This week started out with a bit of a bang for me. I got to attend not one, but two, shows featuring three bands that I have a great deal of respect for, two of which I’d count amongst my favorite bands ever. This is a rare 1-2 punch of live music, and while it made for two very long days (other than sleeping, I was probably home for 5 minutes…God bless my wonderful wife), it was a cool experience that I haven’t had in a long while.
Monday night featured my good friends in Emery (only slightly exaggerating on the friends part), along with a pretty expansive list of opening bands that included Tooth & Nail label mates Civilian (whose 2016 LP You Wouldn’t Believe What Privilege Costs is one of my favorites from last year) and LOYALS, a new T&N band that I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for moving forward. Emery has moved away from the standard touring model in recent years, trading in long weeks away from home for shorter stints in strategic groupings of 8-10 shows at a time, making their appearances feel a little more like major events. This show, at Charlotte’s Neighborhood Theater, kicked off this leg of their 2017 Fan Appreciation shows, where they charged a paltry $10 per ticket in an effort to play larger venues and bring in more fans (by comparison, the last few times I’ve seen them have been either in support of a larger band or headlining shows at smaller venues, like Columbia, SC’s tiny New Brookland Tavern). While I would have paid more to go see them, it certainly was nice to not spend a ton of money to catch one of my favorite bands.
The night began rather uneventfully. I wasn’t really drawn in by Washington, DC’s In Your Memory, who sound exactly like you might think they would based on their hometown. While they worked hard to get the small-but-growing crowd into it, there was an obvious disconnect; the audience didn’t know them and didn’t care much that they were trying hard. The band that followed, Atlanta’s The Funeral Portrait, didn’t seem to have their sound nailed down (was it punk? screaming? weird goth stuff?) and the singer was either affecting a Southern accent or was so nervous it came out of his mouth weird, but his speaking voice felt off. Thankfully, LOYALS came on next and turned the show around. Their synth-infused pop/rock breathed new life into the proceedings, especially because this was the first vocalist of the night who could actually sing, an irony that will never cease to amaze me (call me crazy, but I think the guy/girl who is singing in the band should actually be able to). I’m looking forward to hearing their T&N debut, whenever that comes out. Civilian followed as direct support, and while their set was pretty much the same as it was when I saw them open for The Classic Crime this summer, it was still a quality set, made up mostly of songs from You Wouldn’t Believe, including album standouts like “Reasons,” “I Told You” and “Caroline.” While they brought the pace of the show down again (their music is mostly moody, mid-tempo jams), they certainly continued the uptick in quality of songwriting presented throughout the show.
Emery, to their great credit, doesn’t feel like a band of guys in their late-30’s/early-40’s still trying to maintain relevance in their genre. To be sure, they’ve mellowed out a bit (2015’s You Were Never Alone is by and large their most “laid back” album, which is in quotes because its relative to other parts of the band’s catalog), but they also don’t ignore the heavier parts of their discography. In fact, the set is littered with massive doses of their debut, now-13-year-old The Weak’s Ends, which, depending on your point of view, can either be the best way for the band to handle their shows or a stab at nostalgia (I lean more towards the latter personally, but I never really felt emotionally attached to that record the way I do others in their catalog). But the energy remains top notch, probably at least partially fueled by the massive cutdown on shows from year to year. Instead of having to “bring it” for 200+ shows a year, the band can focus their energy on significantly fewer shows, and in my opinion, allows them to give more to these shows, even as they age. Guitarist Matt Carter and keyboardist/screamer Josh Head are especially energetic, with both men ascending the drum riser and (somewhat carefully) leaping off, along with otherwise dancing and moving around the stage. It was also good to see Devin Shelton back in the fold full time, as his voice feels like an important part of Emery’s sound, providing not only harmonies and countermelodies with Toby Morrell’s voice, but also taking over lead on a few songs (this back and forth has long been a part of Emery’s MO). My biggest disappointment was the lack of songs from You Were Never Alone and The Question, my two favorite records from the band. Otherwise, the band continues to be a musical force even after all these years.
Less You Say
As Your Voice Fades
The Smile, The Face
I Never Got To See the West Coast
So Cold I Could See My Breath
Can’t Stop The Killer
In A Lose, Lose Situation
By All Accounts (Today Was A Disaster)
Rock, Pebble, Stone
The Note From Which A Chord is Built
Churches & Serial Killers
Dear Death, Parts 1 & 2
In Shallow Seas We Sail
From Crib to Coffin
Tuesday night was another show night, this time a co-headling tour featuring Thrice and Circa Survive at The Fillmore in Charlotte. I’ve seen both bands several times over the last few years, but I’d have to say that Thrice is the band that was the bigger draw of the show for me, and I’m quite glad they decided to bring their hiatus to an end and come back. At this point, they straddle the line between the incessant full-time touring that a band like Circa engages in and the more deliberate, muted version that Emery follows. Since their return in 2015, Thrice has played more consistently on tour, but so far as I can recall, this extended stint with Circa, which followed a summer run opening for Incubus (yeah, kind of weird), is the longest they’ve been out essentially consecutively. I’ve been fortunate to see them twice already since they’ve returned, first in the summer of 2016 with La Dispute and Gates, and now with Circa, Chon and Balance & Composure, both at Fillmore.
