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Death's Sweet Set Slays Empty Bottle

By Casey Moffitt in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 14, 2014 6:00PM

Death, image via their Facebook page

When Death exited the Empty Bottle stage Saturday night, they left a room full of dropped jaws and melted faces after a stellar performance of hard-hitting rock 'n' roll.

If you're reading this, then you most likely are familiar with the incredible story behind Death's emergence from an underground 1970s Detroit rock band to a worldwide sensation. They've gotten a lot of hype since the release of their old tapes in 2009 and the 2012 documentary A Band Called Death. But they lived up to all of it at the Empty Bottle this past weekend.

Although tagged as a proto-punk or garage band, Death flexed a lot of musical muscle during its Saturday night show displaying that the band is much more than that label might imply. It's raw rock, but it also has a distinct groove and a little bit of soul to go along with that raw sound. Even can tread into prog rock territory with some wicked runs and added or subtracted beats.

Guitarist Bobbie Duncan is an agile and nimble player with both hands. He can shred and wail with beautiful phrasing just as well as he can drop into a wicked funk rhythm that drives a song when Bobby Hackney lets loose on the bass. The crunchy tones emanating from his two Marshall stacks were biting and howling all night long. It was gorgeous.

Drummer Dannis Hackney is a really quick player. It is especially evident when blasting eighth notes on his high hat relentlessly propelling the the songs, and staying right on top of the beat - or maybe just a little bit ahead of it. It helps bring a sense of urgency to the tunes. He got a chance to show off his skills during a drum solo, and not only was his speed and precision impressive, but to watch him do it with giant drum sticks was astounding. You would sooner see logs like that in marching band drum line than behind the set of a rock 'n' roll kit.

Bobbie Hackney's voice is in fine form even after all these years. He still can hit the falsettos and bellow lower registers. It is a powerful voice and he used it all night with giant smile across his face. The guys in Death seems to be enjoying themselves on stage these days, and they should. Not only to take in the recognition that is long overdue, but it also is band firing on all cylinders. All three musicians are at the top of their games and they are playing very well together as a unit. Death could be rock force to be reckoned with for a while if they choose to keep it going.

The band played a a good selection from its 2009 release ...For All the World to See, as well as it latest release of old tapes, Death III. The band also treated the audience to two new songs, "Relief," which the band has released as a single, and "Playtime." Both new tunes pick up right where Death left off in 1977 and easily fit into the set. Bobby Hackney also announced Death will be releasing and album of new music for the first time since 1976 in the near future.

Throughout the night, Bobby Hackney talked about the departed Hackney brother, David, who succumbed to lung cancer in 2000. He would say he and his brother wrote one song together while introducing it and how emotional it was to play it. He talked about how David was the leader and the brains behind Death and the concept of the band.

Bobby Hackney shared the story of how his brother convinced the band to reject Clive Davis' money to bankroll an album after Davis asked the band to change its name.

"We all looked at David and said, 'Well Dave, what do you think?'" Bobby revealed. "He just looked at the floor, thinking, and about 30 minutes later he looked up and said, 'Tell Clive Davis to go to hell.'"

Bobby said he is constantly reminded of his brother each time he performs Death songs and thinks about his brother all the time. Bobby spoke about David as if he really believed David's spirit was in the room or at least watching the band from another plane of existence that night.

Tutu and the Pirates, the Chicago punk band which formed in 1977, immediately preceded Death. They adequately irritated the audience with its brand of crude, humorous tunes. The Man opened the show. The trio's gimmick is they come out in business suits and play some mean punk rock about greed and power tripping squares.

But Death owned the night.