There is a light on the horizon. As vaccines continue to roll out, that first live gig back seems to edge closer day by day. For now though, artists must continue to adapt their approach when it comes to getting their product across to existing and prospective fans alike. As the crowning jewel of the campaign to promote their first full-length LP ‘-!-’, LA four-piece Dead Poet Society celebrated the landmark by debuting live renditions of a number of the hit tracks from the album.
The venue for the evening’s proceedings was a barn belonging to fellow LA alt-rock contemporaries Badflower, and behind the decks for the show were their frontman Josh Katz and guitarist Joey Morrow. Much of the tuning-up intermissions between songs was occupied by the band bantering back and forth with Katz and so it was a shame that he wasn’t given a microphone – not being able to hear his responses made for a tough to follow, one-sided conversation. Nonetheless, all that falls secondary to the main event – the music.
When putting out a record as diverse and expansive as ‘-!-’, it’s crucial to be able to back it up live. As early as when they opened with ‘.intoodeep.’, Dead Poet Society proved that they can do just that, and then some. A newcomer would find it hard to believe that the songs featured in this launch show were all taken from a debut album. For example, ‘I Never Loved Myself Like I Loved You’ and ‘.CoDA.’ are two very different songs. The former is a sensitive pop-rock ballad, and the latter is a venomously vehement anthem, however, Dead Poet Society played one after the other with ease, aplomb and equal expertise.
Much will be written and spoken about frontman Jack Underkofler’s vocal performances on the record – simultaneously powerful and delicate, he was as close to pitch-perfect as one could expect of a human being when performing live. Conversely, however, the song with the most withdrawn vocals on the record, ‘.SALT.’ was undoubtedly the highlight of the show. A pleasant surprise on the album that stands out as a fine example of how Dead Poet Society excellently bend genre tropes, this song sounds even better live. The rhythm section (Will Goodroad on drums and Dylan Brenner on bass) never missed a beat and, best of all, the riff was really loud.
On the topic of riffs, a feature of Dead Poet Society’s dynamic that helps to distinguish them from their peers is their frequent use of a fretless guitar. The responsibility of playing this less conventional instrument was shared between the two axemen, with Underkofler laying it down on ‘.getawayfortheweekend.’ and ‘.loveyoulikethat.’ before swapping with Jack Collins who made all the noise on ‘.burymewhole.’, ‘.georgia.’ and ‘.SALT.’.
With a runtime just shy of 40 minutes, it does feel as though the band could have fit a couple more songs into their setlist (unless maybe Badflower enforced a curfew on their barn), however, the nine songs that they did play truly showcased the brilliance of ‘-!-’, ultimately by trimming away the distracting spoken interludes on the album and letting the music speak for itself.
Underkofler summed it up best himself just before closing out the show: “I know it’s not as good as a regular concert, but it’s what we’ve got right now. Hopefully only for a little bit longer.” Such is the nature of the industry right now, live streams are essentially a placeholder for the real thing. That said, the fact that Dead Poet Society can stage a show of such a high quality, despite it being to showcase what is just their first album, is a testament to the endearing approach that artists are taking to find a compromise in the face of adversity.