So I’ve decided to inject some life into this very outdated music section and write some bi-monthly reviews of various shows, gigs, and jigs (is jigs a thing? It is now). I want to mostly cover the smaller, DIY shows around the Philadelphia and Cumberland Valley area, to give what I believe to be a very talented and diverse scene of musicians some great exposure. But for this first review, I’ve decided to relive a show I went to 2 weeks ago at the Union Transfer Station in Philadelphia.
Back in October, Underoath announced they were breaking up after 16 years, 7 studio albums, and as many lineup changes as Spinal Tap. They did not plan to go out quietly however, as plans were quickly made for a farewell tour with MewithoutYou, As Cities Burn, and Letlive as supporting acts. The lineup for this show greatly intrigued me when I first saw it. Underoath has been one of the largest, most well-received bands in the post-hardcore scene ever since 2004’s They’re Only Chasing Safety, and their following albums, including my own favorite Define the Great Line, blended elements of hardcore, ambient electronica, and post-metal. Each of their albums has always brought something distinct, enjoyable, and new to the table, one of the reasons they have been so successful. Pairing them with the unique sound of MewithoutYou seemed eerily appropriate, as the band is known for being pioneers in the post-hardcore and indie rock genres for their spoken word vocals and free-ranging instrumentals. For me, the icing on the cake was As Cities Burn, a personnel favorite of mine who had been touring around the country for the past year after breaking up in 2009, and whose debut album, 2005’s Son I Loved You at Your Darkest, remains one of my favorite hardcore albums of all time. From the minute this lineup was announced in October, I knew I had to be a part of this tour. So I contacted a friend, bought a ticket for the show in Philly, and waited patiently for the day to come.
2 months after I had already bought my ticket, the day of the show arrived. I rolled into Union Transfer with 4 other friends around 8:30, just as Letlive had finished their set. I was a little disappointed that we had missed the first act, mostly because I had never really listened to Letlive before, but with As Cities Burn setting up I didn’t have much time to lament. We found a place to stand near the middle of the crowd and waited for the band to come out. As Cities Burn has three albums, all with a distinctly different sound. Their debut, Son I Loved You at Your Darkest, is the only hardcore album and would make up the majority of their set, but they opened with a few songs from their other 2 albums, ambient and progressive Come Now, Sleep and indie rock Hell or High Water. I picked up instantly that the band would be modifying their sound this evening to appease the hardcore-loving Underoath crowd, applying distortion and bass to their non-hardcore songs that didn’t feel very right. Even when they started to play their heavier songs, there appeared to be some aggressive modifications to their style that didn’t sit well with me as an avid fan of the band’s studio work. I witnessed something similar when I saw them in Dallas a year ago, during their first reunion show. Despite coming to the conclusion that As Cities Burn is just not as good a live band as they are on record, they played an incredibly energetic and lively set that set the mood for the night perfectly. Lead singer TJ Bonette was very interactive with the crowd, and the rest of the band was constantly moving and having fun on stage. Everyone seemed to react to them well, as evidenced by the first mosh pit of the night forming quickly within the first 10 minutes of their set. Overall, As Cities Burn played a lively, fun, but I still feel they had underachieved compared to what kind of sound the band is capable of.
Among my friends and I, MewithoutYou was the band we were most looking forward to seeing. The Philadelphia-based band is one of the most innovative group of musicians in the post-hardcore and indie genres today. Lead singer Aaron Weiss is considered one of the better spoken-word lyricists, in the same company as La Dispute’s Jordan Dreyer or Listener’s Dan Smith. We scoped out some spots right in the front in anticipation of their set. Their 5th studio album, Ten Stories, had been released a few months prior, but they played a set filled with songs from across all their albums. The band has a pleasant awkwardness to them; Weiss sounds like a nervous toddler in between songs and the rest of the band partakes in some unorthodox theatrics throughout their sets (I caught the drummer licking his sticks at one point. Licking.) This stage presence just contributed to their sound, which was uncompromised and beautifully performed. By far the highlight of the set was when the band pulled out fan favorite song Torches Together. At the end of MewithoutYou’s set, my friends and I felt that we had already gotten our money’s worth.
Finally, after a lengthy delay, Underoath took the stage amidst thunderous applause and approval. My friends and I had at this point re-located to the balcony/bar, giving us a full view of the crowd and stage. Underoath came out strong, playing a myriad of songs from across many albums, and didn’t slow down until the 4 song encore. There was certainly a lot of passion and energy on the stage; lead singer Spencer Chamberlain was constantly interacting with the crowd as the band played vigorously on stage. It was an emotional set; Underoath has always been widely popular, and their exit was bound to not go unnoticed. It was good, though, to see the band play songs that they enjoyed a lot with the fan favorites. It’s hard to forget that for these musicians, leaving the life of touring and recording can be a big shift. Undoubtedly some of the members will remain active in music, but for most of them, this tour is it. In the end, Underoath played like they would never be playing Philly again, capping off a great show with an emotional nail in the coffin.
Outside of house shows, this was my first show of 2013, and it was definitely one of the better ones I’ve attended in the past year. As Cities Burn played with intensity, MewithoutYou was as phenomenal and artistic as always, and Underoath provided the emotional icing on the cake. It truly was a night to remember.
If you are interested in learning more about the bands in this show, or the Union Transfer Station in Philadelphia, check out the links below.