Nothing quite hits the heights of a tremendous night out watching a band you admire, and one you know can put on a hell of a show. Canadian’s The Dead South have garnered a reputation across both sides of the pond for being a band you cannot miss live. On the flip-side of this, in a frustrating sense, a venue with bad sound can truly put a dampener on any event, and Exeter’s the Great Hall became one of those moments where the band gave everything they’ve got – and for the final night of their UK tour no less – but poor sound quality distracted much of the sell-out crowd, until the last 4-5 songs or so.
Luckily for me, but sadly not for others on this occasion, I’ve seen The Dead South a couple of times and had taken along folks who knew them a little less to share my delight, because this isn’t a band that disappoints when it comes to putting on a show. However, from the off it was clear there was an issue with hearing the vocals – for pretty much all of the band – and these boys excel when it comes to creating an alt-bluegrass-foot-stomping-singalong and live music celebration. While I’m sure we’ve all been to gigs where the levels aren’t quite right to begin with, but usually even out, unfortunately Exeter Uni’s Great Hall sound-team struggled for much of their gig, despite the support acts (including a stirring set from Noble Jacks) coming through a lot smoother.
It can be somewhat restrictive to try and review a night where you didn’t get to hear the majority of the songs properly, and it would be easy to concentrate on the continual feedback screeching through the venue – which at this level, whatever was happening with the sound engineers, is frankly close to inexcusable – or the loss of specific, rasping vocals from each member of the band but these lads deserve more plaudits for getting on and still being outstanding.
One of the many things The Dead South revelled and excelled in was their professionalism throughout, belting out song-after-song from their superb recent album Sugar & Joy (read our 4-star review) as well as favourites from previous ones, the fans at the front were throwing themselves into every moment, literally, and loving the close-knit environment. The setup of the boys across the stage, each with their individual stain-glass window behind them and a moment to shine, exploded into life from the off, as well as a regular swig of whiskey and wine to help the evening along.
From here, it was time to embrace and let the other stuff go. The lightshow helped create a killer atmosphere, with colour schemes drifting through the neon-like green and blood-shot reds of the subject matter, as Danny’s outstanding Cello solos, Colton’s banjo bravado, Pringle’s spectacular mandolin/guitar playing (plus the best beard!) and Hilts growling vocals all formed to bring forth the party that everyone wants to be at. Sure, their version of bluegrass is tinted with all kinds of genres but that’s what makes these boys so damn good and when you throw in that vocal sharing that melds and merges together so impressively, well, why would you want to be anywhere else?
With the best graces of eventuality, by the time we hit the final songs, we really start to hear the best of what they can offer. Whipping the crowd up into a fantastic frenzy with the likes of In Hell I’ll be in Good Company and Banjo Odyssey, it felt like those who’d stayed to the end took on the spirit of the band and went with it, determined to make the best of what we could get on the night. Unbridled, beautiful chaotic dancing ensued all around the fringes, people sang their hearts out – pushed on by all the band of course – and by the end of it all? Another terrific memory outweighing all the other issues that will remain firmly in the memory. So, come back again soon The Dead South and we’ll help find you a venue more worthy of the legends you already are!
These four stars? All for the band!