I get needlessly pretentious and closed-minded about bands that don't cross my radar. So I didn't try to get to this show on time for the Drowning Men, who I'd never really heard of before this, their support slot for a great, contrasting bill featuring goth-punks Alkaline Trio and the worldly spiritual mewithoutYou. (And all I could think about was defunct hardcore/metal act Drowningman, who Alkaline Trio may very well have played with before.) But even after nearly endless traffic, my timing was perfect. The Drowning Men went on as I walked in, so I figured I'd give them a fair shot. Really, not bad at all. They played big, bold indie rock with a slight orchestral tinge (no real orchestral instruments; just had that vibe) that reminded me a lot of Arcade Fire (more show tunes and waltz-type stuff going on, though). Except, these dudes were really into 1800s facial hair. Each of them had a ridiculous mustache or beard of some sort, and it added a funky, antiquated aesthetic to their set. Hell, the singer even used a theremin at one point (or a therminophone, as I'd bet they call it). Also, one of the guys looked like a cross between a young Ron Swanson and an in-character Bill Hader. For all the vaguely gimmicky details, though, they played with a ton of energy and conviction, which went a long way to retaining my interest. While I'm not sprinting out to Mediafire Records to pick up their albums, they definitely kept my interest for the full half-hour–usually a rarity for bands I've never heard of.
Then mewithoutYou came on to the extreme anticipation of...well, me and a few others. I was a bit surprised how much of the crowd was not here for them, considering how well their headline shows tend to do here. I guess a support slot on a weeknight can't lure all the fans in–especially when they've never quite had much of a connection to the headliner. The few of us stoked to see them and scattered about the floor sang along enthusiastically to the set, though, while the band just stayed in their own zone, doing their own thing. Maybe the lack of response is part of it, but it wasn't the best time I've ever seen the band; of course, an okay mewithoutYou set far surpasses most musical acts taking a stage, so it was still pretty great. Compared to other times I've seen them, their setup seemed pretty stripped down, but they had a trumpet player for cuts like "C-Minor" and "The Fox, the Crow and the Cookie". They also played a new song, which RULED. There was virtually no folk in it; instead, it was a spacier, angular mid-tempo jam with a strange tension about it. It definitely makes good on promises of "nods to Fugazi." If this song is any indication, I think long-time fans will call this upcoming album a return to form. (Granted, I don't think 2009's It's All Crazy! It's All False! It's All a Dream! It's Alright was at all bad. And one other song they've been playing live, "The Fiji Mermaid", is definitely a nervous folk tune of sorts. So we'll see.) The group was as friendly and cordial to this likely foreign crowd as they are to their own fans, with Aaron Weiss ensuring they were given nervous "thanks" in between songs, and even complimenting one young man in the crowd on his Batman shirt, right in the middle of "In a Sweater Poorly Knit" ("That was my favorite movie as a kid").
Set list (8:19-9:03):
- Bullet to Binary (Pt. Two)
- Torches Together
- new song
- Messes of Men
- The Fox, the Crow and the Cookie
- Tie Me Up! Untie Me!
- Son of a Widow
- In a Sweater Poorly Knit
- Allah, Allah, Allah
As the audience tightened up, I noticed that Irving Plaza felt far more ventilated than it did at the sweltering Rx Bandits show about a month ago. Good improvement, venue staff.
Raucous cheers naturally greeted Alkaline Trio after they came on to Public Image Ltd's "Rise" playing over the PA (I kinda thought it was Talking Heads at first until I recognized John Lydon's nasal caterwaul). Skiba sang along to the last few lines as his tech placed his guitar over his light blue dress shirt and red skinny tie (dude's been hanging hard with Billie Joe Armstrong, methinks), and then the band blasted into "Cringe", setting the tone for the night: The set was heaviest on both Goddamnit and the early EPs. Really, the further you went back into the band's discography, the more likely they were to play something from that point on the timeline. In fact, their last proper studio album, last year's This Addiction, got no love at all. It seems the band used the career-spanning breadth of their recent acoustic and rearrangement collection, Damnesia, to treat this tour as an old-school lovefest. The crowd seemed pretty pleased by this.
They added the most subtle shade of their newer-era gloss and professionalism to the older stuff, but the rawness and gore of those old songs still "shined" through. The crowd connected with that, as fingers were pointed, and both bros and punk's elder statesmen alike moshed in harmony–thankfully, mostly far away from us cranky folk who no longer felt the desire to partake in such abuse to our fragile, aging bodies. Oh, the aches of mid-20s and early 30s.
Dan Andriano also sung in this bizarre and almost comical, raspy backup style for a few moments of backup vocals in "Private Eye" and when he sang lead in "Crawl" (one of my favorite Trio songs; I was glad to hear it in any form). It was merely a quick, probably unintentionally funny moment that broke up the otherwise serious air of the band's unflinchingly dark lyrical hue. At least, for those of us who actually noticed how ridiculous it was.
Also, Matt Skiba sent out "Goodbye Forever" to Ryan Dunn, and slipped a CKY reference into the song. Take that as you will.
The Damnesia portion of the evening was relatively cool. Classics like "Radio" and "Clavicle" still had that unbridled energy, even if the guitar was an acoustic one strummed quickly by Skiba. It just added something a little different to songs many of us have probably seen and heard a thousand times, you know?
After the Damnesia set, Skiba hopped down into the photo pit and signed an autograph or two before ducking out stage left. Then the band returned to play a pretty spot-on three-song encore no long-time fan could snub.
Old-school Trio fan? Hit this up while you still can. The rare music fan who enjoys both a pop-punk standby of the last decade, and, like, the best progressive post-hardcore/folk band during that same time? All the more reason.
Set list (9:33-10:44):
- In Vein
- Private Eye
- Nose Over Tail
- Goodbye Forever
- I Lied My Face Off
- Old School Reasons
- Mr. Chainsaw
- Maybe I'll Catch Fire
- Blue Carolina
- Mercy Me
- San Francisco
- This Could Be Love
- I Remember a Rooftop [Andriano solo]
- You've Got So Far to Go
- Blue in the Face
- Olde English 800
Encore [played straight up] (10:47-11:01):
- My Friend Peter