Prior to the release of A Band Called Death, I had no awareness of Detroit, Michigan’s African-American punk godfathers Death. If you had asked me if I had heard of a band called Death, I certainly would’ve answered yes, presuming you were referring to the Florida death metal juggernauts. Nope, we’re talking about one of the worlds very first punk bands. The film A Band Called Death introduced me to the band and I soon thereafter purchased their album …For the Whole World to See (recorded in 1974, released in 2009). I was floored by the album. My only disappointment: there wasn’t more of it. Listening to the album you can hear the seeds of so many punk bands (from Detroit, or otherwise) who followed – to either critical acclaim or cult status. However, Death wouldn’t change the name of their band and that’s where the major labels balked, sending them into obscurity for the better part of three decades.
Times have changed and some of us now know about the band called Death. And a few hundred of us gathered at Club Dada in Deep Ellum to see their first ever Dallas appearance (while Ice-T and Body Count played a sold-out show just across the street at Trees). The three piece band was full of energy as they delivered their brand of potent and inspired proto-punk. Founding members and siblings Dannis Hackney (drums) and Bobby Hackney (bass) were joined by guitarist Bobbie Duncan, who fills the spot left by Death’s visionary and founding member David Hackney who passed away in 2000. Each of these players are first-rate musicians and singers. It was a pleasure watching them perform their dynamic songs; that are certainly rooted in punk sound and song-structure ethic, but also meander into their own original territory. I can’t recall which song it was, but there was a Hendrix-esque guitar solo in there somewhere. Something rarely heard in the repertoire of the majority of “punk” bands.
The band played most of …For the Whole World to See, as well as several songs from their latest release N.E.W. When they ripped into “Keep on Knockin” they got a strong roar of approval from the crowd. Other classic tracks from the debut album, like “Politician’s In My Eyes,” and “Rock N Roll Victim,” ignited the jubilant audience – one of the most culturally diverse audiences I’ve seen in some time. In a way, the songs on N.E.W. are those of a more musically mature band, nevertheless they retain the original spark and vision of their debut recording. In a live setting, the songs blend together perfectly and display a band that is diverse and dynamic. There wasn’t much between song banter from the band members, rather they were laser focused on the task at hand. It was true pleasure to witness them in a small and intimate venue like Club Dada. Though, it is a damn shame they’re not playing to a larger audience.
If Death is coming to your neck of the woods, we at the void report implore you to check them out. They are more than just their backstory (as compelling as it is), they’re a bona-fide rock band. Each member of the band worked their ass off for a set that was both inspired and relentless. Death is a powerhouse trio whose live performance is as strong as any of their peers. When the show’s over it doesn’t matter if Death were the worlds first punk band or not. It’s inconsequential to the fact that they’re the last punk band that rocked your face off.
– J. Kevin Lynch