Live Reviews - Reviews

Death From Above 1979 @ Limelight 1, Belfast

15994276694_22667c5c5b_z (1)

When Toronto dance punks par excellence Death From Above 1979 announced they were calling it a day back in the good old days of yore (2006), every second twenty-something rued through tear-soaked eyes somehow managing to miss arguably one of the finest duos of a generation live. And so, as has happened innumerable times before, in precisely the same fashion, the seeds of legacy were well and truly sown, reaped, a whole decade on, by an expectedly agog congregation of newcomers and “I was there, man” thirty-somethings at Belfast’s Limelight 1. Will the well-documented tension between Sebastien Grainger (drums/vocals) and Jesse Keeler (bass) – apparently resigned to the depths of time – remain muted for what’s expected to be an unmissable performance?

Emerging to a hero’s welcome around 8.30pm (it was one of those new-fangled early shows, you understand) DFA1979 waste absolutely no time from get-go, delving straight into ‘Turn It Out’, the opening track from the band’s now almost mythologically esteemed 2004 debut album, You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine. From its opening flurry of modulated bass shrieks and Grainger’s frantic, sublimely spasmodic drumming, it proves an apt opening gambit. No sooner has it started when it expires in a sudden crash of cymbals and applause. A breathless triad of new material – ‘Right On, Frankenstein!’, ‘Virgins’ and ‘Cheap Talk’ – ramp things up tenfold, revealing the band’s younger, more recently-inundated fanbase to be very much up for it tonight. Arms flail, pits mosh, sweat flies and fists are clenched. Only four people film on their smartphone and all is well with the world.

The more nostalgic amongst of us lap up a quick one-two of ‘You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine’ and ‘Go Home, Get Down’ – the latter a mid-set highlight – as it becomes increasingly clear that DFA1979 have put in the hours at re-honing their legendary energy on-stage. This is the sound of blasting hardcore punk glammed up and stripped back to its rudiments. It never pauses to consider itself or wander aimlessly from verse to chorus and bridge. It’s urgent and demanding, coarse and unrelenting; a heady slab of blazing dance-punk brilliance. And yet, was it ever really in question? As the pair burst through another couple of more tracks from last year’s – rather impressive – The Physical World, it’s clear Keeler (below) and Grainger, irrespective of all else, are at the absolute peak of their game.


And yet, things very rarely run this smoothly. As comeback single ‘Trainwreck 1979’ rattles to its natural conclusion – another highlight from tonight’s show – Grainger, clearly very affronted, immediately challenges the crowd. “I finished the song because it’s my job,” he says, before turning to a bemused sea of faces and demanding that the crowd “rat out” the person who threw – and, as he claims, hit him – with a “bottle” near the end of the song. Light falls on the moshpit near the front, a shirtless teenager is inexplicably cast out as the reprobate in question and security staff emerge – basking dumb in the sun of Sartrean blind faith – before the young man escapes his certain fate when Grainger (realising it unwise to assume the individual in question threw it, without proof) has a sudden change of heart. The perpetrator is never found, Grainger relays an unfortunate line akin “Say it to my face next time, tough guy…” and the show continues amid a hyper symphony of yelps and cheers.

[NB: as it so happens, a friend of yours truly just happened to be filming at the precise moment the aforementioned “bottle hit” Grainger. Turns out it was actually a plastic glass, that missed Grainger completely. Some water got over his lovely hair, though… so… you know, same difference…]


Not that it was lacking, the energy and sense of happening is heightened yet more following the incident, ‘Crystal Ball’ and ‘Dead Womb’ following in quick succession; the latter a bombast-soaked blitzkrieg like few others. Better still, the duo charge forth with an even stronger sense of intent on the earworming ‘Gemini’ and the impossibly groove-laden ‘Little Girl’ from You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine. Elsewhere, nearing the end, the sheer musicianship on ‘Government Trash’ and ‘Always On’ are a real sight to behold, Keeler throwing himself around the stage, nailing the most intricate bass runs in extremely tidy fashion. Needless to say, the front half of the crowd are utterly devoid of inhibition at this point, utterly enthralled in a breakneck throwdown that just doesn’t give up.

With many pausing to catch their breath, Grainger and Keeler disappear for a nanosecond before returning for nothing short of the perfect encore: two of their very best older tracks, ‘Black History Month’ and ‘Romantic Rights’ – an outright highlight tonight – and the title track from The Physical World. With its doom-hinting outro conjuring early Black Sabbath, the song is an thoroughly trouncing masterclass and an absolutely spot on way to conclude a show that, not unlike the stirring of a slowly waking beast, grew more and more impassioned as the set pushed on. Unforgettable. Brian Coney

Check our Sara Marsden’s full photo set from the show – including support Turbowolf – below.

is the editor of The Thin Air. Talk to him about Philip Glass and/or follow him on Twitter @brianconey.