Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
There we were in Manhattan, catty-corner from the Chelsea Hotel, on a street next to nothing on one side and an antiques store on the other. Two enormous rhinoceros water fountains, made out of concrete and looking for new homes, were planted by the doorway. A construction scaffolding gave us cover during some October rains as we looked across at the pet grooming salon and contemplated going to get Mexican food again. The red door building is inconspicuous, but its owner, a fascinating Russian gentleman named Giorgio Gomelsky, who in what seems to have been in a previous life, but in fact just 40 years ago, the manager of The Yardbirds, the owner of London's The Crawdaddy Club and the discoverer of The Rolling Stones, insists that the leaky-ceilinged room is legendary.
He's changed the name of it to coincide with the color of the door - from white, to green, to red, and so on - and all kinds of thrilling, experimental, musical happenings have occurred within those walls. We'd only known The Deadly Syndrome guys personally for less than a month, but after having them show up a day early for their recording session, stopping in to watch The A-Sides play a show here in town and then regaling us with odd dreams, a stunning performance, and a tantalizing opportunity to diminish the degrees of separation between us and Willie Nelson down to two, we felt the kindred spirits knocking about in the air. Immediately, we added them to our CMJ showcase (bringing us back to Manhattan, you see) and as I was standing in that elbow-to-elbow, hot and humid, smoke-filled oasis - dampened by a few splashes of keg beer - Deadly Syndrome lead singer Chris Richard taps me on the shoulder, ecstatic to be seeing Luke Temple performing live at that moment.
Two bands later, the Los Angeles foursome would put on a performance that must have rivaled all of the impressive sacrifices this dingy and mum room had ever accepted. U2 producer Steve Lillywhite was in the audience as was an A&R man from the former UK label Lizard King Records, but a betting man would wager the farm that they would have delivered their alluring take on the phenomenal, darkness and purgatory to a gathering of none. Richard roamed the stage during "I Hope I Become A Ghost," flapping his arms like a spook with wings, whoo-ing, while the rest of the band - Jesse Hoy, Will Etling and Mike Hughes - were checking in at all in speed, as if they had just invented fire and were celebrating it as only someone who'd just invented fire should.
If there is a consensus that Arcade Fire are the most invigorating live band in the world, than The Deadly Syndrome are kissing cousins of the same family tree. They don't deal with death in quite the same manner as that band from Montreal does. They go about it in a more harmless Jacob Marley, still creepy Edgar Allen Poe, oddly fantastical George Orwell kind of way. There's not the same commune with despair that the Fire seems to traffic in, just a quixotic streaming through the brambles. The young band survives in its early stages as accomplished musicians, with keen ears that can embrace a galaxy's amount of nuances, an upon the notion that most people die a little every day and then fade into some sort of white smoke world where it's not all over yet. This isn't seen as a disappointing place to be for many of the characters in the songs on the band's Dim Mak debut album, The Ortolan. They all seem to have unfinished business, like most ghosts. They wish to see what goes on without them. They wish to not just be wiped from the face of the living without more of a say in it. The characters are powerful representations of broken people with blemishes and regrets that can't be subtracted by liquid paper or a bonfire. They are reminiscent of the struggle that is waged throughout the torsos of most who - despite their best intentions and moralities - still found ways to leave a shadow strewn with shredded memories and disappointment, people slighted.
The Deadly Syndrome provides that gloomy, but all too appropriate reminder that no one lives a flawless life. They don't beat a dead horse or do this in a way that you feel you've heard before. Winter comes from their mouths like white snakes and you feel the desolation, a fire that's still giving off that needed and wanted heat, but is on its final log and the supply isn't looking to be replenished away time before spring. It's this insistence -- and a very appropriate one -- that nature relentlessly finds a way to right itself and when it gets to people, it doesn't handle them with care. It just does its job. Ghosts sometimes happen, making the most of the time here doesn't usually. You should see how all of this looks in person.
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The Deadly Syndrome