No Surf Music


No Surf Vinyl Essentials


The Lowdown:

Murder By Death

Matt Armstrong (bass), Sarah Balliet (cello/keyboards), Scott Brackett (keyboards/cornet/accordion), Dagan Thogerson (drums/percussion), Adam Turla (vocals/guitar)

Based In:
Bloomington, IN


Americana, Americana-noir,, gothic rock, indie rock, alternative rock



Concert Date:
August 17, 2011

Opening Acts:


Related Articles:

Murder By Death performs at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Rating: 9 out of 10



August 26, 2011


Murder By Death: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 8/17/11

by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad


Murder By Death performs outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. (l-r) (Yes, from the back) Dagan Thogerson, Scott Brackett, Matt Armstrong, Adam Turla, Sarah Balliet. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.


Bloomington, Indiana-based rock band Murder By Death is currently off the road working on their forthcoming sixth studio album, but they recently made a trip to the shores of Lake Erie to perform a one-off free show as part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s Summer in the City concert series, resulting in the first ever repeat appearance in North Coast Nights.

The Buried Wires: cute keyboardist, narcoleptic tunes. (l-r) Matthew Gengler, Brian Straw, Alex Tapié, Dan Price. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

The Rock Hall is a great place for a concert, especially when the legendarily fickle Cleveland weather allows for an outdoor show. Right up against the water, it’s a perfect setting, and with the giant glass pyramid on one side and the Cleveland skyline on the other, the backdrop is impressive. An added bonus to the scenery on this occasion was the presence of Johnny Cash’s predictably black tour bus, currently on display outside the Museum. The shows in this series are held on the Museum plaza, with the stage on the edge of the raised centerpiece flowerbed, leaving plenty of room for anybody who wants to wander up and enjoy.

Local indie rock group The Buried Wires opened the festivities. Now the Summer in the City series is billed as an opportunity for the Rock Hall—which obviously tends to focus on the music of the past—to introduce listeners to the music of the future and the most buzzed-about bands. The Buried Wires certainly do seem to have some buzz around them. The only question is why. I hate to say anything bad about fellow Clevelanders (with the exception of that traitorous douchebag piece of shit LeBron, of course), but the band’s music didn’t seem to have any electricity at all. The circuits were completely dead. And I’m not talking dreamy, purposely mellow shoegaze kind of stuff, which I can totally get into (given enough drugs); I’m just talking boring. It was frankly difficult for me to tell the songs apart. It was just one never-ending stream of blah. Even the band’s own drummer appeared to be on the verge of nodding off at several points. The group’s one saving grace is that keyboardist/guitarist Alex Tapié is ridiculously cute, but since music is an auditory rather than a visual medium, I eventually just wandered away to buy a fish taco from a food truck. The Sriracha I poured on top added the only spice to be found in the set. I’m sure the band has their fans, but it might just be best if these wires remain buried.

Ok, face it. It's pretty damn hard to find a better spot for a rock concert than this. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

Around eight o’clock, with the sun making its way down to the horizon, the western sky beginning to redden, and the thin crowd swelling to fill up the slice of plaza in front of the stage, Murder By Death took its place. This show marked something of a milestone, as it was a first-look opportunity at “new guy” Scott Brackett, who has played with the band on and off in the past but was recently given the official stamp of MBDdom. A long-time member of Texas-based group Okkervil River, Brackett is taking over much of the keyboard duties from Sarah Balliet, a move that frees her up to play cello on a full-time basis, amplifying one of the distinctive features of the band’s sound. Scott also adds accordion and cornet to the mix, providing even more flavor to the group’s dynamic instrumentation. Without a doubt, the line-up change proved to be a solid gain.

