Devil Makes Three, Wood Brothers & Murder By Death 5.25.18

Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Morrison, CO

Words by Derek Miles (Miles Photography)
Photos by Charla Harvey

The sunbeams were abundantly collected amongst the Red Rock’s grounds on Friday as the parking lots filled and tailgating ensued. Warm air and clear skies are lucky to get for some May Red Rocks shows, and we were treated to near perfect conditions. Indiana based Murder By Death opened the night with their eclectic and vibrant sound. I heard several influences in their music - gypsy, punk, Americana, and even Irish drinking song inflections. You could also tell that the band had a solid fan-base represented in the crowd. In fact, the very first person I saw on the way to the venue was wearing a Murder By Death t-shirt.

The talented five-piece indie rock band is made up of Adam Turla (lead vocals, guitar), Sarah Balliet (cello), Dagan Thogerson (drums, percussion), David Fountain (piano, lap steel, backing vocals), and Tyler Morse (bass). Balliet’s cello playing added a wonderful accompaniment for the folk leanings of the music, while Turla’s vocals carried distinct character in shaping songs like “The Curse of Elkhart” or the ballad like melancholia of “Ghost Fields.” The band had great energy and stage presence throughout their performance. The set-list was also well paced and had considerable flow with not all songs being the same tempo. Thompson’s drumming was bombastic with heavy cymbal work and Fountain’s multi instrumental capabilities were impressive. After Murder By Death had wrapped up, the show seemed to be unfolding as a night of healthy crowd participation and singing.

Boulder bred Chris (bass) and Oliver Wood (guitar) have enjoyed an exceedingly successful career thus far as with their cohort Jano Rix (keyboard, drums, percussion) as The Wood Brothers. It’s only a matter of time till this folky rock n’ soul power trio headline the rocks of red. But for now, we gladly bide our time and take any chance we get to hear Oliver serenade us with songs like “Postcards From Hell”, the tune which opened their set this night. “I gotta soul that I won’t sell and I don’t read postcards from hell” is the refrain which rings out for the character of this bluesy tale. “Tried and Tempted” brought us down softly into a gentle funk vamp while a cover of Tom Petty’s “You Wreck Me” had the whole place roaring. Oliver pointed to a spot in the crowd and told us all where he was during a Petty concert from his youth. “Loaded” is always a crowd pleaser and sing-along that features Rix on his guitar turned “shitar” – his DIY percussive, noisemaking and knick knack covered wood box. And of course their set would not have been complete with the well-known “Luckiest Man,” which prompted the biggest sing-along of the night.

Another brief set-break before it was time for Devil Makes Three to send us into our next foray. You could feel the building audience anticipation burst into thousands of eager hands parting air molecules as the “Three” (five members tonight) took to the stage. They started out with a classic from their eponymous debut “The Bullet” and soon followed with another favorite that really got the crowd settled in, “All Hail.” Pete Bernhard (guitar, vocals), Lucia Turino (upright bass, vocals), and Cooper McBean (banjo, vocals) make up the core of this Santa Cruz group. Themes of their classic lyrical style showed up in “Graveyard” and “Old No. 7,” conjuring pirate imagery and drinking stories. Their set successfully balanced fun and danceable songs with the somber and macabre.

Despite the magnitude of a Red Rocks show, the evening felt incredibly intimate. I used to think that acoustic bands or only partially electric bands weren’t quite enough to pin the ears back on crowds of this size. Quite the contrary, they set the tone, and especially when everyone wants to sing along to their favorites. In fact, I now also think the sound can be even better with quieter bands. Or rather, the natural acoustics of the monoliths are more perceptible with tamer instrumentation. The magic of Red Rocks takes all forms though. And when we make ourselves available to it, musical satori takes place.

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