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Sunday, April 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 63.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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TOUR STOP

Dead Confederate bares all
Raw nerves

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As of now, Dead Confederate have just one EP to their credit, and it's not all that easy to find. But one listen to quasi-psychedelic mood pieces like "Rat" or the woozy live version of "News Underneath" that appears on the Athens, Georgia-based band's MySpace page, and you understand why their performances at South by Southwest and Bonnaroo have excited critics and fans alike.

Obviously, the quintet's moniker signals a determined break from "Sweet Home Alabama" fist-pumping. You know: "This ain't your daddy's Southern rock band." (Or, for that matter, the second coming of R.E.M.)

That's cool. But the hirsute, T-shirt- and jeans-wearing members of Dead Confederate have other radical gestures up their sleeves. For one thing, they're anything but precious. Thanks to singer-guitarist Hardy Morris, every tune I've heard begins in sexy brooding, then explodes in a tsunami of passionate release. Sometimes, as in the magnificently misanthropic "Rat," Morris spews bile on the band's churning guitars and keyboard. Sometimes he jogs in front of his moody mates, making like a confused, hormonal adolescent on his way to climax. One thing Morris never does is gild his feelings with genteel artifice.

That willingness to bare his excoriated nerves, of course, sets him far apart from all those studied and willfully naive indie-rockers who've commandeered collegiate iPods across the continent over the past several years. Morris and Dead Confederate don't soothe your fevered dome or make you think deep thoughts. They don't warm the ears with complex instrumentation drawn from chamber orchestras, obscure European prog bands and edgy cabaret acts. Instead, they transmit raw power to their auditors with the human voice and basic rock 'n' roll instrumentation. Their analogues in the big book of rock are Jim Morrisons' Doors, Patti Smith, Jeff Buckley, the simplified, bass-guitar-drums version of Radiohead and, to a lesser extent, Nirvana (a band with which they're often compared).

Forget self-congratulatory intellectuality and emotional politesse. When these fellows burn, you get scorched.

And unlike many feral, brain-smashing metal- and punk-derived units, they singe the inner ear with tuneful song structures that at points recall the Eastern-influenced experiments of everyone from Led Zeppelin to the Dream Syndicate.

Is Dead Confederate a perfect band? Not at all. On disc at least, Morris and company sometimes make like U.K. stars Muse, pounding a mile-wide emotion into the ground with five minutes of psychedelic jamming. But they're definitely onto something, and once their first full-length comes out in September, they may help push the tepid national rock scene into much warmer waters.

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