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Movie review: ‘A Band Called Death’

Posted 12:34am on Wednesday, Jul. 03, 2013

Unrated; 96 min.

Rodriguez isn’t the only musical figure from ’70s Detroit to labor in anonymity in the U.S. and then get rediscovered nearly 40 years later. A trio called Death — a group that defied cultural convention by being an African-American punk band before that musical term even existed — is also now enjoying a renaissance, which is chronicled in Mark Christopher Covino and Jeff Howlett’s eye-opening and engaging documentary A Band Called Death.

Death was the brainchild of the three Hackney brothers, who, when they were first putting a band together, were influenced by the funk-R&B Motown sound of their hometown. Yet, increasingly, leader David Hackney, a fan of the Who and Jimi Hendrix, opted for more of a rock approach. The band then sped up and stripped down this approach, creating a sound similar to what would come out of New York and London a couple years later.

Death never got off the ground. Record company after record company turned the guys down, their Detroit neighbors didn’t understand the racket they were making, a disillusioned David sank deep into alcoholism, and the other brothers went on to form a reggae band.

But rare vinyl pressings of a Death single became something of a cult obsession on the record-collector underground in recent years, and there was enough of a groundswell — Elijah Wood, Kid Rock, Jello Biafra, Henry Rollins, the Roots’ Questlove and Alice Cooper are all fans — that Death has now found more of a following than it ever had four decades ago. Yet the remaining Hackneys — David didn’t live to see the resurgence — are not bitter about being overlooked for so long.

A Band Called Death shines the light on a previously unexplored corner of musical history and does it in an accessible, straightforward manner. Ultimately, it proves that there is life after Death after all.

Exclusive: Texas Theatre, Dallas

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