Bass Drum of Death/Shark Week at Black Cat

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Thursday, February 13, 2014

The first time I heard Bass Drum of Death was back in 2011 when their GB City full length showed up in my mailbox for review. I hadn’t come across the name before so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as soon as I popped the disc in my stereo I was greeted by fuzzy, washed out garage rock with catchy hooks. Since that time I’ve listened to the album regularly, but haven’t kept up with what’s been new with Bass Drum of Death and missed the fact that they had another full length come out last year. When I spotted that they would be headlining a show at Black Cat in D.C., it seemed like a great chance to hear the GB City tunes that I enjoyed so much while also getting to see what their newer tracks were like.

Local D.C. band Shark Week opened the show and had already drawn a fairly decent sized crowd when I arrived. I haven’t been following the local rock scene quite as much in recent years but apparently this group generated quite a bit of buzz with two EP’s that came out between 2012 and 2013. Their sound falls somewhere between energetic and fuzzy garage rock and laid back indie rock that has some soul and blues influences. It’s a mix that works well, and like quite a few of the other groups that go for this mixture of styles it seems like Shark Week has a rawer sound in a live setting. The balance of laid back grooves and edgier riffs/vocals worked well and the crowd seemed like they were really getting into what the bands had to offer. While the instrumentals did have some good hooks, I have to admit that after the night had come to a close and I was on my way home it wasn’t quite as easy to remember the specifics of what Shark Week sounded like. This might just be a reflection of my personal tastes, but despite the energy of the performance and the enjoyable atmosphere there were just a few too familiar elements between songs and this kept me from being able to fully pick out individual moments that stood out. I did really like the vocals though, as the lead singer had a range that moved from softer indie rock singing to much louder soul infused pitches, and just about every other member of the group contributed backup vocals at some point during the set. Although I don’t know that Shark Week is quite at the point where they’d stand out enough on record enough for me to want to return to regularly, they were enjoyable to watch live and it will be interesting to see how they continue to grow both locally and nationally as they progress.

Black Cat’s Backstage concert area can hold about 200 people or so, and by the time Bass Drum of Death took the stage it looked like they had done a decent job of filling out a significant amount of the capacity. On record the material may be a bit washed out, with the extremely fuzzy guitar leads often overpowering the vocals, but in person the group sounds a bit different. One of the biggest differences is how much more prominent the vocal work is, giving some of the songs I had listened to a hundred times a slightly different feel. Looking around online I’ve seen different opinions as to whether listeners like the washed out approach on the records, but I personally have liked it quite a bit and found that the difference in sound in a live setting helped to draw me in more. After all, while it’s great if bands can perfectly reproduce their albums in a performance setting having some slightly different nuances gives you a good reason to go out and see them rather than staying home and listening to the record again. Bass Drum of Death’s set was split between their two full lengths and because the majority of the songs are fairly short they were able to play quite a bit of material, including just about every track from GB City that I had been hoping to hear. The newer songs from the self-titled release seem to have kept the same general formula as before, but when the hooks are this strong and continually get stuck in my head I really can’t fault the band for sticking with what works. It was clear that the crowd was really into this set as well, as there were quite a few people dancing and jumping around almost the entire time. There may be a lot of garage rock out there right now, but Bass Drum of Death has been one of the few that have stuck with me over the past few years and their live performance proved to be just as energetic and genuinely enjoyable as their recorded output. If you like rock with an extra dose of fuzz, do yourself and check them out live if they come to your area.





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