The Dead South at New Moon drew both a sizeable audience (the show sold out months in advance) and a selfie-taking one (but I’ve got to admit the kickdrum was a pretty good backdrop). The Regina-based band’s music is visceral, pulling you into the drama of the song’s lyrics with the gritty coarse vocal delivery; versatile, moving easily from sweeping melodies in the cello to fiery banjo solos; and viral, see the intense online following generated in part by their music video for “In Hell I’ll Be in Good Company”. Looking towards the bar area, you might have thought you were at a Whyte Ave bar rather than at a folk club watching a show, as people gathered to dance or (often more accurately) sway to the music drinks in hand. The enthusiasm (standing for nearly three hours) was not limited to this stalwart set of individuals but permeated throughout the hall as spontaneously people jumped up and began to sing and dance along.
I’ll admit my previous (lack of) knowledge of The Dead South came from the radio and a few videos on YouTube— I’d never seen them live, and the theatricality of the show caught me a bit by surprise. Right away the stage set-up which included some cattle skulls/horns and a fence post sign and the uniform style of the band’s clothing gave off a very old-timey wild west vibe. Then there was the music (theirs I assume) that accompanied the band’s entrance to the stage which to me was very unexpected—I don’t think I’ve ever see a band at a folk club have entrance music before. Third, the storm scene for “The Massacre of El Kuroke”—I had wondered how they’d deal with extra-musical sounds—turns out they had a recording that they played against. Less surprising, given the many takes the video must have taken to shoot, but nonetheless delightful was the excellent choreography (from cracking beers to the finger snap shuffle) for “In Hell I’ll Be in Good Company”. The theatrical elements blended just the right amount of extra-musical entertainment to go along with the intricate foot-stomping musical performance.
The whole evening, which began with an opening set from Red Deer’s Boots & The Hoots, was a throwback to the wild west (maybe the imagined lands of spaghetti western fame?) and the golden era of country & western music. It was visceral, versatile, and given the tightness of the musical performance certain to go viral beyond the digital realm—I know I’ve been whistling the opening to “In Hell” all day.
The New Moon Folk Club season reconvenes in the new year with Belle Plaine on January 26th.