The Dillinger Escape Plan w/Cult Leader, Car Bomb, and O’Brother – Union Transfer, November 15th, 2016

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For the second time in a week, I’ve had the bittersweet pleasure of seeing one of my favorite bands on their final tour. This time around, I saw the total polar opposite to Brand New: The Dillinger Escape Plan. The band recently released their sixth, and unfortunately final, studio album this October, bringing to a close a nearly perfect discography with one of its strongest entries ever. And now with their swan song tucked away neatly under their belt, the only thing left to do is tear through the world one last time, bringing their violently intense show to cities across the world.

Out of all the places in the world that I could’ve caught this band in, I got to see them in one of their favorite cites and at one of their favorite venues, Philadelphia’s Union Transfer. Philly is already known for having nearly feral audiences, and the band obviously loves and feeds on that energy, as they’ve made sure to visit the venue nearly every year since I started following them in 2010. And this night was no different – having sold out completely, the energy was palpable even as the venue was filling with excited fans, ready to see this band tear the place down for the last time ever. The only exception to the usual Dillinger/Union Transfer combo was that this time around, the venue opted to put up a barrier. The band has made a point of getting the crowd to flood the stage during their final song, and it seems like the venue finally tired of it. But besides that small let down, the night was stacked with a group of diverse and exciting bands, and it was clear that the night would be a thriller.

First up was Cult Leader, a band out of Utah that brought with them a sound heavily informed by the noisier edge of Converge, the sludgier side of death metal, and a big helping of punk. While the venue wasn’t even half full yet, it didn’t put any visible dent in their energy, as they tore through their set with reckless abandon and expertly delivered their pummeling music. In stark contrast to Cult Leader was Car Bomb – following up Cult Leader’s raw, angry edge, it was clear that Car Bomb exists firmly on the other end of metal’s spectrum. The Long Island quartet brought with them a blend of mind-bending time signatures, clinical guitar precision, glitchy effects, and inhuman rhythmic technicality. Yet for all that precision, the band clearly didn’t lack for a punk edge, either. All these things combined makes Car Bomb quite possibly the only real successor to Dillinger’s throne in the wake of their imminent demise, and it’s clear why they decided to take them out on this final round of touring. Finally, perhaps as a way of creating breathing room in the set, Atlanta rockers O’Brother were up next. Veering away from the hard edges of Cult Leader and Car Bomb, O’Brother instead brought a smoky, sludgy, stoner rock vibe instead. While it was clear that some of the energy drained from the room due to their comparatively laid back sound, I already enjoyed some of their music prior to seeing the show and was glad to have the chance to see them and allow my neck a few minutes’ respite from headbanging. And any reservations the crowd had were not shared by the band, as they were fully present and had just as much stage presence as their predecessors.

But as with any great meal, the appetizers should only serve to make you hungrier for the main course, and by this point we were hungry for Dillinger and nothing else. And they were fully aware of that – even though it was clear that the band’s equipment was ready to go, they faked us out by abruptly ending their intro music and starting a fog machine, only to restart the music from the top again. But it only made the band walking out and launching into “Limerent Death” from Dissociation so much more powerful. As soon as the opening chords hit, the surge of the crowd was incredible, and I watched from the rail as several rows worth of people were suddenly compressed into the width of one. They only upped the ante from there, tearing into the classic cut “Panasonic Youth” and fueling the flames even further before coming back down momentarily with the more pop-leaning “Symptom of Terminal Illness”. But there were very few moments of respite built into their set, with “Black Bubblegum”, “One of Us is the Killer”, and the recently revived “Mouth of Ghosts” (which was a highlight of the set, featuring Ben Weinman taking up a spot on the piano while Greg Puciato crooned over his gorgeous jazzy chords) being the only moments one could catch their breath during. Otherwise, the band leaned heavily on Dissociation, which made for quite an emotional night, since many of that album’s lyrics are pretty clearly focused on the creative and personal relationship between Weinman and Puciato, as well as the band’s end. Screaming “Please let me be by myself, I don’t need anyone” from Nothing to Forget or “I’m afraid of how this ends” from Surrogate along with Puciato was a loaded and intense experience, as we all knew exactly what it meant and were in the middle of that very end.

But while they might’ve leaned on Dissociation for obvious reasons, the band knows how to put together a set, and didn’t ignore the rest of their catalog. The band covered everything from Calculating Infinity onward, touching on “hits” like “Milk Lizard”, “Sunshine the Werewolf”, and “Sugar Coated Sour”, as well as the most iconic song in their discography, “43% Burnt”. But as always, their discography wasn’t the only thing they looked to be inclusive about during the night. Greg, Ben, and Kevin Atreassian were unable to keep themselves on stage, taking heroic leaps into the crowd at every opportunity. I’ve been fan girling to myself for the past week over the fact that I got to help hold up both Ben and Greg during the last few songs of the set, over getting to be that close to the people who made the music that’s held ME up in dark times. It’s obvious that the band has so much passion for this music, and so much love and trust placed in their fans, and because of it they truly make their shows a personal experience by getting right in the middle of the shit with us. And even outside of that physical connection, the band is a joy to watch – even during the slower songs, they’re impossible to keep still. Demonstrating insane athleticism, intensity and fearlessness, bands half Dillinger’s age couldn’t hope to match their crazed showmanship even if they were in the middle of a psychotic episode.

