Watch the penultimate Death Blues performance before the final Death Blues performance.
Back in the January issue of Milwaukee Magazine, I wrote a profile on drummer Jon Mueller’s heady multi-disciplinary project Death Blues, the lushly-arranged, climatic masterpiece Ensemble and the challenge of translating the intricate album into a live setting for Alverno Presents.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure how he was going to pull off recreating those mesmerizing sounds. The earlier Death Blues records were visceral affairs that only incorporated the simplest instrumentation: hammered acoustic guitars and drums. His shows back then were raw and punishing. The intensity of the sound grabbed you. But Mueller went in a completely different direction for that final album. He broadened the musical scope in the grandest way possible.
He enlisted the assistance of Bay Area multi-instrumentalist William Ryan Fritch to rearrange the first Death Blues album and add different layers of sounds. “I was so nervous if he was going to like it because I knew it was definitely busier and more layered than anything he had done previously,” Fritch told me. “But based on all the conceptual stuff he was talking about – making music that was a celebration of our limited time on earth – I thought that it required something epic.”
On January 31, Death Blues played Alverno Presents at the Pitman Theater. A seven-piece band performed Ensemble front-to-back. To put it simply, they pulled it off. You can now watch the entire spellbinding performance below.
But everything must come to an end, an understanding that the Death Blues project mightily embraces—Mueller wrote an entire manifesto detailing the empowerment that comes with realizing our impermanence. “We know our time is finite,” the manifesto reads, “yet rather than give in to hopelessness, we celebrate and pursue happiness.”
Tomorrow, Death Blues plays its final show at The Shitty Barn (506 E. Madison St.) in Spring Green, Wis. You can buy tickets here. The evening includes an array of stories and acoustic and electric versions pulling from the project’s four-album discography, featuring musicians Marielle Allschwang, (Group of the Altos, Hello Death), Nathaniel Heuer (Group of the Altos, Hello Death), Jim Warchol, and Ken Palme (Group of the Altos).