What could possibly be more American than catching a bluegrass concert on Thanksgiving Eve? A lot of things, actually, if the band that’s humming and strumming is The Dead South.
For one, the somewhat-faux-folksy quartet hails not from the United States, but rather Regina, a city of just over 215,000 people in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Of course, they still celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada, but in October rather than November. And while The Dead South comes across largely as a bluegrass band, their music and overall presentation hardly, strictly stick to that genre.
The group’s goofy, irreverent yet dark vibes came through in swooping waves during a pre-Turkey Day performance at the Belasco Theater in downtown Los Angeles as part of their Served Cold tour. Following a pair of engaging opening sets from solo singer-guitarists Danny Oliver and Scott H. Biram—the latter described as “The Dirty Old One-Man Band”—The Dead South took the stage and proceeded to elicit as many “yee-haws” as raucous rounds of applause.
Those responses had as much to do with the songs these quirky Canadians concocted as with how they presented them. With Nate Hilts in the lead, Scott Pringle strumming away on mandolin and guitar, Danny Kenyon chilling on cello, and Colton Crawford banging on his banjo and kick drum, The Dead South regaled the audience with tales of love, lust, drinking, and murder.
They gave plenty of voice to their latest album, Sugar & Joy, with tracks ranging from “Diamond Ring”, “Black Lung”, and “Fat Little Killer Boy,” to “Snake Man, Pt. 2”, “Heaven in a Wheelbarrow”, “Spaghetti”, and “Crawdaddy Served Cold”—the last serving as a shoutout to Crawford’s return to the group from a three-year hiatus. That selection left many an opening for now-band standards to get fans clapping and stomping, including “The Recap”, “Miss Mary”, “That Bastard Son”, “Time For Crawlin’”, and the group’s breakthrough hit, “In Hell, I’ll Be In Good Company”.
All the while, The Dead South more than lived up to their billing as “Mumford and Sons’ Evil Twins,” albeit with more to it than that. Hilts’ gritty vocals do, in fact, evoke comparisons to those of Marcus Mumford. But the band, as a whole, gives off sounds and vibes like those of American folk-jam band Dispatch, along with occasional bits of gypsy punk for the lightest of touches akin to Gogol Bordello.
But The Dead South have become a budding bluegrass force for not only their music, but also for how it matches up with their visuals. It was, after all, the group’s music video for “In Hell, I’ll Be In Good Company”—featuring the foursome keeping time to the song through changing scenery—that put them on the map.
The Dead South were similarly garbed at the Belasco, in an assortment of white shirts, black trousers and suspenders, and flat-brimmed hats. Beyond replicating their own look, though, the band came equipped with a splendid stage setup. They sang and danced while sandwiched between old-school lanterns at the front and a quadriptych of fake stained-glass scenes, all of which lit up to the beat of the music in various patterns. Altogether, those bells and whistles, along with the usual array of stage lights, combined to create a distinct feel akin to a Halloween hoedown among titanic tombstones in a wild Western graveyard.
Indeed, The Dead South took those in attendance on a “Banjo Odyssey” that was at once ripping on and riffing off of bluegrass in a fun, fresh way. That unique approach doesn’t make this quartet so much a competitor to the likes of Yonder Mountain String Band, The Infamous Stringdusters, Railroad Earth, Trampled by Turtles, and Greensky Bluegrass (among others) as an act carving out its own lane that lends new life to the genre precisely by remaining comfortably adjacent to it.
Below, you can check out a gallery of photos from the show courtesy of photographer Brandon Weil.
For a list of upcoming The Dead South tour dates, head here.