What's In A Name?

Music fans are brilliant.
Less brilliant, however, are ridiculous ignorant fanboys who like and support a band only as long as that band is adhering to a preconceived set of rules and styles which is appealing to that particular person’s sense of ‘what this band is like’. (Please note: the difference between ‘fan’ and ‘fanboy’ needs to be made very clear. Fans are great. They care, and they want the band to succeed no matter what. Fanboys, on the other hand, don’t really care. They’re the kind of people who say things like ‘I liked their early stuff’ and ‘I was into them before they got big, they’ve sold out now’ – and worse, they mean it. Or rather, they think they mean it. Really they’re just into whatever sounds like it’s most cutting-edge at any given moment and they’ll move on as soon as a band plays a show anywhere bigger than a pub’s basement.)
And so, to business. Recently, a few bands in the punk/hardcore genre have changed their names, resulting in a veritable tropical storm of online verbal abuse from out-and-out fanboys. Whether or not these changes were for the better, or are going to stick, is irrelevant. I’m going to discuss three bands in particular: these are Code Orange (formerly Code Orange Kids), Warm Thoughts (formerly Dad Punchers) and Self Defense Family (formerly End Of A Year, End Of A Year Self Defense Family, Self Defense Music and Self Defense, which they still sometimes use for live shows).
When Code Orange changed their name back in June, it was to a barrage of nasty, unnecessary comments on Twitter and other social media platforms, largely based around awful fanboys not being able to cope with dropping one word out of a band name. To those people I say this: it doesn’t matter. Code Orange dropped the ‘Kids’ part from their name because, simply, they’re not kids anymore. All four members are now over 21 (so, you know, ADULTS) and therefore legitimately are no longer classed as kids. However, this does not necessitate a stream of verbal abuse. It’s up to them what their band name is. Fans might prefer the old name, or the new one, but if they’re real fans, they’ll care about the music over and above everything else. If you’re calling yourself a fan, but you can’t get past a very, very slight name change, you’ve got to question how much of a fan you really were in the first place. Are the band members still talented? Yes. Do they still make cutting-edge, forward-thinking hardcore which pushes boundaries? Yes. So, why does it matter if their name changes slightly? What possible difference could this make to your life? (‘Oh, but it’s gonna fuck up my iTunes list, I’ll have to re-name everything…’) Shut up. SHUT UP. No one cares about your iTunes list and your incessant need to categorise everything to within an inch of it’s life. If you’re freaking out over one word of a band’s name you seriously need to discuss with yourself whether you should be allowed to even listen to their music.
Last week, Elliott Babin of what was California bummer-punk rock band Dad Punchers announced that after careful consideration, the band was changing its name to Warm Thoughts. Cue instant, horrific uproar. Logging on to Twitter, I honestly thought someone had fucking died, such was the outpouring of emotional blackmail and ridiculous abuse levelled at the poor man for a simple name change. Whether the name change signals a slight change in direction for the band, or whether they just got sick of over-protective parents looking at a record with DAD PUNCHERS written on the sleeve and hastily covering little Johnny’s eyes while hustling him away from the punk section and muttering ill-informed opinions about the youth of today remains to be seen, but again, there’s no need for this awful abuse. I will just as happily sport a tee with Warm Thoughts written on it as I currently happily sport my Dad Punchers one. I see no need for this outrage. Most brilliant in the ‘shut up, your opinion is not important’ stakes was this gem on Twitter.
Seriously. A fucking petition? Grow up. I’m sure Babin is going to lose so much sleep over the fact that you don’t like his new band name. Who knows – maybe they’ll write a song about it.
Lastly, we come to Self Defense Family. I’m kind of loath to include them in this article, because although they have changed their name several times, and continue to use different variations on said names at live shows, frontman Patrick Kindlon so profoundly and openly does not give a fuck about anyone’s opinion that I’m pretty sure people have just stopped trying to bait him. Let him do what he wants. He’s still cooler than you.
To conclude: guys, please stop. Just stop. Bands come and go, and names and directions change, and none of this will directly ruin your life. The only reason fanboys get so pissed off about this stuff is that it might mean they don’t have the most up to date band merchandise, and therefore might not be seen as ‘cool’ by their (probably equally pretentious and generally offensive) friends. If you’re worried about looking cool at a punk show, you’re listening to the wrong thing. No one looks cool at a punk show. The reason bands don’t consult the public before they do stuff like this is because, as much as their fans matter, they know their real fans will still love them whatever they’re called. And if they’re not real fans, they probably didn’t matter in the first place.
A final note: yes, I know some of the above links still refer to the bands under their old names. Sue me. Again, this doesn’t matter.

