I made the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Cleveland and walked in the Grog Shop just in time to see that a surprise opener had been added last minute. Touché Amoré, who had played earlier dates of the tour, but was not supposed to be on this date, was on-stage. Luckily for me, they announced themselves and roared into their opener just as I was getting settled in. I enjoyed their 2009 full-length, To the Beat of a Dead Horse, but their mix of '90s emo and modern hardcore sounded even better live. They were heavier and more explosive and their trademark vocal breaks turned into giant scream-alongs and pile-ons on the stage. This is a band worth seeing regardless of your thoughts on their recorded material.
Next up was Lewd Acts from San Diego, another band I had never seen, but had heard that their live show was particularly insane due to an out-of-control frontman. However, after the good luck I had in getting a surprise set from Touché Amoré, my karma balance was restored as Lewd Acts was missing their frontman and had their merch guy fill in on vocals. Honestly, the fill-in did an admirable job. He seemed to know most of the words and still managed to maintain a good presence on the stage. Musically, Lewd Acts has a more punk and experimental take on modern hardcore and the band sounded tight even down a member. There was no word from the stage on why their singer was not with them and the band dropped off the tour the next day, which does not bode well for their future. Hopefully, that was not the last Lewd Acts show because they are one of the few strongly individualist bands in hardcore today.
Black Breath should have been next, but word was getting around the show that their merch guy had a seizure in the van while driving through Pennsylvania and the band spent the day at the hospital. The band ultimately made it, but in order to keep the showing moving, Converge took the second-to-last slot.
Converge opened with their trusted opener "Concubine," off 2001's landmark Jane Doe, and tore through what I would consider a very intimate and fun set. Whether it was because of multiple friends being in attendance or some other reason, the band was in a near-jovial mood, in marked contrast to the dark intensity of their music. Frontman Jake Bannon playfully bantered with the crowd and at one point grabbed a PBR tallboy from someone's hand and poured its remains over his own head.
The set list was heavy on the band's last three albums, with seemingly the most material coming from 2004's You Fail Me, including "Hanging Moon," "Drop Out," and set closer "Last Light." The guitar theatrics from last year's Axe to Fall were on full display during that material and Kurt Ballou even played the shred solo from "Reap What You Sow" note for note as on the record. A particular highlight of the set was the track "Axe to Fall," whose breakdown sounded even heavier and more primal than on the record. This was my eighth time seeing Converge and it was on par with any previous show.
After Converge, Black Breath set up quickly and began their set. I had been highly anticipating seeing them after jamming their Southern Lord full-length, Heavy Breathing, almost nonstop the past month. The record has a great recorded sound and the band sounded almost identical to it live. Although more of a metal band than the rest of the hardcore-oriented bill, their Entombed-style barrage fit in well and the people who stuck around were treated to a solid set. They opened with perhaps their two best songs, "Black Sin (Spit on the Cross)" and "I Am Beyond," and during a short break in the music, a member of the crowd summed up this band perfectly by yelling, "You're good at riffs!"
Considering the quality of the entire show, I have to hand it to Converge. Not only are they a great band with members having awesome side careers, they put together one hell of a tour. It's not often where you see four solid bands in a month, let alone in one night. Every band was solid and expressed from stage how happy they were to be on this tour. I wish all shows were this jam-packed with value.