Gig Review: The Dead South @ The Anson Rooms
by Charles Yaxley

In an image-conscious age dominated by computer generated music, marketing teams and profit, it’s so refreshing to come across a genuine group of musicians in the tradition of the travelling troubadours of old. They are a fine example of a touring band; just check out their schedule - it’s classic ‘pack up the show, get on the bus, we’ve another town to play tomorrow’.  Being of a certain age, it brings a tear to my eye, reminding me of how the industry used to be!

They describe themselves as “Mumford and Sons evil twins”. I think not, but more of that later. I’m not sure how I’d describe them, indeed, I don’t think I’d want to pigeon hole them, save to say this is punked up, funked up bluegrass.  Sputnik Music describes their songs as covering the classic material of “lovin’, cheatin’, killin’, and drinkin’.”This is a band that I could imagine stumbling across in the deepest parts of The Appalachian mountain forest, playing on the front porch of some rickety old wooden house (I know that they’re Canadian, but you can see where I’m going with this). 

The stage was simple: just a banner to remind us of who we’d come to see, mics and instruments were the only dressing. When you’re this good, frankly you don’t need much else – although a self-deprecating one-man-and-his-guitar warm-up act helps, and they gave us that.  I’ll be honest, I didn’t catch his name, however, he was as an amuse bouche to The Dead South’s main course: the teaser of things to come.

There’s a wonderful humour in the way and what they play and you feel that they genuinely love performing and connecting with their audience - obviously, it helps when you’re in a venue as small as The Anson Rooms – and there’s the rub: we were their audience, they owned us from the start.

"If The Mumfords are the Waitrose of folk, The Dead South are the vibrant street market of bluegrass"

Nate Hilts and Scott Pringle pump out the driving and (on occasion) insanely fast tunes, swapping the role as mandolin player and guitarist as often as they swapped singing duties. Hilts has a wonderfully classic country/bluegrass voice and Pringle’s is more country folk. Danny Kenyon is the only person I’ve ever seen sling a cello like it was a guitar; he plucks, slaps and even plays with a bow, a one-man rhythm section. And if that isn’t enough, Eliza Doyle adds the magic of her banjo, weaving through, around and over the music, occasionally taking over as lead from Hilts or Pringle, then slipping back into support. It feels like they’re a collective, rather than one of those bands with a frontman who occasionally lets someone else have a go.

Just as you’ve settled into the classic bluegrass frenetic pace, they slow the tempo right down mid-song, to something akin to a New Orleans jazz funeral pace –a signature trick as they use it in several songs. They succeeded in producing a varied and hugely entertaining sound, such that you don’t feel all banjo-ed out by the end.

They’re intimate, craftily un-polished and witty: if The Mumfords are the Waitrose of folk, The Dead South are the vibrant street market of bluegrass – you can stick your red pepper hummus, give me some sticky ribs and a corn cob any day.

Check them out on YouTube, try and see them on the road, and make sure you buy their music. Bands like this deserve to be around for a long time.

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