LIVE REVIEW: Converge

Converge and Martyrdöd and Okkultokrati, Club Academy, Manchester, UK, August 4, 2014
Okkultokrati are a Norwegian metal band who offer aggressive, low-tuned punk attitude with a level of startling complexity worthy of Psyyke. Their performance was marred slightly at the beginning thanks to a stunning feat of sound engineering (I mean, what kind of band actually requires their microphones to be switched on? Jeez…) but this was soon forgotten amid the aggression and heartfelt way in which the band threw themselves into the show. Check them out here.
Martyrdöd, from Sweden, showcase the finest in a fusion of hardcore, some black metal overtones and punk. Their melodies are rough, grabbing the listener and making them pay attention, and their live performance is a hot mess of growls and hair and distortion, all mixed together with Mikael Kjellman’s harsh, rasped vocal style. An excellent support choice that really gets the crowd going, you can check them out here.
The members of Converge are quite possibly the hardest-working people in the business right now. Whether it’s Jacob Bannon’s Wear Your Wounds project (not to mention his side-project Irons and the fact that he’s CEO of the biggest label in hardcore, Deathwish Inc.), Nate Newton fronting Doomriders, Ben Koller’s new band Mutoid Man or Kurt Ballou’s constant production credits on albums as diverse as Seance Prime by Trap Them, Mosquito Control by Isis and Unsilent Death by Nails, as well as producing and mastering every single Converge album since 2004’s excellent say-no-to-drugs record You Fail Me, these four men always seem to have so much going on that it seems crazy that they even have time to go on tour as Converge. Just over a week ago, Bannon put on the first official Deathwish festival in Cambridge, MA, which Converge co-headlined with Trap Them. The festival also showcased up-and-coming bands on the Deathwish label, such as Harm Wülf (a side project from George Hirsch of Blacklisted) and Cult Leader (ex-members of Gaza), as well as bigger names like Modern Life Is War and Oathbreaker.
So you could say they’ve been busy.
The tension in the air, the excitement and expectation for this gig is palpable. Ben Koller leads the march onto the stage, twirling drum sticks between his fingers. Nate half-smiles and gives a little wave, while Kurt and Jake just walk on, Jake picking up the microphone and beginning his standard jumping up and down on stage to get warmed up. They tune up very briefly before Ben breaks out into the opening drum riff of Eagles Become Vultures. Jake starts screaming the lyrics, crouched before the crowd, who scrabble over each other, desperate to join him and sing along. Jake happily surrenders the microphone every so often and jumps around while fans scream the words.
With barely a pause, the band dives into Aimless Arrow, the lead single from 2012’s All We Love We Leave Behind, Bannon earnestly half-singing, half-shouting lyrics about loss and hope and broken hearts, and the crowd, stage-diving and literally walking up on the stage to hug him as he sings, are in his thrall.
The energy in the room is thick and vivid, and the band members soak it up. One man gets caught in what Nate Newton describes as ‘stage dive limbo’ at the end of Trespasses, finally making it to the stage just as the song ends. It’s testament to this band’s incredible work-hard, play-hard ethos that their lyrics and subject matter are invariably dark and challenging, yet they can have so much fun both between themselves and with the crowd. Jacob Bannon’s witty responses to garbled heckles from the bowels of the crowd are often genius, often very dry. One fan shouts for them to play Wolverine Blues, a cover song in their cannon so old that they probably haven’t played it live since the mid-90’s, to which Jake grins and replies, ‘If you get up here and sing it, we’ll play it. I’m not singing it.’
Needless to say, they don’t play it. The biggest surprise of the night is a song from 2006’s No Heroes. At ten minutes long on the record, Grim Heart / Black Rose is a complex, brooding song which is originally sung by Jonah Jenkins of Only Living Witness and brought beautifully to life by Nate Newton’s soaring vocals as part of this live show.
They finish the main set with Heartless from You Fail Me, before leaving the stage drenched in the sweat of the deluge of fans on the floor. Their encore consists of two pairs of songs, Concubine and Fault And Fracture from 2001’s seminal album Jane Doe, followed by First Light and Last Light from You Fail Me. Jacob Bannon thrusts the microphone towards fans throughout this last song during the verses, and then finally, as the song reaches its climax, he stands up straight on the stage, microphone in the air as the crowd screams the final lyric in one voice: ‘This is for the hearts still beating.’
After the show, it’s great to see Bannon interacting with fans as they one by one approach the stage. Some merely shake his hand and say thank you, but for others, this band has meant everything for a very long time. ‘You got me through so much shit. Thank you,’ one fan says as he holds Jake’s hand. Another stands in front of Bannon and just says ‘Jane Doe saved my life’. Converge is not just a band for some people. Their ethos, their constant outpouring of quality hardcore and deeply felt, impassioned lyrics, as well as the hardworking nature of the band members, really resonates with their fans. It’s this that makes Converge so respected in the hardcore scene. And hopefully, what with Nate having just recorded a video of Ben and Kurt working on some new material during a soundcheck, a new album may not be far away. Here’s hoping.
Eagles Become Vultures 
Aimless Arrow
Dark Horse
Empty On The Inside
Axe To Fall
Trespasses
Precipice / All We Love We Leave Behind
Runaway
Grim Heart / Black Rose
Reap What You Sow
Cutter
A Glacial Pace
Heaven In Her Arms
Heartless
 
