I’ve been trying to think of a way to start this that would do the experience of this show justice. And not just my own, which I’m sure - as interesting as it was - didn’t compare to a lot of what I saw throughout the concert's runtime. It was the first show of a fairly big US tour. It showcased 4 very different bands that exist along the same spectrum of heartfelt and inventive indie/emo/punk that managed to shift tones between each band’s set but never felt jarring as a result.
There was a sense of nervous energy as soon as I walked into Bogart’s. The fans were anxious - I think we can all use every opportunity available to us these days to blow off a little steam - but excited. This was a very sold out show, packed wall to wall, front to back. Even after spending so much time at the venue from high school to present day, it’s honestly still really fun and almost relieving to enter that space and hang out there for a few hours. I have to imagine that it was the same for a lot of folks there, and hopefully was the start of something good for those who might have been catching their first live show.
Math rock upstarts Ben Quad got things started with a quick, entertainingly chaotic set. Noodly tapped riffs between shout-sung vocals with a solid and energetic midwest emo foundation to make the set both fun to watch and even more fun to listen to.
What a thrill it had to have been to actually kick off a tour that is, by all metrics, already a resounding success. Even if it was daunting and/or a little nerve wracking. A hell of a way to start the night - and the tour - so kudos to the band for setting the stage, and the tone, for what I’m hoping is a good run for the band.
Second up, Spanish Love Songs brought an entirely different flavor to the stage, starting out with a vocals only intro, a brief pause, then an expansive and relatively mature take on emo meets rock. Self-proclaimed “the sad band” that they are, their set was markedly different from Ben Quad, and Heart Attack Man and Hot Mulligan, but still made a lot of sense in the context of a lineup and tour like this. Somber, yes, but also engaging enough to sing along to and big enough for folks to start working out a few things in the middle of the crowd. It’s always a good thing to see folks singing along wholeheartedly to the openers - even if they’ve never been to Cincinnati before - because to me, that’s the mark of a tour package that was well thought out and executed. I really enjoyed their set and hope they come back through town sooner rather than later.
Heart Attack Man was next, direct support on Hot Mulligan’s headliner, but there were a lot of folks in the crowd who were there to get down with the band. Big singalongs, lots of movement and bodies floating on top of everyone else, hands in the air and a ton of smiles throughout. You wouldn’t know this was the first night of the tour for the band, or the crowd for that matter. Where Ben Quad lives comfortably in the midwest emo space, and Spanish Love Songs finds a dynamic middle ground between seriousness and sincerity, Heart Attack Man exists on the tour to both energize and evangelize. There’s a solid throughline of pure rock and roll that the band has latched on to, but their stage presence really reminded me of bands like Turnstile and even L.S. Dunes. They make music to sing along to, bob your head to, climb on top of people and dump your body at the front of the stage to. A great segue to Hot Mulligan’s particular brand of angular and convention eschewing frenetics. Their set was, honestly, just plain fun.
If you’re unfamiliar with Hot Mulligan, I’ve found them to be one of the more difficult to explain bands in the current class of emo/screamo/punk/post-hardcore. Their influences are varied and a bit all over the place, and their music itself is a postmodern melange of a lot of different styles within the emo culture. Their set at this year’s Sad Summer Fest was one of the better received, and our chat with guitarist Chris Freeman was a fun and illuminating glimpse into what Hot Mulligan is all about.
For the purposes of this review, though, seeing Hot Mulligan as a headliner on the first night of a tour that’s close to selling out most if not all dates was something else entirely. Spanning more than an hour, their set was well paced, with slower songs placed smartly between more energetic and/or chaotics cuts from the band’s catalog. For the uninitiated, they might find themselves perplexed by the lack of consistent song structure, or the regular absence of repeatable hooks or choruses. For fans, it was all about hands and bodies excitedly thrown into the crowd, front row to back of the venue singalongs, and a much needed space to let go and feel a sense of togetherness and catharsis. The hallmarks of a good band and a great show.
Hot Mulligan has garnered an intense and dedicated following (see: a tour that’s close to selling out most if not all dates). As a fan of music in general, it’s fascinating. As a fan of the band, even if I’m a fan at more of a distance than a lot of other folks, I really do enjoy how much they ignore convention and just do their own thing. Assuming last night’s show is the template from which they’ll work, fans (and the friends their fans drag along) are going to have a hell of a good time for the duration of the tour. First show jitters and technical difficulties aside (I don’t think they’ll be using that particular acoustic guitar again), I was genuinely surprised by how well oiled it all felt as bands were starting and stopping. Stage setup aside - not a fan of those off to the side drum sets, but get the necessity because 3-dimensional space only works one way that we know of - the tour itself is going to be well run and, I have to imagine, pretty wild for the bands to experience night after night. If you’re fortunate enough to have gotten a ticket for a later date - enjoy yourself. If you were there last night, I hope you’re still smiling about it all today and for some time to come. Cincinnati and the crowd at Bogart’s got to catch the start of something special. I think the bands recognized that, and I hope their fans did, too.