But perhaps the realest moment of the show came from one simple sentence from Puciato, just before launching into the classic “Sugar Coated Sour”. He only said, “This is an old one, and it’s your last fuckin’ chance to sing it along with us, Philly”. This was a band very clearly on top of their game in all respects, literally proving it just feet away from me, and knowing that the better ending is always to leave people wanting more. By highlighting the biggest and best songs of their career through this set, as well as hitting us with the most emotional tracks from their newest and final record, the band was showing us exactly what we’re always going to want more of without giving into nostalgia or despair. Instead, we were celebrating together, screaming together, dancing together, all because of this strange, angular, aggressive, sense-assaulting music. This final tour is a precious and fleeting experience, as are all things worth experiencing in life, and you should always fuckin’ sing along like it’s your last chance.

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Brand New w/Modern Baseball and The Front Bottoms – PPL Center, November 11th, 2016

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Disclaimer: This review is only for Brand New’s set, not Modern Baseball or The Front Bottoms.

Brand New is currently staring down their demise. After announcing their intentions to break up in 2018 earlier this year, the group has been touring relentlessly while simultaneously working on a new, and presumably final, album. They’ve also released a bevy of miscellaneous singles, vinyl reissues for their seminal albums, and even an EP of rerecorded tracks from their infamous 2006 leak. After many years of indecision and stalling out, the band has obviously been looking both backwards and forwards as they attempt to end their career on a high note. Part of that looking backwards has coincided with the tenth anniversary of their landmark album, The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me. With the band in such generous, celebratory spirits, they’ve chosen to play the album in full on every stop of their most recent North American tour.

Now, I’m only a recent convert to Brand New – I discovered them last November after buying Deja Entendu solely because I recognized its iconic cover. What I found on that album was some of the most personal, heart wrenching lyricism I’d ever heard, paired with huge hooks and undeniable melodies that were totally at odds with the pained words they carried. I fell in love immediately and dove deep into their catalog, becoming obsessed and memorizing every line. I was very, very late to the party, but I was oh so happy I found them at all. So for them to announce their break up so shortly after my newfound fandom broke my heart, yet also made me determined to catch them live at least once before their end.

I finally crossed that off my musical bucket list on November 11th, 2016. Brand New rolled through Allentown, PA and brought Modern Baseball and The Front Bottoms with them to the PPL Center, an 8,000+ capacity venue that I had no idea that the band was capable of filling (which I’m quite happy to be wrong about!). But filled it was, filled with rapturous, adoring fans fully aware that this may be the last time they ever get to see this band grace the stage and fueled by the fond memories of some of the most important rock records of the 2000s. And in the spirit of embracing those memories, the band opened up with “Mixtape”, one of the rare songs the band still plays from their debut record Your Favorite Weapon. In its original incarnation, this song is youthful, energetic, a little sad, and a little snarky. But on this night, it sounds beleaguered, reflective of youth gone by, and weighed down by the passage of time. But that mood fits what’s to follow perfectly: the band may be looking at its past, but it’s not attempting to recreate it. And it’s Jesse’s voice that gives that song much of its new quality: as Jesse nears 40, his voice has changed considerably, but not for the worse. Where it once sounded naive and wounded, he sounds huskier and more resolute than ever, blasting through the music with a power and confidence rarely shown in Brand New’s music. As the set continued, the band played a good chunk of 2003’s Deja Entendu, enough of which to make me curious as to whether they were actually playing that album instead. Touching upon the classic “Sic Transit Gloria…”, “The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot” (which featured a snippet of Modest Mouse’s “Trailer Trash”), and an emotional venue-wide sing along to “Play Crack the Sky”, they got many of their “hits” out of the way and lulled the crowd into a false sense of security before launching into The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me.

From the opening notes of “Sowing Season”, the crowd went crazy. This album means so much to so many people and you could feel it in the room: from beginning to end, every word was being shouted out in unison, filling the room with just as much of the crowd’s voice as Jesse’s. And this being the second to last stop on the tour, it was clear that any kinks that may have been in the set had long since been worked out. The band faithfully recreated the album note for note, bestowing it with much of the same passion and energy that they had laid to tape ten years ago. But instead of being the heart-wrenching, stomach-churning experience that it is on the album, when rendered in this live setting, it became something more positive and celebratory. It’s hard to feel sad when thousands of people are joining along with this music, and it makes it clear why the band decided to adopt “Fight Off Your Demons” as their pet phrase- this isn’t music to suffer to, it’s music to unite to, to take strength from. And by taking this opportunity to perform the album in full, they’ve highlighted for us the reasons why they’ll be so missed, even though they aren’t quite gone yet.

