(photos by Paul Haynes)
Poetic though it may be, the lyrical content of Death of June, the brainchild of British singer-songwriter Douglas P., hovers somewhere between “utterly hopeless” and “wrist-slittingly depressing.” Topics of discussion over the band’s 30-plus-year career in the controversial shadows of the U.K.’s industrial and neofolk movements include death, decay, fascism, genocide, despair, rape and Lucifer.
But the takeaway from last night’s ultra-rare Death in June concert at Respectable Street – Douglas’ first appearance here since 1997 – was one of overwhelming love. The amount of sheer adulation that rippled from the packed dance floor toward the stage was nearly unparalleled in my concert-going life. Calls for requests, which came surprisingly early in the set list, led to a noisome din of suggestions, most of which Douglas did his best to honor, resulting in a show unlike any other in his recent schedule (Before playing the fan favorite “She Said Destroy” as the ninth song in the set, Douglas said, “I normally don’t take requests this early, but it’s so hot, and you’ve waited so long.”).
Moreover, the crowd simply refused to leave after two encores. We remained firmly planted in front of the stage and applauding while Douglas and his bandmate, percussionist John Murphy, relaxed at the back of the stage. Douglas eventually had to shoo us away with lines like “This is the big anticlimax – I suggest you turn around and walk away” and “if the backstage was easier to get to, we wouldn’t be here.”
It was an experience nobody wanted to see end, even after nearly two hours of music, and for good reason. Seeing Death in June live is a visceral experience, quite a different animal than listening to the band’s records. Part of it was the dramatic mise-en-scene of Death in June’s set: Hanging behind the instruments was a large American flag with the stars replaced by the menacing Totenkopf-6, the skull-and-bones insignia borrowed from the Third Reich and earlier genocidal regimes – a not-so-subtle implication, perhaps, that the U.S. is becoming a fascist country (he won’t get much argument from me). Similar disturbing symbols covered portions of smaller American flags draped in front of Douglas’ drum kit, and eventually the two-piece band emerged in harrowing raiment – Douglas wore military fatigues and, for the first few songs, his notorious cracked white mask, which a horror-film director would be wise to adopt.
For the four-song opening salvo, the only music was martial percussion from two snare drum kits, cymbals, chimes and maracas, with the music escalating in intensity, drawing enormous power from both the austerity of the instrumentation and the ambience in the room. It would be impossible to continue casting a spell like this for two hours, and eventually the night became more freewheeling – more human. For the rest of the set, Douglas showed his face – he looked like a bearded mountain man you might find camped out at a rifle range – and addressed the crowd by saying “Good evening, Florida – it’s been a long time” and later “I’m an old man now. You weren’t even born when I first came here.”
In other words, the night opened with secret society-style stagecraft and closed with what seemed like a couple of nice guys playing acoustic-based songs of sorrow for a docile cult – effectively demystifying this band’s provocative reputation. Which is certainly not a bad thing. The focus eventually became solely on the music, and I don’t think anyone could complain about the density and quality of this incredible set, which spanned Douglas’ entire oeuvre.
If the “Death of the West” is really coming, I’d happily allow Death in June to provide the soundtrack with nights like this one.
We Drive East
Death of a Man
Bring in the Night
Ku Ku Ku
Hail! The White Grain
The Maverick Chamber
Good Mourning Sun
She Said Destroy
Fields of Rape
Life Under Siege
Cathedral of Tears
Little Black Angel
Symbols of the Sun
The Enemy Within
??? (Does anyone know this one?)
God is Disabled
Come Before Christ and Murder Love
The Golden Wedding of Sorrow
Hollows of Devotion
To Drown a Rose
Death of the West
But, What Ends When the Symbols Shatter?
Rose Clouds of Holocaust
The Honour of Silence (a cappella)