SO36, sometimes called the CBGB of Berlin, is always a venue where you can be sure to find the bands that are passionate about their music and dedicated to creating a musical memory and an exchange of electrified energy—and San Francisco’s Death Valley High was certainly no exception. Coming into a sparsely populated venue is never an easy task; faced with the task of being the opening band and breaking the sometimes palpable silence of a waiting audience is enough to make any group anxious about playing in a new town. But not Death Valley High. The group charged the stage, a force of energy and talent.
Reyka grabbed the microphone and instructed the crowd to “Come forward so we can see how you Berliners do it!” There wasn’t room for disagreement or second-guessing. The band immediately dove into “How2Kill,” a song that lyrically represents the doom aspect of the band’s self-titled genre of doom-pop. “Bad thoughts invading sweet dreams and joys/The buzzards all grimly grinning/Are results of our winnings/We’re on the mend from hell to well,” crooned Reyka over mechanical keyboard sounds and chugging bass, his left hand gripping the microphone and his right hand plucking at the keyboard. There was no moment of rest for anyone involved.
“You know I’m nothing like you/But I prefer that you live” began the next song. The vocals became a melodic moan: the perfect pairing to the layers of bluesy, sexy rhythms and violent lyrics. Throughout the set, listeners get the feeling that Death Valley High is not just putting on a show, but having fun. Reyka climbed from speaker cabs to monitors to the kick drums, transforming the stage into an obstacle course. Not one member of the band stood still. They might have been the opening band, but they were magnetic. The audience watching grew from five people hesitantly standing in the front to all of those present moving forward and joining in on the action. “Let’s fuck shit up!” Reyka screamed into the microphone.
Between each song there was a sample from a horror movie, allowing the set to be a cohesive composition. “We’ve got dos more. See? We’re international.” Adding a little humor to the night provided a break to the doom theme, much like the unavoidable need to dance to songs, from “Doomsday in the Disco” to a cover of Peaches’ “Fuck the Pain Away.” There were a couple minutes where the band members even applauded each other, making eye contact, and acknowledging each other’s talents and efforts. It made the four members on stage seem more like a family than a band brought together by the thread of music. As the last song faded and Death Valley High was being chanted throughout the venue, audience members heard a staticky track sample play: “Shoot ‘em in the head. That’s a sure way to kill ‘em”—a quote from “Night of the Living Dead.” It takes a direct shot to kill a zombie. And it takes a direct shot dealt from a no-holds-barred live set to bewitch an audience. Death Valley High is aware of both.