Concubine
Fault And Fracture
First Light
Last Light

David Reviews Deathwish I: Code Orange Kids 'Love Is Love // Return To Dust'

Sometimes a record comes along that blows everything you believed about hardcore out of the water. For me, this is that record. Code Orange Kids‘ fantastic 2012 LP ‘Love Is Love // Return To Dust’ brings together elements of shoe-gaze, post-hardcore and all-out sludge metal war to bear in a 10-track, 30-minute experience that is at once compellingly complex and unbearably brutal.
Opener ‘Flowermouth (The Leech)’ begins with a low-tuned, dark bass riff that haunts Reba Meyers’ screeched vocals about emptiness and despair, guitars and drums kicking in, surrounding her voice and very nearly overshadowing it until the instrumentation is stripped back completely, leaving only Jami Morgan’s drum beat for several seconds before Meyers growls into the microphone and Morgan himself takes over the vocal, and he screams while frantically drumming away as guitars crash back in and the song climbs over sludgy riffs to reach its feedback-drenched conclusion. These kids are nineteen years old, but their lyrics smack of the kind of maturity most bands only afford after a number of albums. This is no teenage angst-ridden ‘she doesn’t love me and I hate my dad’ bullshit. This is clever. This is different.
Following on, ‘Around My Neck // On My Head’ is 68 seconds of pure, unbridled fury, showcasing incredible feats of vocal power and that brilliant fast-becoming-slow drum riff at the end, leading perfectly into the third track. Number four, the excellent ‘Liars // Trudge’ unwraps a slightly softer side to Meyers’ voice amid doom-laden, echoing guitar harmonies that sound like they were recorded in a haunted house. This all slots perfectly into track five, ‘Colours (Into Nothing)’, a track featuring members of Tigers Jaw which builds layers of instrumentation against each band member’s voice until the whole thing crashes down in a roar of cymbals and cuts out to herald the beginning of arguably the stand-out track on the album, ‘Nothing (The Rat)’, a track with an opening riff so sludgy, so downright filthy that you’ll feel in need of a shower when it’s done.
The second half of the album is definitely the more developed half. Meyers and her bandmates use this portion of the record to show off a more recognisably hardcore edge to their sound, with ‘Roots Are Certain // Sky Is Empty’ again bringing a visceral aggression which hits the listener in the face and doesn’t let up, before diving through the next track, laden with reverb and slowed-down bass menaces.
The final track, ‘Bloom (Return To Dust)’ cleverly borrows it’s opening riff from track eight and slows it right down so that it almost sounds totally different unless you’re listening hard (which you should be). As with the rest of the album, the beauty of this track is that just when you think you know where it’s going it veers off in a different direction than you expected and creeps up on you, delivering a completely different experience than you thought. Yes, the album overall has its slower, less complete moments, but it’s a sometimes beautiful, sometimes brutal and consistently challenging record, and it is incredible to believe something this complex was written by teenagers. Keep a look out for this band and get on their wavelength. They’re taking hardcore and mangling it, fucking with people’s perceptions and coming up with something different than you’ve ever heard before. Whether you’re new to the genre or an established veteran, there is everything to like in this record and these people deserve your time, attention and respect.

