Sometimes the clichés make sense—at least for the Murder City Devils. For the last four years, the Seattle-based seven-piece has been hyping the healing powers of rock & roll with all the fervor of a backwoods preacher, bashing out dirty, Stooges-inspired snippets that could make even Stephen Hawkins get up and get down. They’ve built up a cult of fans that worship every scream, every crass riff. They’ve inspired critics to spurt out pages of sticky-sweet prose normally reserved for hipsters like The Supersuckers and anything fronted by Robert Pollard.
But that’s all about to end. After the Devils finish off their current tour, the group will call it quits. Done. Get the coffin. Dig the grave. Basically, the band is burning out before it fades away. “I just didn’t like playing the old songs anymore,” says singer Spencer Moody. “And with Leslie [Hardy, keyboardist] leaving the band and Derek [Fudesco, bass] starting a new project, it just didn’t seem like the Murder City Devils anymore.”
The demise of the band will be hard for some rock diehards to take. Despite what Moody says, the Devils’ spit and piss helped re-ignite a sort of rock revival, although he insists, “For there to be a revival, rock had to go away, and it never did.” The Devils’ brand of rock did disappear, though. The raw power rock of Detroit all but vanished after the MC5 disbanded and Iggy Pop started hanging with David Bowie. Sure, the occasional practitioner would pop up, but only in the last few years has there been a strong uprising of guerilla warfare rock.
The Devils were leading the march. Along with groups like Gluecifer, The Supersuckers and The Gaza Strippers, the Devils reminded people that rock & roll isn’t just about nookie, brooding rage and the urge to break stuff. There’s a primal side, as gutsy as it is groove-heavy. There’s intelligence and reckless abandon. And there’s the ultimate power in the universe—a distorted Marshall stack. Rock doesn’t need gloss, a slick ad campaign, TRL requests and a million-dollar-an-hour studio to be revolutionary. It just needs an idea and an amp.
Yet Moody says the idea behind the Murder City Devils is ultimately what has led to its untimely end. “We had a real specific idea of what this group should be when we started it,” Moody says. “We thought it was totally original, but we quickly realized that it wasn’t. We thought we were the only band that wanted to sound like the Stooges, but, of course, that’s not the case. Who wouldn’t want to sound like the Stooges? They’re one of the greatest bands. But because of that we all kind of lost interest quickly in what we were doing.”
With that kind of sentiment floating around, most groups would have just ended things. But the Devils decided rather than just make fans go cold turkey, they’d offer up one last hit. The band released a new six-song EP, Thelema (Sub Pop). “It’s my favorite thing we’ve done,” Moody says. They’re also hitting the road for one last stint, fulfilling all the obligations the band had made to both bookers and MDC addicts.
“We wanted to finish what we had started,” Moody says. “We don’t hate each other and it seemed a shame to have a record come out and not tour.”
The irony: The Murder City Devils’ farewell tour has been pulling in some of the biggest crowds the group has ever played in front of, and the band is banging out some of the most intense shows Moody has ever lived through. Though it hasn’t made the group rethink its decision—“We didn’t come to this lightly,” Moody says—it has made them ponder what the band’s legacy might be. Will the Devils go down as a minor band in a minor movement, or will they be seen as a launching pad for something that eventually saves America from the teen-pop doldrums?
“We haven’t exactly figured that out yet,” Moody says. “The only thing we’re really hoping is that people will continue to discover the Devils long after we break up. That’s what you really want: People to discover what you did long after it’s over.”
It’s not like the Devils will be handing in their rock badges and heading off to the retirement home. According to Moody, many of the band’s members have already begun to line up new projects, himself included. Once the tour is over, Moody and a few of the other Devils will start work on an as-yet-unnamed new group. “We haven’t even practiced once yet, so I don’t even know what it will sound like, but I’m sure we won’t stray too far from what we’re doing now.”
So all that leaves is one last cymbal crash, one last guitar to smash, the Devils playing their own death tome. For Moody, it’s a bittersweet thing. The group became bigger than he could have ever hoped. They actually made some money every now and then. And the Devils got to tour places few groups ever get to. Not bad for a failed experiment.
“I’m going to miss it when it’s done,” he says. “I know it’s going to be difficult the last night we’re on stage together. But it’s not like we’re quitting rock. We’re looking forward and seeing what else we can accomplish. Who knows, maybe it will be better next time.”
The Murder City Devils with Botch and American Steel. Xscape (formerly DV8), 115 S. West Temple, Monday Oct. 22, 8 p.m.