The middle-aged men were wearing leather jackets, holding beers and scratching beards they decided they would die in. It front, was the large, elephantine logo of Canadian mid-scene noisemakers, Death From Above: an appropriation of the cover of their 2004 debut, You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, released when the band recorded under the name Death From Above 1979. The not-quite-sold-out Brooklyn Steel crowd wasn’t full as it would have been in, say, 2014, when the duo first reunited, hitting the festival circuit and releasing their second LP: a version of their debut’s abrasively sticky sound minted to technical Foo Fighters-perfection, The Physical World. Then again, Brooklyn Steel wouldn’t have existed then either: the former steel fabrication shop-turned-industrial chic concert space only opened earlier this year, to a five-day, sold-old series of shows by the (also) recently reunited LCD Soundsystem, whose record label once infamously forced Death From Above to change their name.
“Turn up the drums,” a small chorus begun to shrilly pout shortly after drummer/singer Sebastien Grainger and bassist Jesse Keeler begun rolling through some of the newest material (another record, Outrage! Is Now followed earlier this year). This was not precisely a critique: drum nerds, students who spent their high school years studying of Phil Collins’ intricate pad work, make a solid section of DFA’s more earnest fan base and no highly leveled panging might satisfy. Sometime in the middle of the set, Grainger acknowledged the audience with some kind of half-hearted blowjob joke, I think the joke was about the joke itself or something like that. It was gesture that felt somewhat off-putting, as the otherwise entirely silent Keeler has been the subject of some controversy for his appearances on the podcast of Gavin McInnes, the former Vice cofounder-turned-MRA advocate. Keeler remained mum that night but released a statement a few days later that was equal parts self-flagellating and kind of funny (most notably, he said he confused McInnes for a comedian with a really edgy act, which I guess).
It doesn’t help, probably that half the lines on Outrage! Is Now could be contenders for the National Review’s infamous “The 50 Greatest Conservative Rock Songs” (“Before there was Rush Limbaugh, there was Rush, a Canadian band whose lyrics are often libertarian”). We expect rock to be liberal like we are, mostly because Elvis liked to shake his hip and surely that’s a burden that Keeler isn’t particularly beholden to. But there’s something lonely about it that doesn’t come to mind when you’re spinning the Justice remix of “Blood on Our Hands” at indie night at the pub. There is something communal about hearing a loud, rock sound; bands are an implicitly social exercise. But DFA practice isolation as a spiritual exercise, when Keeler turns around to the array of ear-flattening amplifiers behind him, he doesn’t look like he wants to turn back around.
But yes. Turn up the drums.