Retrospective (III): Code Orange Kids

This is another review I never actually gave to anyone. This one was just for me but I’m sharing it here. If you’ve never heard of this band, get on it quick before they get huge and sell out. (A side note: Code Orange Kids recently changed their name to Code Orange, much to the chagrin of die-hard fanboys who threw hissy fits on Twitter about the change. Get over it, guys. If everyone got this irritated by a band’s name-change, Self Defense Family – formerly End Of A Year, End Of A Year Self Defense Family, Self Defense Music, AND Self Defense – wouldn’t have any fans left.)
Code Orange Kids, The Star and Garter, Manchester, March 2014
Some school kids formed a punk band in Philadelphia, PA, they got signed by the biggest label in hardcore and became millionaires by the time they were 21. Sounds ridiculous, no? Sounds like a pipe dream you talked about with your mates in the back of a Physics lesson, doesn’t it? But it’s totally real.
Code Orange Kids formed when the band members were in middle school back in 2008. By the time they signed to Deathwish Records in 2012, their average age was just 18. Their EP ‘Cycles’ brought them to the attention of Converge’s frontman Jacob Bannon, which lead to the signing, and the band went on to release their first full-length, the excellent, shoe-gazing, intensely visceral ‘Love Is Love // Return To Dust’ in 2012, to mass critical acclaim.
Not bad going for a band who famously weren’t allowed into some of their own gigs because they weren’t old enough to enter the venues.
This year sees the release of Code Orange Kids’ sophomore LP ‘I Am King’ (September 1st) and, with the band being incredibly mysterious about what exactly fans are going to hear, I’m intrigued to see what they’re going to come out with at this gig. Drummer Jami Morgan has set up a website dedicated to the new record but the quartet has been very secretive. It has been a busy year elsewhere for the band too, with three of the members forming another band, Adventures, and Morgan teaming up with Self Defense Family’s Patrick Klindon to create Harm Reduction Records, which will release records by Drown and Torn this year.
Beginning with Cycles, the gig kicks off to a brilliantly no-holds-barred start, one kid spinning and kicking and floor-punching with excitement as the tension in the song builds and breaks. As the band dive into the vicious, filthy riff which begins the track Nothing (The Rat), a kid in a Disgrace t-shirt attempts to join in the pit and is instantly floored. There is nowhere to hide (unless you’ve been lucky enough to secure a place on a raised area next to the wall) and track after track rain down on the crowd. It’s a short set, only seven tracks long, but it’s so worth it. Vocalist Reba Meyers shows off her trademark screech for the beginning of Liars // Trudge before bringing forth her quiet, soft, almost-whispered singing for the end of the track. That she is able to replicate this change in her voice so expertly at a live show is testament to her incredible talent.
New track Slowburn is played next, and it’s the song the crowd’s been waiting for, new material to scare the neighbours with. It’s different from other Code Orange Kids material but still recognisably intense, still as captivatingly dark and burning. Finally, the closing track Flowermouth (The Leech) is played, Meyers screaming the lyrics through her veil of messy red hair. It’s been almost impossible to see her face the entire gig because she’s been masked by hair, head-banging while playing guitar and staring at the floor during the slow parts of songs.
What’s so brilliant about Code Orange Kids is, they’re not big-headed. These guys are set to become one of the biggest acts in hardcore. They’re touring with the likes of Bane and Killswitch Engage this year, and last year toured with Every Time I Die and Title Fight, and they’ve established a fan base that includes members of some of the biggest bands in the business, but they’re so humble. It’s this attitude, this passion for what they do and doing it well, that makes them such a pleasure to watch.
See the I Am King video.
Set list:
Cycles (The Days Get Longer)
Nothing (The Rat)
V (My Body Is A Well)
Liars // Trudge
Worms Fear God // God Fears Youth
Slowburn
Flowermouth (The Leech)