Balance & Composure opened the show, but due to traffic, we missed a few of their songs, although we ended up hearing most of their set, which featured songs from both their 2013 release The Things We Think We’re Missing and last year’s Light We Made. Having just seen them on their headlining tour a few months ago, I got what I needed out of BalCo (as Anthony Green called them) for this particular show. They were followed by Chon, an instrumental band out of San Diego, who presented their wordless, fusion virtuosity rather effectively. I’m usually torn on instrumental bands live, as the lack of a singer/frontman can make it difficult to connect with the band, turning them into nothing more than background noise; but it’s difficult to ignore the skill of each member of the 4-piece, and so I found myself intrigued in just watching fingers and arms flail about, all the while creating some really complicated and interesting musical sounds (I felt the same way watching Animals As Leaders open for Thrice on their farewell tour, as well as Caspian, who played with Underoath on their Rebirth Tour).
Thrice followed, since a co-headling tour just means that the two bands play for the same amount of time, not that each band gets to go last (how would that even work?). I’ve heard different things about co-headling tours from different places, but my general understanding is that sometimes the bands switch who plays last each night, but that the set length is the most defining element here. That said, each Thrice and Circa got an hour on stage, giving each ample time to cover as much of they could of each band’s catalog (Thrice’s is now 9 albums long, if you count each piece of The Alchemy Index as one album, while Circa’s now spans 6 records, including recently released The Amulet). Thrice covered a wide array of their discography, including a song from each album except (sadly) 2011’s Major/Minor and choosing a B-side from 2009’s Beggars in favor of album cuts, including a mid-set from each element of the now-10-year-old The Alchemy Index (and announcing a soon-to-be-released vinyl repress!). The set was mostly high energy, with only a few of the Alchemy Index tracks bringing the tempo down. The band was as tight as they’ve ever been, and Dustin Kensrue’s voice was in top-form, although I could tell he was holding back a little on the scream-heavy portions of some songs, either because he was saving his voice or wasn’t as interested in the guttural growls found on the recorded versions of some of those earlier songs. They even included longtime fan favorite “Deadbolt” without audience prodding (even though I would be fine if I never heard it again). The set was unsurprisingly heavy on songs from their most recent album, which leads to the only downside of the show as it was: the co-headling designation forced the band to decide how many deeper cuts they played versus new songs; the band obviously decided to focus on the latter. Not a bad thing, since To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere is a stellar addition to their discography.
Circa Survive closed things out for the evening, and this is where I have to admit something: I think I’m kind of done with these guys. I’ll probably still pay attention to their albums moving forward, but the days of making their shows a priority are likely over. I wasn’t floored by The Amulet, as it feels like the band is in a bit of a rut, and it’s becoming harder and harder to differentiate the band’s songs from album to album. I’m not even sure a novice listener would be able to tell any major differences. That’s fine, because there’s a lot of music out there, and I don’t think being a cursory fan of Circa will hurt me in any way. The biggest thing is the live show. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen Circa live, but it’s a lot (sneakily, I remember seeing them open for Mae, of all bands in the world, back when Circa was getting started and just thinking they were super weird), and it’s turning into a law of diminishing returns. Anthony Green, in contrast to Kensrue, doesn’t feel capable of pulling off the high pitches and screams of his records live all the time, and I couldn’t tell you if that’s vocal fatigue or merely lack of ability, because he’s all over the map, even within the context of the same show. My ear tells me that he’s capable (and I’ve heard him be more successful than he was last night), but there was a lot to be desired about his performance last night. I get that he puts a lot of importance on the performative element of the show, as he dances and jumps around stage like a maniac, but it also prevents him from fully delivering on the songs themselves; this, to me, is a detriment. To be honest, I’d have preferred about half an hour less of Circa and thirty minutes more Thrice last night, not only because of Green’s struggles, but also because the latter was forced to cut a lot of great songs from what could have been a 90-minute set, whereas Green needed to focus his energies on a shorter group of songs.
And now I feel better having said that. I don’t feel bad for feeling that way; it’s an opinion. My sister and her friend love Circa more than I ever could, and they were ecstatic about their show. They probably could have done with less Thrice in the same way I could have done with less Circa. I’m trying to turn my emotional response into logic (one of my favorite things to do), when really all I have to say is “that’s just how I feel about it.” Thrice’s deeper feeling and easier means of expression has always connected more with me, and nothing about last night did anything to change that.
The Earth Will Shake
The Artist in the Ambulance
Blood on the Sand
Come All You Weary
Of Dust and Nations
The Long Defeat
Circa Survive, 11/14/17
Child of the Desert
Rites of Investiture
In Fear and Faith
Stop the Car
Premonition of the Hex
The Difference Between Medicine and Poison is the Dose