Deep into their set on Friday night in a cavern, Murder By Death‘s Adam Turla told a story about the struggle to book venues in the early days. When a promoter asked what kind of places the up-and-coming band wanted to play, Turla replied, “Magical ones.”
Murder By Death has been around for 15 years, and now they seem to play magical venues pretty often. I haven’t yet had the chance to see one of MBD’s shows at Colorado’s iconic Stanley Hotel, but I was on hand Friday for the first of three performances in a manmade cavern in Louisville.
Flash back to last fall. I’m here in Savannah, and one morning I see that Murder By Death has decided to market their new album — the wonderful Big Dark Love — through a Kickstarter campaign. One of the rewards is a ticket to a show at a cavern in Louisville. I have family in Kentucky, so why not plan a weekend seven months ahead of time? A lot happened in my life in the intervening months, but the timing ended up being perfect.
Given the dank intimacy of the space (which occasionally pops up on the web as the Workhouse Ballroom), tickets were very limited. The old cavern, which dates to the mid-19th century and which may or may not have been used for brewing beer, is accessed via a door on the side of a hill just down the road from historic Cave Hill Cemetery. The space is probably less than 20 feet wide and made entirely of stone, but the acoustics on Friday night were surprisingly good, even up close where I stood — no doubt a reflection of the band’s perfectionism and of the skill of sound engineer Kevin Ratterman.
The set was a dream for diehard MBD fans, some of whom had traveled long distances for a weekend in Louisville. There were deep cuts from older albums — you can decipher some of the titles from the set list below — and many in the crowd seemed to know every lyric. I love pretty much anything MBD records, but I was especially taken by Friday’s rendition of “Lost River” off 2012’s Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon. (I’ve seriously considered trying to hire the band to play that song at a funeral.)
Several times between songs Turla expressed his sincere thanks to fans for supporting MBD as their art evolves. Turla and cellist Sarah Balliet moved last year to Louisville; the city’s rich history and progressive present seem like a good fit for Murder By Death as the band finds its way into the future.
MBD closed the set with “As Long As There Is Whiskey In The World” (we were in Kentucky, after all) off 2010’s Good Morning, Magpie. There was no backstage for the band to retreat to, so they stayed right there and did a two-song encore after taking recommendations from the crowd: “The Devil in Mexico” from 2003’s Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left of Them and “Spring Break 1899” from 2008’s Red of Tooth and Claw.
It was pretty dark in the cavern, and somewhat crowded. I tried a variety of settings on my camera, including blowing out the ISO and embracing the graininess, and I didn’t move around — just too many people having too good of a time to shoulder them aside for more variety in the shots. Given my position and the lighting, it was really tough to get photos of all the band members, especially drummer Dagan Thogerson back there in the dark. Click on through for more (although they get kind of same-y).