Once upon a time, terms like “side project” and “supergroup” meant something. In 2013, not so much. Collaboration, cross pollination and multiple-moniker musicmaking have become commonplace in the Internet age. But Deathfix, while all of those things, doesn’t settle comfortably into a certain era.
The D.C. quartet glides across timelines, grabbing what it fancies and wiring it into a rambling vehicle that spits post-rock, jazz, ’70s guitar pop and a little psudeo-funk out the exhaust. The band’s set on the Black Cat’s backstage Sunday night — part record-release party, part mid-tour homecoming — represented that homemade sound perfectly.
Deathfix is made up of (deep breath) guitarist Brendan Canty (drummer for Fugazi and Rites of Spring, among others), keyboardist Rich Morel (DJ/producer/songwriter, well-known for co-founding the popular Blowoff dance parties with Bob Mould), drummer Devin Ocampo (guitarist for Medications and Faraquet, drummer for Smart Went Crazy) and bassist Mark Cisneros (multi-instrumentalist for Medications).
Those rich and varied histories — Canty announced that he is celebrating his 31st year of recording for the venerable Dischord label — come across on the band’s self-titled debut album. Sunday’s set reprised the disc in brisk fashion, with Canty and Morel alternating lead vocal lines while Ocampo and Cisneros kept the wheels on the road with elastic bass and drum interplay.
The set kicked off with two of the group’s strongest tunes, “Mind Control” and “Better Than Bad,” which ramble forward on chunky, power-pop guitar riffs and droplets of electric piano. The contrast between Morel and Canty’s vocals was pronounced throughout the almost hour-long performance — the former reedy but expressive, the latter creamy and assured — and it worked to excellent effect early on.
The loose-jointed nature of songs such as “Hospital” meant that there were a few stumbles during the performance, but all was forgotten when everything fused together, as when all four Deathfixers lended voice to the swirling upsurge of “Playboy” or when the music was brought to a precarious standstill during “Transmission.” When they crashed back into it seconds later, the ensuing coda was spine-tingling.
A series of blurred and blended visuals provided a backdrop for the show (and played an important role during an opening set from Baltimore’s Dubpixel), but made the most sense during a version of what has quickly become Deathfix’s best-known song, “Dali’s House.” For nine minutes, a scraggly funk riff unwound while Morel, in fine surrealist fashion, imagines what it would be like to be the house of a rotating cast of public figures, from Jane Birkin to James Murphy. If a room full of shimmying bodies was an indicator, the band’s mix of ramshackle D.C. pop pedigrees hit its peak right then.
Foster is a freelance writer.