Bloomington, Indiana’s Murder By Death may be from the Midwest, but their musical sensibilities are steeped in the Southern Gothic tradition, and they are one of the primary bands that have come to epitomize the genre over the decade and a half of their existence. The band released their seventh album Big Dark Love on Bloodshot Records early last year, and since that time they have been touring relentlessly for it. The band made their second DC stop for the album (following a previous date last March at the Black Cat) at the 9:30 Club on Friday night, marking their biggest headlining show in the District so far.
Their sound has evolved somewhat with each new album, but Murder By Death has remained consistently recognizable, particularly through the deep, twangy voice of frontman Adam Turla and the brooding cello of Sarah Balliet. The band opened the show with a tribute to Prince, playing their own version of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which they had apparently learned earlier that same day. Even that song hastily learned took on a distinctly Murder By Death style.
While the band is still technically touring for Big Dark Love (their last set of dates before taking a break from the road), their set list for the night ranged over most of their catalog, from “A Masters in Reverse Psychology” and “Until the Morale Improves, the Beatings Will Continue” from their second album, 2003’s Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them, all the way up to “Ghost Fields,” “The Curse of Elkhart,” and “I Came Around” from their previous album, 2012’s Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon. The new album was represented by four songs – the title track, “Strange Eyes,” “Natural Pearl,” and “Solitary One.”
Indie rockers Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band might not have a lot in common musically with Murder By Death, but they served as an excellent energetic choice to warm up the crowd, with Devine taking full advantage of the large 9:30 stage to jump around. They played a long set for an opener, managing to get in twelve songs including set highlights “The First Hit,” “Little Bulldozer,” “Bubblegum,” and “Brother’s Blood.”