show review

​O'Death Live @ The Agora 2/25/2015

Lisa Sanchez
​O'Death, a five-piece folk band, played a sold-out show at the Cleveland Agora February 25 and proved that men with fiddles can still totally rock your face off. The band is currently supporting Murder by Death on their 2015 U.S. tour. When I went to see the band, I wasn't sure what to expect. I was familiar with their boot-stomping, sometimes melancholy tour-mates Murder by Death, but not these relatively unknown twangers from Brooklyn, New York. Not only did O'Death change my expectations about their abilities, they rattled cages and put on one hell of a live show.
The New York alternative country band just released their latest album Out Of Hands We Go in October of 2014. The album incorporates a lot of unique instrumentation; sounds that a casual listener may not recognize unless they were a big fan of the country bear jamboree or had a special affinity for Americana washboard music. But, Out of Hands We Go put me in a mellow mood with its easy rhythms and vocalist Greg Jamie's natural croon. The album sounded so seamless that I didn't think live duplication was possible without dumbing down the songs. I was definitely proved wrong when O'Death took the stage at the Agora.
I've never seen so many instruments and unique noise-makers used on such a small stage by so few people. Drummer David Rogers-Berry had an old gasoline can attached to his set where a symbol would normally be. He also attached chains to his drumsticks to perform "Ghost Head" and it was one of the most satisfactory effects I've seen accomplished with organic effects. Not to be outdone by the band's percussionist, guitarist/banjo player/keyboardist/ukelele extraordinaire Gabe Darling made me lose count of all of the instruments he ripped on throughout the set. When O'Death performed "Bugs", an intermittently jazzy, finger-picking song, I realized banjos had just become far cooler than double-V guitars. Only O'Death can really pull that off successfully.
Of course, it's difficult to discuss the band's musical prowess without bringing up violinist Bob Pycior, who broke a string only a couple songs into O'Death's set and proceeded to change it quicker than an Indy 500 pit crew. If you've never seen a man head bang while playing a wicked fiddle, you truly have not lived. In fact, the whole band had a level of precision that I personally consider unheard of considering the number of battling elements that are present in their songs. But, somehow they found a perfect balance of sound that is emotive and powerful.
When I heard O'Death's music on their album, whether through the indication of their name or their throwback musical style, I considered them morose, if not downright eerie. Their music is at times ethereal with its various percussive sounds and lonely vocals, conjuring up images of a turn-of-the-century funeral procession. While O'Death's live performance stays true to their album sound, it also helps break the spell of what I assumed was a rather gloomy band. O'Death can bring the dredge, but they delivered equal parts of up-beat tunes that made me want to dance. Plus, it's hard to be bummed when a band is having as much fun on stage as O'Death. The band conjured real pep and the diversity was definitely refreshing.
O'Death were well worth the price of admission. I met one girl who had driven five and a half hours from Minneapolis just to see the band perform. They have a unique spark that make them enthralling, both musically and in their live performance. They have proved it's not about image or bravado, it's about how hard you can wail classical instruments. My recommendation is to see the band the next chance you get and bring your fanciest dancing shoes.