Photo Credit: Ashley Altus
Shows with multiple openers and multiple headliners can pose a lot of problems. Sets always seem too short, set up between bands takes forever, you’re never sure which band will be headlining your night, and how many times do you need to hear “1-2-3 mic check” in a single night? Luckily the Drake inspired “Started From the Bottom Now We Here” tour found a way to make it all work.
With six bands on the bill and an 11pm curfew at the second date in New York City’s Gramercy Theater, the show begins with Palisades almost immediately after the doors opened. Normally I wouldn’t fret about almost missing an opening band I have only heard of a few times, but in retrospect, I am ecstatic that I was able to catch the set. Palisades performance was one of the most energetic of opening bands I have ever seen perform. They are proof that a good audience-engaging frontman can get the crowd to interact positively, even if they are the first opener. Also, they had great vocals, and witty stage banter, which certainly didn’t hurt.
Dayshell was on second for the night, and any old-school Of Mice & Men fans immediately recognized the previous guitarist/clean vocalist, Shayley Bourget, had now transformed himself into a frontman. Bourget is an exceptionally talented vocalist, there is no doubt about that, and Dayshell is capable of throwing out some pretty effective riffs and drum build ups, however, the whole performance just felt a bit static and one dimensional. Perhaps it was the fact that Bourget has never performed as a frontman before Dayshell, but his inability to own the entire stage, and the fact that he was able to perform comfortably in a hot leather jacket the whole time, was kind of off-putting. As far as the songs they performed, none were inherently bad, they just didn’t feel unique. A little variety was needed to have made this performance pop.
Slotted for number three was Utah-based emo-pop-punk rockers, Get Scared. For anyone who has ever seen vocalist Nick Matthews live, you’ve probably felt a disconnect between him and the audience in the past, similar to Bourget’s performance. Fortunately, this being my fourth time seeing Get Scared, I was floored to see a complete turn around e in Matthews that I can only equate to his return to the band, and the new material that stemmed from their latest album, Everyone’s Out To Get Me. Matthews kept the energy alive with vocals that were always on par, back and forth responses, and enough stage presence to keep the crowd entertained for new songs that were probably still new to much of the audience. And after all the hype Matthews created around him, he exploded with charisma into his performance of fan favorite “Sarcasm.”
And then Crown the Empire came on stage and stole the entire show. CTE is proof that a good band is always ten times better live. Every song they played packed a way harder punch than their recordings, even with the odd decision to perform “Johnny’s Revenge,” a whimsical, theatric, steam punk song as their opener, and in my opinion the only weak song off their debut LP. But I didn’t mind it live, as they split the clean and unclean vocals between Andy Leo and David Escamilla. They just took the stage by storm and were the one band to really get the audience captivated enough to form a huge wall of death and even more impressive circle pit with songs like “Makeshift Chemistry” and throwbacks like “Voices.”
Tragically for The Word Alive and I See Stars, their pits didn’t quite make it. And perhaps this was my problem with The Word Alive following Crown the Empire. First, half of the audience, myself included, was under the impression that TWA was the last to perform for the night, but they had the penultimate position, instead. And when they did perform, their energy just fell flat compared to CTE. They played well, they were engaging, they were upbeat, they just weren’t on the same energy frequency of a band who is still touring off of the success of their first album. Performances of “2012” and “Battle Royale” are always looked forward to, but just weren’t going to cut it for the band tonight. Their set seemed to drag on with constant breaks and audience addresses between songs, and then Telle asked everyone to pull out a cell phone or lighter so he could “slow it down,” which given the lack of energy probably wasn’t the smartest move on his part. I’m sure on nights that TWA plays the final set, all of this works, but it didn’t add up while waiting in anticipation for I See Stars.
As for the night’s actual headliner, I See Stars knows what’s up. Their set design, their opening with “Initialization Sequence” into “Ten Thousand Miles” was as predictable as Saturday coming after Friday, but it worked brilliantly as a way to bring their latest record into a live setting. Devin Oliver’s voice hit every note and the guitars blared through all forms of drop tuning, because drop D isn’t always sufficient. Ranging from the intimacy of songs like “Murder Mitten” to some of their older dance-associated work extending from “NZT48” to “End of the World Party,” ISS was able to incorporate all styles they have grown from and into in order to really capture the idea of starting from the bottom to get here, headlining a sold out show in New York City. Their best move of the night? Using “Filth Friends” as the encore presentation. As unclean vocalist Zach Johnson screamed “Lights Out” to end the song, the whole stage went dark and you knew you couldn’t ask for a better ending to a show. It was totally insane.