the tightly knit group. While their opener, Pvris, performed for a massive audience, it seemed like a significant portion of that crowd was there on a whim, attracted to the party-like electronic beats or perhaps killing time before another headliner. Death From Above’s small crowd, in contrast, left no possible way to doubt their devotion. The band’s vector logo could be seen any which way you looked, from clothing items to permanent ink stains on body parts. “I’ve been waiting 10 years to see them,” one blissed out fan announced.
This is the kind of band that can get away with disappearing for a while and still come back to a fanbase as strong as ever. They put a 10-year gap between their debut and sophomore studio albums, and it’s already been three years since their latest, The Physical World. These impossible chunks of time away just make their presence more felt when they show up again. “What the fuck’s up Summerfest?” Grainger said cheekily upon arrival, poking fun at the uniform opening line of the big gig’s other acts before, ironically, addressing us with another cliché: “Are you ready for some rock ’n’ roll or what?” The crowd’s near-deafening wail of incoherent affirmation spoke for itself.The lengthy set was a mix of “crusty new songs and crusty old ones,” as Grainger put it. They played crowd pleasers “Always On,” “Virgins,” “You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine,” “White Is Red,” “Going Steady,” “Trainwreck 1979” and more among new release “Freeze Me” and some never-before-heard songs as well. I use the label “crowd pleasers” loosely; I’m pretty sure Grainger and Keeler could have tuned their instruments for 20 minutes and their fans would still have been delighted. Whether it was an aggressive, hard rock jam or a cheesy love song, and they played the gamut, resulting emotions were severe. Grainger cut the intensity with frequent jokes, setting no boundaries as if we were all the best of friends. “I think we could all fit in my car if you guys wanna go somewhere later,” he quipped. They were seemingly just as hyped to hang with us as we were with them. For those who’d waited years for this exact occasion, Death From Above were well worth the wait.