Show Review: Dead Man’s Bones
There’s something magical about a group of kids dressed as ghosts, their cherubic faces painted like skeletons, chanting “My body’s a zombie for you” over and over, their youthful voices bouncing exuberantly from the rafters. Like some fantastical dream, this was the scene at the Middle East Downstairs last night–the low ceilings and dank basement air proving to be the perfect venue on a chilly October night to groove to the “gothic folk” music of Dead Man’s Bones, the Los Angeles band featuring actors Ryan Gosling and Zach Shields.
Though Ryan Gosling began his career starring in such teeny bopper fare as Disney’s MMC and Breaker High, he was soon earning both heartthrob status (for The Notebook) and critical acclaim (with his heartbreaking, Academy-Award nominated role as a drug-addicted high school teacher in Half Nelson and his Golden-Globe nominated role in the sweet Lars and the Real Girl, one of my favorites). In 2007, Gosling and fellow actor Shields bonded over their common fascination with all things supernatural, deciding to channel this obsession into a musical endeavor. They both set out to learn how to play and write music, coming up with songs like “Werewolf Heart” and “Flowers Grow Out of My Grave.” After two years, they had recorded an album, with backup vocals by LA’s Silverlake Conservatory Children’s Choir. Both Shields and Gosling were drawn to using the unique and multi-layered voices of the young, a technique that lends a haunting, ethereal quality to their music.
It was the band’s first official show, following the release of their debut eponymous album on October 6. The stage was set with a backdrop of a haunted house, a graveyard, strings of glowing white lights, and the aforementioned gang of ghostly kids. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect–the band lists among their musical influences The Cure, The Andrews Sisters, Joy Division, and James Brown. The event page had this to say about the band: “The outcome is an artistic aesthetic of old Universal horror films, vaudeville music-hall numbers, and silent-screen melodramas perfect for the month of Halloween.” Though the set was short (about an hour), the music had the sold-out crowd dancing and clapping to the beat, wildly cheering after each song. Highlights included the raucous “My Body’s a Zombie for You” and the daze-y “Pa Pa Power.” The band’s sound is an oddball mix of doo-wop, gospel, and synthesizer pop that melds into cohesive music you want to listen to year-round. It’s vaguely reminiscent of The Arcade Fire, and Gosling’s voice is just the right timbre to lend a spooky depth to the lyrics.
I know what I’ll be playing at the office Halloween party, for sure.
*cross-posted at Bostonist*