Loud, fast and heavy to the point where listeners can feel bass in their chests, Death From Above 1979 makes an immediate impression. The problem has been a lack of live performance opportunities. After a pair of releases vaulted the band to cult favorite status — making it tourmates with Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age — DFA 1979 broke up on iffy terms in 2006.
What happened since literally turned into a movie. To the surprise of many, DFA 1979 reunited to play a handful of festivals in 2011, prompting drummer Sebastien Grainger and bass/synth-man Jesse Keeler to reconsider. A decade without new music ended in 2014 with the well-received Physical World, and the recent documentary Life After Death From Above 1979 chronicles the duo's journey blow-by-blow. The lesson?
"All bands should break up for five years between making records," Keeler says. "It works out great. We're going to break up for another five years before we make anything else."
There are circumstantial benefits, he adds.
"I wish I could take credit for that, but it's a happy set of circumstances," Keeler says. "If you get out of the race while you're still going up, you didn't have a chance to decline in people's eyes. So some bands break up cause things are going bad; we broke up because things were going good but we weren't happy. And because we weren't happy, it didn't matter if things were going good."
If DFA 1979's return so far is any indication, it has maintained what Keeler calls the Marilyn Monroe gloss: "A perfect snapshot still exists." The duo remains on the upswing, courtesy of a new album featuring a flurry of blossoming signatures: driving, cymbal-laden percussion; harmony-filled hooks; tight songs that are under four minutes and full of unexpected twists and turns. Keeler says the project has made live performances more fun — even if it all was unintended.
"We tried to go a different direction, but when the record was done we were listening to it... 'Maybe this is just how our band sounds. This is just how we play,'" Keeler says. "I really like AC/DC, but their records very much sound the same. So when we finished this record, I wondered if maybe they really were trying to push the envelope every time. It's their signature; they have such a distinct way of playing. Maybe we're one of those bands where the form is a big part of the band itself. But that's not a problem, because I don't mind the company if it's us and AC/DC."
DFA 1979 comes to Voodoo Music + Arts Experience fresh off a string of dates at intimate European clubs and an appearance on Late Show with David Letterman. Keeler says it's shaping up to be the duo's first proper tour since reuniting.
"With these club shows, people are there because they came for the moment you're going to have with them," Keeler says. "You can hear them yelling and it's been f—ing crazy. But we'll see. Maybe at Voodoo it'll be just crickets. 'There's only two of them up there with that big stage?!' We'll just get a bunch of cardboard and put it around stage, then burn the cardboard. It'll be cool."