LIVE: Dead Sara @ The Old Blue Last, London

By Ellie Odurny

In a venue the size of The Old Blue Last, there are no grand entrances. Tonight, the tiny space above the iconic Shoreditch pub plays host to Los Angeles’ Dead Sara for their first of a handful of headline shows in the UK. The band enter the room through the same door as everyone else and take to the stage with an air of unassuming confidence.

With barely an introduction, Dead Sara take their positions and launch straight into ‘Heroes’ from last year’s ‘Ain’t It Tragic’,  the trio are joined by bassist Alyssa Davey from fellow LA-based band Sego for these live shows. The capacity crowd start tapping feet and nodding heads along with the grunge beat and chunky riffs, with the power of frontwoman Emily Armstrong’s voice soon reverberating around the room. Soaring “oohs” give way to more guttural screams as they follow the opening track with ‘Lemon Scent’ from the band’s eponymous debut album release back in 2012. The venue’s lighting flicks strobes across the stage as the intensity rises for band and crowd alike.

Throughout the evening, Dead Sara deliver hits spanning their career over the past decade, and although there’s a noticeable difference between the raw sincerity of their earlier work and the more developed sound from the latest release, it all gels together in a coherent mish-mash of genre -hopping style unique to the band’s core.

By the time we get to ‘L.A. City Slum’ from 2015’s ‘Pleasure To Meet You’, Armstrong surveys the crowd and takes a moment to exclaim “Wow, I can’t believe we made it” with a mixed sense of pride and disbelief that is both pragmatic and endearing at the same time. The faster-paced triple beat leads seamlessly into the blues-drenched rhythm and groove riffs of ‘Mona Lisa’, prompting a crowd hum-along that highlights the intimacy of shows in smaller venues. Humming gives way to singing as Dead Sara really break into their stride, bolstered by scores of voices joining Armstrong to proclaim “I know what you want but it’s not gonna be what you like”.

The blues influences continue with a collection of tracks from the latest album, ‘Ain’t It Tragic’. ‘Hypnotic’ delivers an infectious groove beat, ‘Gimme Gimme’ sees the band ooze with charisma driven by guitarist Siouxsie Medley’s catchy riffs, while ‘Good Times’ is peppered with a combination of Armstrong’s pitch-perfect vibrato and emotionally fuelled screams asking “Are we all just dying to feel human?”

Taking a moment to recover from jumping all over the stage with raucous energy, Armstrong introduces the delicate ‘Face to Face’ from their self-titled first album. The rawness of her impassioned vocals exudes an enigmatic power that is simultaneously vulnerable and entirely self-assured. This total change of pace and touching moment is marred only by a few revellers continuing their loud conversations by the bar.

Swiftly returning to a hefty mix of rock’n’roll guitars, punchy drums and wild abandon, Dead Sara lift the energy in the room once again with the triple force of moody ‘Mr. Mr.’,  rock anthem ‘Unamerican’ from 2018 EP ‘Temporary Things Taking Up Space’, and ‘All I Know is That You Left Me for Dead’, which showcases drummer Sean Friday’s expertise, interjecting the pulsating rhythm with slick drum rolls.

The dynamic between the band and the crowd has grown organically over the course of the night, with a couple of shoutouts from stage to floor and a few fan declarations of admiration flying back towards the stage punctuating the latter part of the set. Closing with fan favourite ‘Weatherman’, the whole venue hits an energy peak, with Armstrong climbing on the drum kit and making one final request for the crowd to “jump with me on the count of 4”. Everyone is on a high as the band leave as humbly as they arrived, the echoes of the last notes fade and a sweaty, buzzing crowd begin to file out into the balmy East London night air.

Despite grafting for years, this is the first time Dead Sara have headlined a UK show, and with an appearance at Brighton’s Great Escape festival and another sold-out show at Signature Brew, they’ve clearly begun to establish a dedicated fanbase this side of the pond. What the rest of 2022 holds in store for Dead Sara remains to be seen but if tonight’s show is anything to go by, we should all be very excited.