The Death Set at the Vagabond, March 4

The Death Set
The Vagabond
Friday, March 4, 2011

Better Than: Drinking to the usual indie-dance playlist going on in the other room of the club.

The 50-odd people who managed to wander in to the Vagabond's main dance floor area last night for the Death Set's performance got a fast, furious half-hour of spazz-rock. Everyone else who couldn't be bothered to filter in from the bar room, well, they missed shit being ripped up with a punk-rock energy rarely seen at the Vagabond's dance-heavy Friday night party.

It was clear from the outset that only a handful of people in the room actually knew or cared who the Australian-by-way-of-Brooklyn trio were. Luckily, the band had a few tricks up its sleeve from the get-go. That's when frontman Johnny Siera -- looking very awesomely '90s skate-rat in a sleeveless Ramones tee, flipped-bill cap, and one dangling earring -- called out, "Yo Miami, what's good?" Thus kicked off a few minutes of a Michael Jackson sample, and then the first blast of stripped-down punk rock and shrieking vocals.

The samples, actually, helped the band big-time in winning over the crowd. While the Death Set's recorded material sounds more complexly multi-genre, live, the band's snippets of mostly rap serve as between-song filler and hype material, and it works. Nothing can win over a Miami crowd like a few lines from the Notorious B.I.G. or Dem Franchise Boys, after all. And these flourishes only got everybody more amped for the "real" parts of the songs.

These were warp-speed, freak-out anthems that were purposely discordant, almost grating, and perfect to freak the fuck out. That happened precisely by the second song, when even the previously clueless among the audience had crowded through the front of the stage, one fellow even allowing Siera to thread his microphone cord through his shirt. Similar antics proceeded through the rest of the show, including Siera mounting drummer Jahphet Landis' set a few times and hoisting aloft his cymbal -- which Landis still managed to play in time.

The only issue here was that this kind of vibe goes best in a crammed room, so when some overeager types tried to crowd-surf, there was nothing to catch them but the floor. (Ouch!) Still, the Death Set played as though the venue were really a sweat basement somewhere in outer Brooklyn, and when they announced their "last song," the crowd wouldn't let that fly. About four songs later, it was, truly, the last song, only a half-hour before they started, and there were a few minutes when everyone stood around slightly dazed before getting back into the disco groove.

Critic's Notebook

The Crowd: A smattering of ex-skater types clearly there for the band; as always, drunk girls using the main dance floor's columns to inexpertly pole dance; couples on some other level slow-dancing and making out.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Yeaaaaahhhh, Biggie!"

Random Detail: Is there a point at which every uber-cool Brooklyn musician gets issued a piece of Mishka streetwear?

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Arielle Castillo
Contact: Arielle Castillo