The first time I saw Death in June live was in 2002 at the Walker Stage in New York City. The duo of Douglas Pearce and John Murphy commanded an intimate acoustic performance to a small but dedicated audience. Almost twelve years later, as this latest performance wrapped up, I thought back to my first DIJ experience and recounted how much things have both changed and stayed the same. The audience is larger, but just as dedicated. The band itself remains Douglas P. and John Murphy, but the momentary addition of Miro Snejdr (Herr Lounge Corps) added a fresh element to their classic line-up. The venue itself was an evolutionary step up from old punk bars, with a top-of-the-line audio system that delivered every note, beat, and sample without fail. Complex, situated right outside of the city of Los Angeles in Glendale, has grown to be the premiere venue for Industrial/Noise events in the area. Which should not be all that surprising when considering the long history that their staff, headed by the Rev. John, has had promoting the underground music scene in Los Angeles. Partnered with the event collective Church of the 8th Day, the team comfortably packed the venue with passionate fans and proved that they can deliver a more traditional act. The merchandise table was extensive, ranging from reissues of classic albums to brand new shirt designs and tour keepsakes, and as any event promoter should know, the life blood of any gig you book is the bar — which was staffed by courteous professionals who kept my whiskey flowing throughout the night.
This evening’s event was scheduled as a double feature, with an early and late show. Due to the long drive to and fro, my wife and I opted only for the early performance. Each show had a DJ opening to set the mood, with Blk Rainbow on early duties and Frank H-Bomb for the later crowd. Blk Rainbow focused on minimal and darkwave sounds to get the night started, and Herr H-Bomb delivered an impressive neofolk and ambient mix for those sticking around or joining in the revelries. The stage was set with a striking American Totenkopf 6 backdrop, with more flags draped over the instruments and flanked on one side by an imposing Schwarze Sonne banner. Kudos to the promoters for not compromising on the powerful aesthetic that is so crucial to the aura of Death in June.
Not far beyond the announced start time, an appropriately camouflaged Miro Snejdr appears and takes to the piano to begin the Herr Lounge Corps performance. Miro Snejdr started his affiliation with Death in June in 2009 as a fan posting piano covers of DIJ on YouTube. It would be through the close-knit Yahoo! DIJ Group that Snejdr caught the attention of Douglas P., sparking what would lead to their collaboration on the Peaceful Snow album. To see Snejdr evolve from enthusiast to performer was remarkable, and his Totenkopf Torch Songs were a hit with the crowd. Outstanding renditions include “Come Before Christ and Murder Love”, “Fall Apart”, and “Drowning Alone”. Snejdr then applied a striking mask, marking a transformational phase. Adding to the piano were various samples, including a series of martial drums that welled me up with adrenaline. Shortly after, Snejdr gets up, takes up an accordion, and Douglas P. comes on stage ringing a bell to clear the air and begins with Death in June’s “Life Under Siege”. Snejdr’s live contributions to such tracks as “Wolf Rose”, “Leopard Flowers”, and “Peaceful Snow” added an element that would make this an especially unique experience. Douglas P. then excuses Snejdr with a respectful bow and welcomes on stage the iconic John Murphy on drums.
The classic duo start off with the track “We Drive East”, and I’m immediately awestruck by the quality of Complex’s sound system. The dual drums on “Death of a Man” sent shivers down my spine as they filled the venue with haunting echoes. For about 2 hours we would be treated to one of the best Death in June performances of my life. This early set leaned on older tracks such as “Till the Living Flesh is Burned”, “She Said Destroy” (including the Prisoner samples), “Ku Ku Ku”, “Death is the Martyr of Beauty”, “But, what Ends when the Symbols Shatter?”, “He’s Disabled”, “Because of Him”, and “Little Black Angel”. In one light-hearted misstep, Douglas had some timing issues on “Flies have their House”, but with a hearty laugh he promptly brushed it off and took the crowd request for “Hollows of Devotion”. Ever forward, Death in June marched on with about a dozen more songs and ended their main set with the more recent “Takeyya”. After a brief break, Pearce and Murphy returned to the stage for their encore set of “Heaven Street”, “Rose Clouds of Holocaust”, and finally the ominous “C’est un Rêve”.
So here I am, with twelve years between two milestone experiences. I have to admit, in the early days of this tour, I was feeling a bit jaded. Death in June remains one of the most iconic bands in my personal history, but I prefer few discriminating high-quality experiences over compulsive repetition. However, my worries were needless. Douglas P.’s decision to include Herr Lounge Corps on this tour revitalized my expectations, and Complex matched that with professionalism deserving many returns, Neofolk or not. All those involved in LA and across the USA deserve high praise for making this tour happen. Also, thanks to Jeffrey Jinx and his partners for the back-end wheeling and dealing to secure the tour and making everything fall into place. As of this writing, there remains Chicago, Austin, Houston, Pittsburgh, and New York City on the tour. Miss this and suffocate in regret.