On August 21, Death (“the precursors of punk,” some say) performed a stirring set at San Antonio’s Paper Tiger. Shows like these make me come out of my hibernation, but I don’t recall ever feeling the need to write about a show more than a month after it happened. This is why:
It all started around 9, when Fea (recently chosen as Best Punk Band in the SA Music Awards) showed why they’re so bad ass: their stuff is not just power and attitude, but above-average ability to actually fucking arrange songs, spending a little extra time in rehearsals and taking the songs to a better place instead of the usual, simplistic DIY common (and boring) ground. You’re not any less punk if you work on your creations rather than simply relying on energy.
Speaking of “punk” (?), never was Fea more beautiful, and never was Death so full of light. Seeing Pop Pistol’s George Garza body surfing in front of the Detroit Three was one of those unforgettable moments in the local scene.
“Last night, at the #deathdetroit concert, I crowd surfed for the first time in my 30 years,” tweeted Garza. “I always felt too big for that ride in my younger days, but the wave overtook me as friends lifted me up, at first against my will, and then in complete surrender. I even kicked someone in the head. I landed right in front of the stage for the last two songs. It was perfect. Furthermore, it was inspiring to witness these guys and be a part of their incredible dream for one night.”
A month after that show, I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. So sometime in late September I tracked Death down in Miami for a quick phoner with Bobby (bass/vocals) and Dannis Hackney (drums) and Bobbie Duncan (guitar).
You played in SA for the first time, right? What did you expect and what did you find?
Bobby: Yeah, first time. We were expecting wonderful people and we found one.
At one point you said, “You people are off the hook!” It was pretty wild, even though, unfortunately (and embarrassing for us) it wasn’t as packed as it should have been…
Bobby: It wasn’t sold-out, but it definitely felt like a sold-out night. It was wonderful for us onstage, and we thank all San Antonians.
Do you get the same vibe wherever you play for the first time, or did San Antonio have something special?
Dannis: Death is usually well-received everywhere we go, but San Antonio has a certain vibe, and when the people get together it’s such a party atmosphere. You just have to perform at your 100 percent peak, so… It wasn’t a complete sell-out but it was a very nice crowd there and…
Bobby: …and we felt a lot of energy.
Bobbie: If I may say, it felt like 1,000 people.
Dannis: We didn’t need to look at the crowd to feel the energy.
Did you have a chance to go out and take a closer look at the city, either before or after the show?
Dannis: Oh, yeah! We did the River Walk, the Alamo…
Bobby: San Antonio is a great town, man, even though it’s a little hot.
Well, those leather pants you wear don’t help either… (loud laugh by all three) For a band called Death, you guys send out pretty positive vibes…
Dannis: That’s what it is, Enrique: It’s all about life. The band is called Death, but we’re all about life.
You just released N.E.W. in April. Sorry for my impatience, but is it too soon to talk about the next album?
Bobbie: Yes, it is. Our new album is a compilation of six songs that the brothers already had from the original Death catalogue in the ’70s, and I had the opportunity to collaborate on one of the songs, “Relief,” and it came out the way we wanted.
Searching for Sugarman, the Big Star doc, now A Band Called Death… Fame and recognition aside, how much better can a musician get once he’s “forced” to play constantly? You absolutely kicked ass in SA, but did you always sound like that?
Dannis: Yeah, it was a big change. Before the movie came out we were dealing with the rediscovery of the band, which was really being received very well. We started playing again in Chicago, Cleveland and of course, Detroit, like a sort of experiment. Together with the Joey Ramone birthday bash, you put all that together and our playing was pretty respectable. But when the movie came out, that offered a deeper look inside of the situation, so it even made it better and gave us and the people more energy. Now, everything’s just got really good.
Now, honestly, what do you think/feel when you read or hear that “Death invented punk” or is “the precursor of punk”? When I hear Death, now and then, I hear a band using a lot more elements than your average punk band. I mean, the “inventors of punk” label is good for marketing, but… seriously? You have the attitude and energy, but you’re much more than a “punk” or “protopunk” band. I’m perfectly fine with just calling you “a great rock and roll band.”
Bobby: Well, let me tell you. We appreciate that people say our music, the sound of it, predated that “punk” term by four or five years, but what you have to understand is that when we were making this rock and roll, we made it in 1974 and 1975. And during that time, if you would call a young kid between the ages of 18 and 25 a “punk” in Illinois, Michigan or even in Texas, you got either one of two things: a black eye or a bloody nose. You see what I’m saying? We didn’t even know about the term punk. We didn’t even know we were inventing or trying to invent a genre, that wasn’t our goal. Our goal was to simply play hard-driving Detroit rock ‘n’ roll, the rock ‘n’ roll that was being played around the country, so that’s what we called it. Realistically, going all the way back to the early days of Death, that’s what we relate to.
OK, guys, thanks for your time. This is your time to pitch. Sell, brother, sell!