The Great Sabatini – Dog Years review

This review was originally hosted on and written for Manchester Rocks, and is reprinted here with permission.
Over the years, Canada has produced some absolutely brilliant punk. Propagandhi, Comeback Kid and Fucked Up have all taken the world by storm and remain some of the best-selling acts out there. There is, however, a small sub-section of the genre that, unfairly, contains bands which are not as well-known (or perhaps that should read well-received) as they ought to be. One particular example of this is Ontario noisemakers Single Mothers, who, having been refused entry to the US earlier this year and consequently having had to cancel an entire US tour just days before it started, seem set now to only ever play in Canada. Another such relatively unknown band is The Great Sabatini, a quartet of brothers from Montreal who write loud, sludgy and occasionally quite morbid punk songs.
And so, to business. Dog Years is actually the band’s seventh release (that’s basically one per year since their formation in 2007 – never accuse a punk band of being lazy), their second full-length after 2009’s Sad Parade of Yesterdays, and is easily the most unusual album I’ve heard all year. Beginning with the rip-roaring The Royal We, which cracks out of the speakers like a blister oozing metal pus, there’s a sense here that influences are so wide and varied, you could be fooled into thinking these guys are trying too hard to cram everything into one song. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. What starts like your standard Metallica-style riff quickly dissolves into all-out punk war, drumming going from standard beat-keeping to technical, complex, cymbal-bashing noise which complements the frantic screaming of the vocals perfectly, before reaching the sludgy, doom-esque, slowed-down climax of the song which sounds like it could have been written by Code Orange at their most volatile. And the brothers pull it off without a hitch.
Things carry on in much the same vein for Guest of Honour, a minute-long rumination on the social classlessness of death (‘It’s a long way down from ivory towers / You’ll be in the ground pushing up flowers’) and continue on for the next couple of tracks, so it’s only by the fifth song, Reach, that the listener realises The Great Sabatini is actually doing something very, very clever with this record. Yes, it’s punk, yes, it sounds like punk, but it’s a record that plays with people’s perceptions of what punk is. Reach is slow-burning, angry but very much different from what’s happened so far on Dog Years. It contains actual singing, and guitar solos that emanate a certain beauty. This beauty reaches further, into the song Aleka, which is a very calm, acoustic track, again containing only singing.
Of course, this still calmness lulls the listener into a false sense of security, because the next track, Munera, while adopting the sludge and slow-burning style we’ve encountered before, does so with a vicious, slowly building ferocity which remains throughout the rest of the album. The standout track, for me, is Pitchfork Pete, a song containing quite possibly some of the darkest lyrics and most bone-chilling sounds to be encountered in a piece of music, the lyrics all delivered in a drowsy, chanted monotone accompanied by chilling background screams that wouldn’t be out of place in an asylum. Brilliant.
Like every album, it has it’s flaws – there may be a touch too much reliance on the slow, doom-y breakdowns and long instrumental outros for some tracks, but overall this is a solid punk record that will grip the listener and dazzle them with a special brand of dark, unsettling music. This is intensely original and will stay with you long after the final note.
 