Tricot w/ The Joint Chiefs of Math and Marietta – Johnny Brenda’s, October 12th, 2015

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This week I got the opportunity to see a band I thought I’d never get the chance to. Hailing from Japan, Tricot is an equally mathy, punky, and poppy band with no pretensions or gimmicks. I’ve been a fan since shortly after the release of their debut album “T H E” in 2013, and only became more of one after their latest album, “AND” was released this March. But to think that they’d come to America, with the obvious language barrier and the country’s clear aversion to rock, well that was nothing but a pipe dream. So I was shocked when a little over a month ago when they announced that, yes, they actually WERE coming to America (even naming the tour after the Japanese word for “Finally” or “At last”), and proceeded to snatch a ticket. I’d never heard of the venue and it was over two hours away, but I didn’t give a shit – I was going.

And went I did. I got to the venue and immediately realized that it was perfect – the room was small, there was a bar not ten feet away, and I could literally lean on the stage if I wanted to. And I did, because it was going to be a long two bands and three hours before Tricot took the stage. I say “long” because I was skeptical as hell about the openers, at least to begin with. A local emo band and a noise rock duo seemed like a mismatch for a band like Tricot, but hell, I’ve sat through far worse in service of seeing far better before. I was wrong again, though. The Joint Chiefs of Math were first on stage, and they brought a chaotic blend of noise and instrumental rock, sounding like a much harsher version of Hella and pulling off a plethora of live effects and loops in order to deliver it. As a fan of stuff like Death Grips, Oneohtrix Point Never, and various post rock bands, this was totally hitting the mark for me, and they definitely gained me as a fan by the end of their set. Following them was a local favorite in the shape of Marietta, a band clearly influenced by the likes of early Modest Mouse and American Football. And while they weren’t really up my alley stylistically, they put on a hell of a show by mixing elements of alternative, emo, and even shades of pop punk with a ton of energy and humor, and I could truly tell that they had a fair few fans crammed into this little room.

After seeing the crowd’s reaction to Marietta, I started to have my doubts about just how many people had shown up specifically for Tricot. But my doubts were misplaced, because as soon as they launched into their first song the crowd went off. Almost every head and body was nodding and jumping around, and the band was clearly feeding off of that energy. While the girls might seem diminutive in stature, they certainly make up for it in terms of power – lead guitarist Motifour Kida skipped and danced around, bassist Hiromi Hirohiro hopped like a live wire, and touring (or permanent?) drummer Miyoko Yamaguchi absolutely pounded the shit out of her kit. And while vocalist Ikkyu Nakajima was more cemented to her microphone and guitar out of obvious necessity, she still took a few opportunities to ditch the guitar and break into a dance or even jump into the crowd. This sort of thing can be hard for mathy, intricate bands like Tricot to manage, with some choosing to sacrifice musical perfection for pure energy. But Tricot made it look easy, striking the balance between tight playing and pure fun, and at times even sounding better than the record due to Hiromi’s boosted bass volume. They also had a knack for picking a setlist, too. Among obvious choices like “Pool”, “Oyasumi”, “E”, and “Ochansensu-Su”, they also played less familiar cuts like “Bakuretsu Panie-san”, “Niwa”, and their newest song “Pork Ginger”. As someone who’s been a fan for a while now, it was great to see the songs that first hooked me alongside the ones that I came to love later on, and even being introduced to a handful of songs I wasn’t familiar with already.

All in all, Tricot’s first American show ever was a hell of a ride. Even though it was just shy of the hour mark, the band played with true passion and energy, cramming in as much music and power as possible in the short time they had. No matter what nationality or gender, it’s rare to come across a band that ticks all the boxes in the way this one does, blending technicality, power, and sticky melodies with the conviction and performance to back it up. If you get the chance to see them on this tour, I absolutely suggest that you do, because there’s no guarantee they’ll be back to the States any time soon. They’re well worth the time and money.

The Joint Chiefs of Math: https://thejointchiefsofmath.bandcamp.com/

Marietta: https://whereismarietta.bandcamp.com/

Tricot’s remaining dates (courtesy of Reddit user androph):

10/16/2015〜 Bar Le Ritz PDB/Montreal, QC

10/17/2015〜 Lee’s Palace/Toronto, ON

10/18/2015 〜 Majestic Café/Detroit, MI

10/20/2015 〜 Empty Bottle/Chicago, IL $

10/21/2015 〜 The End/Nashville, TN

10/23/2015〜 Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios/Denton, TX

10/24/2015 〜 Black Barbie/Houston, TX

10/25/2015 〜 Hi-Tones/San Antonio, TX

10/27/2015 〜 Soda Bar/San Diego, CA

10/28/2015 〜 DNA Lounge/San Francisco, CA

10/28/2015 〜 Bootleg Theater/ Los Angeles, CA