It would be really easy for me to get maudlin with this one. Me, a 40 year old dude, now in my 25th-ish year of going to concerts - I’ve seen some things. This month alone, for whatever reason, I’ve been to three very different, overtly “heavy” shows.
Early March: Between the Buried and Me and Car Bomb
Last week: Converge and Full of Hell, Thou, and Uniform
This week: Underoath and Spiritbox, Bad Omens, and Stray from the Path
Three very different crowds. Three very different experiences.
It’s Year 3 of the global pandemic, and things have slowly started returning to some semblance of normalcy after this last violent wave. Bands have been able to tour much more than the past two years. And that’s been a common refrain as bands banter between songs - “The past two years have been really hard for all of us. Almost impossible for touring bands. We’re so thankful to be back doing what we love.” Or something to that effect. It’s a sentiment you can see playing out on stage, through the bands performing, and I have to imagine it’s one of the more palpable feelings at these shows, where the crowd, their fans, are as passionate as the bands are. Last night at The Andrew J Brady Music Center was no exception.
Stray From the Path opened up the show in true Long Island fashion - brash, hungry to play, loud, and caustic. They take gnarly post-hardcore and somehow make it work with 90’s-style NYC/hardcore a la Madball and Sick Of It All. They brought me back to my Hot Topic Days, remembering when they first started getting some national attention and would get regular play on the in-store system. They wouldn’t be the only band to take me back that way, either.
I’d not listened to Bad Omens before the show - I like to be surprised by new bands from time to time. They had a fanbase present, though, and I get why. They’re theatrical, talented, and know how to both create and keep an air of mystery around them as they’re playing. It might sound dismissive, but it’s anything but - they came off as a metalcore My Chemical Romance with hints of 90’s quasi-industrial, like Orgy or even Static-X. It was an interesting performance and one I had fun with.
Providing direct support, Spiritbox was simply flawless. I enjoyed iwrestledabearonce - vocalist Courtney LaPlante and guitarist Mike Stringer’s former band - for what they were, but hearing and seeing what they’re doing with Spiritbox just makes a lot more sense. It’s epic, sweeping, heavy, and thoughtful all at once, but never comes off as derivative. Bands like Misery Signals and Cult of Luna come to mind, but some of the playfulness of iwrestledabearonce peeks through from time to time. LaPlante floats between haunting and powerfully ethereal clean vocals and feral growls and screams with ease - it’s one thing to hear recorded, something else entirely to witness live. One of few bands that I know of that both lives up to and deserves the hype surrounding them.
Headliners Underoath tend to operate very much on their own frequency. The stage was all theirs as soon as the lights came up and Spiritbox’s set ended. Touring on their latest release, Voyuerist, vocalist Spencer Chamberlain mentioned partway through their set that, before this tour, it had been close to 900 days since the last time they were able to play. As their set wore on, though, you wouldn’t have known it.
When Define the Great Line came out I was working at the Rockaway Mall Hot Topic in New Jersey. I don’t know if I was a manager at that point, but for what it was, I enjoyed the job quite a bit. To celebrate it’s release - remember, Underoath was a BIG band in Hot Topic land - it also coincided with a record release show in NYC either the day of release, or shortly after. I think I still have the weird fake laminate thing that we were giving to customers along with their ticket (you got a ticket if you bought the CD, remember CDs?) because, hey, it was a vibe. It was a great show, and it was the first time I’d seen them in a relatively small venue. A ton of energy, smooth transitions between songs, great stage setup, and lots of presence. Last night’s show reminded me a lot of that NYC concert in both the band’s energy - abundant, and crowd makeup - shockingly young for a band that’s been around as long as they have.
Sure, the stage was massive, the light show theatrical and perfectly synced, the backdrop gigantic - but this is still very much the same band that played to a “sold out” crowd at Irving Plaza or wherever it was almost 16 years ago. I might be in a very different place in my life, and I’m sure they all are, as well. But it’s always great to see a band still putting so much of themselves into what they do, even as they’ve aged, progressed as a band, and grown as people.
Ultimately, this was quite a different show than what was originally planned. With Every Time I Die’s demise and subsequent breakup, the addition of Bad Omens definitely changed the vibe, even if they fit well enough for it to all make sense. Would I have loved to have seen what kind of chaos the original lineup would have given us? Emphatically yes. Am I happy with what we got? Absolutely.
Oh, and kudos to the staff at The Andrew J. Brady Music Center for making sure everything ran about as smooth as it could. It’s a gorgeous space, sounds great, and all the folks I interacted with were awesome. If you’ve not been to a show there yet, change that ASAP.