In stark contrast to their predecessors on stage, the band was electrifying from the first note of up-tempo crowd-pleaser “As Long As There Is Whiskey in the World.” But then again, with MBD every song seems to be a crowd-pleaser. As I discussed with frontman Adam Turla before the show, the group doesn’t seem to have many casual fans. If you’re into Murder By Death, you are into Murder By Death. And what’s even more striking is that the band—described by some as Southern gothic (despite their Yankee origin), others as Americana-noir, but all as ass-kicking rockers—draws on so many disparate roots that almost anyone can find an entrance point. Their fan base is as broad as it is devoted. Green-haired punks and leather-clad metalheads from Cleveland’s most prominent scenes mixed with hipsterish indie rockers and truck-stop-hat-adorned fans like myself, and the number of people who could sing every word of every song was beyond impressive.

This, in fact, became important later in the show in what has to be seen as the set’s only flub. Inexplicably, shortly after beginning the penultimate song, Adam suffered what he later called a “horrible bout of stage fright” during which he forgot the words to one of the band’s signature pieces, “Spring Break 1899” from Red of Tooth and Claw. Despite the false start, the Clevelanders in attendance didn’t seem to mind. They just took over the singing duties themselves while the band reset, found their way, and concluded the song. Gotta love the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. It turned what could have been a catastrophe into a paradoxical triumph.

That was neither the only highpoint, however, nor the only time the crowd got involved. After the first song, when a fan passed up a handful of shots for the band, Adam smiled as he said, “There’s nothin’ like drinkin’ next to a lake… for free!” Musically, the usual suspects of any MDB show provided most of the climaxes. “Ash” featured hard, ball-bashing music and Adam’s deep, resonant vocals breaking into a screaming, powerful pitch. Good Morning, Magpie’s “You Don’t Miss Twice (When You’re Shaving With a Knife)” featured its characteristic whistled intro and swinging beat and had all the diehard fans clapping along as it transitioned into a rollicking reimagination of “King of the Gutters, Prince of the Dogs” with fast-strummed guitar and thundering drums. “’52 Ford,” “Brother,” “Until Moral Improves the Beating Will Continue,” the dark closer “Comin’ Home” and the encore “Fuego!” were all definite highlights, as well.

In fact, it’s almost impossible to find a lowlight in a Murder By Death show. Even Adam’s mellow acoustic guitar solo number “My Baby Shot Me Down” only served to highlight the surprising depth of his rich voice. How a skinny little guy like that can manage such sumptuously timbred abyssal tones is absolutely beyond me. But damn it’s great.

Ok, at one point Adam forgot his own lyrics, but the band more than made up for a momentary lapse with a high-energy set full of powerful renditions of the band's unique songs. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

Before the show, Turla had promised a surprise treat, and it turned out to be perhaps the show’s best moment of all. A musical mashup, it’s an idea that Adam has had rattling around in his head for six years, but for which he never found quite the right venue. Playing in the shadow of rock’s greatest shrine (Are we counting Graceland? No, we’re not counting Graceland.) proved the perfect opportunity. Midway through the set, the band started into their thundering, highway-tempoed rocker “Sometimes the Line Walks You.” While J.R.’s bus failed to come to life, transform into a giant robot, and dance the boogie-woogie, the key moment came when, with an imperceptible slight of hand, the song transitioned into a cover of Golden Earring’s “Radar Love.” The fans immensely enjoyed Adam’s surly vocals, Dagen Thogerson’s pulse-pounding beats, Matt Armstrong’s powerful bass, Scott’s brazen cornet, and the ever-rising chords of Sarah’s keyboard. At the end, the song again transitioned into “Sometimes the Line,” making for a perfect circular blend of classic and modern rock sounds.

Murder By Death is definitely a dish best enjoyed live. The band is starting a new tour in mid-September, planning to hit “smallish” Western cities such as Reno and Spokane, giving fans who normally get skipped over a chance to see one of the most dynamic musical performances in America today. And it’s a sure bet that with the release of their new album—slated for early next year—their touring schedule will only get fuller. Whatever your musical taste, there’s sure to be something you can latch onto, so take the opportunity next time they’re in the neighborhood and experience Murder by Death for yourself.

Click here for more pics!


For a taste of Murder By Death, buy Good Morning, Magpie on Amazon!
mp3 cd vinyl


No Pop. No Crap. No Surf.