Death of Samantha
Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland, December 23
by Stephen Slaybaugh

Though we are living in the age of the indie-rock reunion, one has to wonder if, like so many trees falling in forests, if a band reunites in Cleveland does anyone know? That is not meant to sound as condescending as it might seem; being Cleveland-born myself, I just wonder where such an event falls on the cultural radar and what, if any, subsequent effects ripple from its epicenter.

Surely none of that mattered one way or another once Death of Samantha took the stage for the first time in almost exactly 21 years. Undoubtedly, in the minds of all in attendance, this event couldn’t have any greater significance if it had occurred at any other time or location. Following a set of spastic rock noise from This Moment in Black History, there was a suitable amount of ceremony leading up to the main event, with a gorilla-suited somebody getting the sizable crowd riled up and drummer Steve-O emerging from a coffin that had been paraded around the Beachland’s ballroom before being deposited onstage by its pallbearers. Once the rest of the band emerged, singer and guitarist John Petkovic littered the venue with popcorn, licorice and cotton candy while shouting, “You thought the movie was over? Well, here’s the sequel!” This was of course to get the ambiance of the Ground Round where the band had played its first gig. (A banner with the restaurant chain’s logo and the night’s line-up hung behind the band.)

In the mid- to late ’80s, Death of Samantha combined a vast swath of influences—from glam to goth to punk—to create a sound unlike anything else. They wound up releasing three full-lengths with Homestead, but even that indie label’s credibility wasn’t enough to increase their profile past anything more than a cult band outside of Cleveland. They weren’t stylish and their songs were smarter than most, so there wasn’t a ready-made niche set to embrace the band. Still, their legacy remains in Ohio, especially with Petkovic’s and guitarist Doug Gillard’s subsequent endeavors (Cobra Verde, Guided By Voices, Sweet Apple) being more noticeable. With original bassist David James rounding out the line-up for tonight, though, they quickly proved why their initial forays were just as special.

Beginning with “Coca-Cola & Licorice” and “Bed of Fire” (both from their first album, Strungout on Jargon), the foursome quickly kicked out cobwebs. Petkovic at one point joked that they had rehearsed more for this show than they ever had during their prime. “It’s been a long time coming and it’s gonna be a lot longer next time so you better enjoy the fuck out of it,” he shouted before tearing into “Good Friday,” which with its blitzkrieg of riffs, was one of the highlights of the night.

While Gillard took the time to change outfits and Steve-O donned a new hat every few songs, there was little let-up over the band’s 20-song set. And while there was a purposeful messiness to the proceedings, tracks like “Couldn’t Forget ’Bout That (One Item)” and “Turquoise Hand” also revealed the skilled hands involved. By the time they got to “Amphetamine,” their first single that ended the show, they had seemingly satisfied both themselves and their audience that Death of Samantha had been all that we thought it once was and maybe more.