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Murder by Death

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Sam Diamond: "I don't get it. First they steal the body and leave the clothes, then they take the clothes and bring the body back. Who would do a thing like that?

Dick Charleston: "Possibly some deranged dry cleaner."


What precedes is a scene from the classic 1976 film "Murder by Death," which is hilarious. Diamond is played by Peter Falk, and Charleston is played by David Niven. Truman Capote has a starring role, as does Sir Alec Guiness (in his last role before becoming Obi-Wan Kenobi). It's even got Peter Sellers playing an elderly Chinese detective, which, though borderline racist, is a role he was born to play. (and by "borderline," I mean "overtly.")

When I heard that "Murder by Death" was also an alt-rock band that would be playing at Harlow's on Sunday night, I went, sight unseen (sound unheard?).

If nothing else, I figured they'd have a good sense of humor.

Turns out they are pretty fantastic musicians as well.

Opening for the Indiana folk rockers were Damion Suomi and the Minor Prophets, and The Builders And The Butchers.

Unfortunately, due to some faulty intel (we had been informed that the bands were running late and the show wouldn't start until 9 p.m.), we missed all but the final song of Damion's set.  The one song that we did hear, the soulful introspective "The lion, the ram, and the fish," made me wish that we'd heard the rest.

Up next were Portland's (by way of Alaska) The Builders And The Butchers.

It took very little time to recognize that these guys have a style and sound all their own. Two drummers, one of whom also plays keys, t'other a mandolin, sharing a single deconstructed drum set (this is fantastic). There is also a lead guitarist who does most of his damage on an electric banjo, but who also brings an electric mandolin and lap steel to the party when the situation calls for it. And a lead singer who doesn't hesitate to employ a 1930s? traffic cone-like megaphone while singing, tossing it to the stage as if disgusted with it when it no longer serves it's purpose.

It sounds crazy, but it all works.

They play a heavy crushing version of alt/Americana/folk/whiskey rock. Songs like "Rotten to the Core" and "Golden and Green" are driving, crunching dark and powerful tracks, elevated by Ryan Sollee's haunting vocals and able storytelling.

They set the bar pretty high for the evening's headliners.

Murder by Death proved up to the challenge.

The boys (and girl) from Bloomington play another unique version of American/folk/alt-country rock. It's not very often that you see an electronic cello or a drummer playing a propane tank.

Sarah Balliet's cello playing gives the music a lush, fat richness that just envelops the room. Speaking of haunting vocals. . . . Adam Turla's got em. Another great storyteller, his vocals range from deep and resonant (possibly my favorite song of the evening, "Brother"), to borderline Danzig-esque (crowd favorite and encore, "Comin Home").

The band may be even better than the movie. 

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