Retrospective (II): Touché Amoré

This is another gig review from December last year which was never published. Each of the bands I go to see live are incredibly important to me, and none more so than Touché Amoré, whose 2013 record ‘Is Survived By’ tops my Album of the Year list for last year. This time there’s no set list I’m afraid, but please enjoy. Touché Amoré and Self Defense Family and Dad Punchers, Roadhouse, Manchester December 2013 It’s been a busy year for Jeremy Bolm. Hot off the back of being 2012’s main support slot for Converge’s ‘All We Love We Leave Behind’ tour, the Touché Amoré frontman has launched his own record label Secret Voice, showcasing up-and-coming post-punk acts such as Single Mothers and Drug Church, as well as touring America as frontman for his other band Hesitation Wounds, and topping this off with recording arguably the most emotionally intense hardcore record of 2013 in Touché Amoré’s ‘Is Survived By’. Touché’s choice of support acts is vastly different from their own style, with opening act Dad Punchers (fronted by Touché Amoré drummer Elliot Babin, and – for this leg of the tour – featuring two of Touché’s other members in what Babin has described on Twitter as a ‘double-barrelled’ tour) bringing their own brand of often funny, occasionally thought-provoking lyrics dressed up in the kind of ear-friendly punk rock which is strangely reminiscent of early Barenaked Ladies. Main support act Self Defense Family (formerly End of a Year) brings the tone down to earth with their introspective, confessional lyrical style, songs interspersed with frontman Patrick Kindlon’s own wry, funny monologues on topics including Manchester’s musical heritage and UK Subs’ recent affiliation with neo-Nazi groups. It’s also the final night of Touché’s two-month long European tour, so you can understand why Bolm may look a little tired as he approaches the stage in Manchester’s Roadhouse. But it doesn’t stop him screaming his way through opening track Pathfinder, from 2011’s ‘Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me’, before instantly diving into the latest record’s lead single Just Exist, to the delight of the assembled crowd. Track after track follows with barely a breath between them, the crowd and the band getting more and more sweaty as the energy Bolm puts out spreads through the venue. Maybe it’s final-night release or something else, but Touché Amoré have never sounded this tight, this vital. DNA, a track about Bolm’s relationship with his father, comes before And Now It’s Happening In Mine, a track about his musical influences. There is pushing and shoving, and the final track of the main set begins; the title track from the new album, and one of the most emotionally challenging songs in their repertoire. The encore only consists of two songs, but it’s clear that Touché have reached the end of their rope. The crowd is tired, the band is tired; all that remains is to deliver these final tracks. Non-Fiction begins, a slow track about the inevitability of death which starts quietly and builds to a crashing, deafening crescendo as Bolm screams the final lyric: ‘With time, we’ll all be gone / But how you lived can live on’. Closing track Honest Sleep is a crowd favourite, and the incessant stage-diving begins, fans scrambling over each other to be a part of what has become a staple of Touché Amoré shows during this particular track. Bolm loses the microphone in the surge of crowd-surfing punk kids during the final moment of the song, in which there is no instrumentation, merely Bolm’s voice. Jeremy stands on the stage, the microphone somewhere on the floor amid the crowd of people and the look of intense, tired gratitude on his face as the lyrics are shouted back at him from the floor seems to sum up this tour: he is exhausted, and all of the band’s work has finally paid off. And that’s it. Bolm and the rest of the band have closed out the biggest tour of their career with a bang. It’s the first time they’ve been a headline act in this country, and they’ve shown that, far from living in the shadow of label-mates and hardcore legends Converge, since last year they’ve grown up and moved on, taking the genre in a fresh direction. It’s nice to know hardcore is alive and well and it is to be hoped that much more will be seen from Jeremy Bolm and his bandmates – and after the reception they received from the crowd, it’s hard to imagine them not being welcomed back with open arms.

