The text came out of the blue: “I have an extra ticket for Trail of Dead performing ‘Source Tags & Codes’ in its entirety. Would you be interested?” Trail of Dead is short for the band, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. Their album “Source Tags & Codes” got me hooked on the band back in 2003. And now I had the opportunity to finally catch them live.
Behind the Music
The year was 2003. My daughter was months old, my wife and I had rough work schedules, and we didn’t have the money, time, or energy to do anything outside the house. The only expense I always left room for was music. Each paycheck, I would take a trip to Best Buy to find CD’s on sale. It was there that I found “Source Tags & Codes.” I picked up the deluxe version of the album that day and couldn’t wait to pop it in.
The melodic, multi-layer album was on heavy rotation in my 1997 Ford Mustang. I’ve forgotten many of the events of those years but the music always brings back the feelings. Music has always been therapy in my life. Albums like “Source Tags & Codes” allowed me to vent, dream, and escape reality.
It was about 9:30 PM when we walked into Alex’s Bar. The place was tiny with a bar counter on the right side and a small stage on the left back corner underneath a three-dimensional Virgin Mary light. Art inspired by Dia de los Muertos and other Latino art covered the walls all around.
We found an empty area next to the audio mixing board and enjoyed the opening band, The Start, whose set had already started when we walked in. As we stood there watching purple-haired singer Aimee Echo wail in the small confines of this bar, we realized Conrad Keely, lead singer of Trail of Dead, was standing directly in front of us taking in the show.
Keely walked away a few minutes later as the crowd started building. He was fine at first with people coming over to say hello but it got to be too much when everyone wanted to have conversations with him.
After a great set, The Start walked down the stage and the sound crew jumped up to set up for Trail of Dead. Amps were moved, pedalboards brought in and connected, and microphones tested. More people began entering the bar as if on cue. It must have been just after 10:30 when three nondescript guys came out from the crowd and took the steps up to the stage. The final person up was Keely from all the way in the back.
Keely got on the mic and said, “Thank you all for coming tonight to watch us perform this little album we put out like 10,000 years ago.” They jumped right into “It Was There That I Saw You,” and the place erupted.
After “Baudelaire,” Keely moved to drums so drummer Jason Reece could bellow on “Homage.” Throughout the night, this switch happened several times. I knew that vocals and drum duties were shared between the two but it was nevertheless interesting to see it in action.
At the conclusion of the title track and final track of the album, the band launched into songs from Madonna in preparation for the next night, when they would play that album in order. It was an absolute barrage of sound. At its loudest point, a new drummer was at the kit with Reece on vocals and additional percussion. The finale was a riot of sound with screaming guitars and banging drums.
Almost as quickly as the show began, it came to a raucous conclusion. The band walked off the stage and blended in with the crowd.
There was a cool breeze outside. The loud show clearly affected my hearing as the cars flying past us sounded blocks away. Even at 39, it’s a worthwhile sacrifice for a night of live music.