When a friend and I arrived at the Palladium in Worcester, Mass. on an unseasonably warm Sunday night, we were informed that the long-awaited return to New England by reunited post-hardcore/indie rockers As Cities Burn would be even longer-awaited: The band weren't actually playing this date of the farewell tour veteran metalcore act Underoath were kicking off tonight. Major, major bummer. For roughly seven years, As Cities Burn played an interesting and creative take on what could only be broadly categorized as "rock" given their mutation from album to album (post-hardcore of the melodic, sort-of metalcore variety; proggy emo; southern-y indie rock), and with the chance to catch them for the first time dashed, chagrin set in before we even got in the venue.
Openers letlive. were not a band I was necessarily looking forward to, so that didn't help matters. I've tried to get into them repeatedly, but they don't seem to be doing anything the oft-compared Glassjaw have already done, without that band's intricate tapestry of influences and stylistic diversions. Their live show was, at least, mildly entertaining, in large part due to the antics of frontman Jason Butler. I hesitate to call it gimmicky, because a favorite band of mine are also known for their intense, ridiculous live habits. Some of it was relatively ordinary: climbing on amps; scaling the venue's 10-foot-drop sidewall; repeatedly diving into the crowd; mic-drumming on a pair of bongos that were set up and occasionally used; and knocking over his guitarist's mic stand at one point. Other times were noteworthy: He literally rolled out a cooler onto the middle of the stage during one song and dunked his head in it, then closed it and started riding it like a Big Wheel. During another point, he balanced an amp on his back for a moment before letting it fall. Later on, he threw the mic up on a balcony, then went up there alone to finish singing a song while straddling the balcony's edge (significantly higher than the previously mentioned sidewall, with far greater possibility for injury) by one leg. It's too bad that the actual music did nothing but reinforce my pre-conceived notions.
Long Island metallic hardcore vets Stray from the Path were As Cities Burn's replacement. I can't ever say I'd thought I'd witness this band play back-to-back with mewithoutYou, that's for sure. No less in 2013. Their relaxed stage presence had to have been a hard sell after letlive.'s rabid activity, but the crowd response was just as animalistic: some sing-alongs, but plenty more ignorant moshing and circle-pitting. That should also be mentioned: The audience was pretty active through the first two openers. Stray opened with "Landmines," which I initially thought was just the intro from Rage Against the Machine's "Calm Like a Bomb" until I remembered hearing this song online back in October. Nope; that's actually how the song goes. They're a significant influence on Stray's music for sure, but it's a little overboard on this particular song. If you enjoy raspy, hip-hop-influenced, metallic hardcore acts like the Warriors (with some impressive drumming and Every Time I Die-style snarl), you might dig these guys, but they've never quite been my bag. I do love that a band with vaguely anti-religious subject matter (emphasized by soundclips between the songs) hopped on this particular bill.
It took mewithoutYou a couple songs to get into a proper flow, but once they did, their set was predictably great, with vocal dynamism from frontman Aaron Weiss using two different microphones (a setup I've seen used by other bands here and there, more recently by Brand New's Jesse Lacey). Some of the few in attendance who were obviously fans occasionally hopped around obnoxiously, hippie commune-style. What was left of us elsewhere sang in place politely. The result was an audience all but dead compared to the two prior sets, except for a fight instigated by idiotic bros during the third song (Weiss had a front-row seat to it and attempted to play the timid peacemaker by singing "Alright alright alright" the entire first verse of "Tie Me Up! Untie Me!"). Great vibes for sure; thanks guys. The band seemed to go for their simpler material during this set, mostly avoiding their epics (it was weird not to hear the opener or closer of Brother, Sister in a mwY set), but Weiss did have his accordion in tow for a couple songs. It was tough to say that this was one of the better times I've seen mewithoutYou, given the mostly confused and uninterested crowd, but there can't be any real criticisms drawn from their actual performance (and they played "Gentlemen," which brought a smile to my face as I've definitely never seen it played before). I was fearful they were breaking up a year or two ago and now they seem as active as ever. Don't get burned out again, guys!
Set list (8:50-9:33):
- February, 1878
- Nice and Blue (Pt. Two)
- Tie Me Up! Untie Me!
- East Enders Wives
- My Exit, Unfair
- A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains
- Fox's Dream of the Log Flume
- Paper Hanger
- Bear's Vision of St. Agnes
- All Circles
Underoath have a lot of cool sounds, textures and inspirations on their more recent material, so this farewell tour provided a great opportunity to witness both those songs and their catchier, more Warped Tour-ready anthems from the mid-2000s. Live, the Deftones, Isis (the basically post-metal "Casting Such a Thin Shadow") and Botch influences of their recent records really get brought to the forefront (with the wild lights, I felt like I was watching the We Are the Romans DVD at times), as well as the band's increasingly integrated and yet tasteful electronics. It was a nice reminder of how genuinely good and creative this band is/was, especially in comparison to the current crop of mind-blowingly generic metalcore/generally heavy bands making the biggest waves at the moment.
This was also the first time in a while I'd really attended a "rock" show, you know? Ominous intro music; ridiculous, seizure-inducing lights; a huge video screen in the back showing either their music videos from the last nine years, or "dark," arty collages resembling the VHS cassette from The Ring; and an overall absolutely deafening sound. Of course, the crowd ate it up completely, from the balconies to the floor, with everyone often singing along (mostly to the tracks from 2004's Taking Back Sunday-esque They're Only Chasing Safety, of course). While not really my optimal environment per se, it's a neat thing to watch from afar every now and then. Spectacle shit. And while it was almost too loud to discern certain instruments or melodies at times, it was definitely a tightly-wound, enjoyable set.
Set list (10:11-11:15):
- Breathing in a New Mentality
- It's Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door
- In Division
- In Regards to Self
- Emergency Broadcast :: The End Is Near
- Young and Aspiring
- Paper Lung
- There Could Be Nothing After This
- Who Will Guard the Guardians?
- Reinventing Your Exit
- Everyone Looks So Good From Here
- Casting Such a Thin Shadow
- A Boy Brushed Red Living in Black and White
- Writing on the Walls
Yep, that's right. No "When the Sun Sleeps." Sorry, fellow dudes in your late 20s. I guess the old incarnation of Underoath had already died when Spencer Chamberlain joined back in 2003, but that's largely fine: I'll take the absence of one good, old song with a great hook if it means another last look at their most artistic and enjoyable period. Good having you, guys. Please let that creative ambition eventually be the primary influence on these newer bands.