Retrospective (I): La Dispute

I write for two excellent weblogs, Manchester Rocks (who you can also follow on Twitter here) and Get Your Rock Out (who you can also follow on Twitter here), and the below review was first submitted to GYRO back in May.
La Dispute and O’Brother and Eugene Quell, Gorilla Bar, Manchester, May 20th
Brighton outfit Eugene Quell opens this gig with a blistering fifteen-minute set filled with tight, vital energy and excellent stage presence, rattling through their set laden with well-rehearsed hooks and catchy lyrics. They’re certainly set for bigger things and this opening slot will do wonders for increasing their fan base.
Atlanta’s O’Brother are up next, combining iLiKETRAiNS-style ambience with soaring vocals reminiscent of ‘Showbiz’-era Muse, their driving, building riffs blending with the vocal sound to create a soundscape worthy of Bossk or Caspian. It’s technically perfect, and while this reviewer feels more facets could have been added to the vocal, this is a solid and interesting support choice and I feel sure O’Brother will make many more appearances on our shores. Check them out.
Michigan’s quartet La Dispute are not exactly known for doing easily accessible, straightforward rock music. Their propensity for long, wordy lyrics and songs that deal with really quite disquieting situations is fast becoming legend on the post-hardcore scene, stretching right back to the band’s inception in 2004. They have ever delivered hard-hitting poetry on their records, and while they released several EP’s back in the couple of years after they formed, really it was 2008’s ‘Somewhere At The Bottom Of The River Between Vega And Altair’ that put them firmly on the map, with songs like New Storms For Older Lovers, part of a trilogy of songs about an infidelity that catastrophically destroys a relationship, and The Last Lost Continent, a 12-minute epic about death and love and where the human race is going.
The band then went quiet for three years (besides doing splits with Koji and Touché Amoré) before emerging in 2011 with the excellent 50-minute full-length ‘Wildlife’, an album about the band’s hometown with songs so emotionally ruinous and intense that it is still a struggle to listen to the whole record in one go. Tracks such as King Park, about a drive-by shooting that goes wrong, Edward Benz, 27 Times, about a man who is nearly murdered by his schizophrenic son and I See Everything, which charts a mother’s struggle to cope with the fact that her seven-year-old son is dying of aggressive cancer, will all leave the listener gasping for breath with tears in their eyes, such is the emotional impact. (A side note: vocalist/lyricist Jordan Dreyer famously has said that the above three songs from ‘Wildlife’ are all based on true stories.)
Heart-wrenching stuff. So, expectations were high for their new record, this year’s ‘Rooms Of The House’. It did not disappoint. The album depicts in minute detail the slow disintegration of a relationship, the ‘motions of ordinary love’ as Dreyer soulfully puts it in the track Woman (In Mirror), and coldly juxtaposes this with a tornado touching down in Hudsonville, Michigan, resulting in the collapse of a bridge which carries one of the city’s major highways at rush hour.
Opening with the first two tracks off the new record, Hudsonville, MI 1956 and First Reactions After Falling Through The Ice, it doesn’t take long for Jordan Dreyer to descend into one of his now-legendary onstage freak-outs, stamping and flicking his head from side to side and twirling as he shouts the lyrics. This energy, pent-up in the crowd for the first tracks, suddenly catches and is released for the third song played, The Most Beautiful Bitter Fruit, which sends the assembled flock of fans into a whirling, frenzied mosh pit (during which two young men actually nearly get into a real fight, much to the amusement of those around them). Two more fast tracks follow, one of which is the second single from ‘Rooms Of The House’, and then Dreyer and the rest of the band decide to slow things down a little by playing Woman (In Mirror) and then A Letter. The band then perform Andria, from their 2008 record and then blister through five more tracks before closing out the main set with Woman (Reading).
The guitarist and drummer both remain onstage at the end of the song and deliver a nice little instrumental duet before the stage lights go down and they walk off stage, but there’s still a buzz in the air, still something that feels unfinished, a thirst unquenched. About a minute later, Jordan Dreyer comes back onstage followed by the rest of the band and amid joking calls for them to play songs by other bands, Dreyer calls a huddle so the band can decide what to do for the encore.
There are three songs played, one of which is A Broken Jar (a song which serves as a kind of accompaniment to A Letter and A Poem) and then, with barely a pause, Dreyer looks the crowd straight in the face amid kids screaming song titles and announces: ‘King Park’. This song is a fan favourite and the perfect way to end a perfect set. I will admit a slight shiver crawled coldly up my spine when the entire crowd (myself included) screamed that final set of lyrics, those devastating words spoken by a kid with a loaded gun, alone in a locked hotel room with no hope left and his family scrabbling at the door:
‘Can I still get into heaven if I kill myself?’
Set list:
Hudsonville, MI, 1956
First Reactions After Falling Through The Ice
The Most Beautiful Bitter Fruit
Stay Happy There
St Paul Missionary Baptist Church Blues
Woman (In Mirror)
A Letter
Andria
For Mayor In Splitsville
All Our Bruised Bodies And The Whole Heart Shrinks
The Child We Lost 1963
A Poem
The Castle Builders
Woman (Reading)
You And I In Unison
A Broken Jar
King Park

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