On Saturday, September 12 in Chicago, William Beckett will step onto the stage in front of roaring crowd at Riot Fest as the lead singer of The Academy Is… to perform Almost Here for what will likely be the final time. On July 31, Beckett took the stage at the dimly lit Emerson Theater in Indianapolis, silently strapping on his acoustic guitar as a small, quiet crowd looked on.
For Beckett and tour mate Aaron Gillespie, art and performance exist independently of audience size. Both singers are familiar with crowds both large and small, and have spent the better part of their careers gaining a rabid following, thanks in large part to the passion they pour into their many projects. Tonight in Indianapolis is, in a way, about giving back, as the two perform acoustic numbers from both past and present.
Gillespie, formerly the drummer of Underoath and lead singer of The Almost, now spends his days crafting songs for his solo endeavors when he’s not on the road as the touring drummer of Paramore. A multi-talented artist known to play a myriad of musical instruments, Gillespie masterminded this tour as a way for fans to relive a decade’s worth of songs and moments.
Beckett saw The Academy Is… take flight in the summer of 2005, just as Gillespie and Underoath were bringing heavy music to the flocking masses. In part, the two helped signify the bridging of a gap between heavy and light in a scene that became a melting pot for new alternative sounds.
On this night, Beckett not only takes time to play old Academy classics, but also shares his wildly underrated solo material. Truth be told, time has been quite kind to Beckett, whose vocals now sound even more crisp than in his early days as an energetic and flailing frontman. When he sings “About a Girl”, a soaring chorus that once appeared to take everything his vocal chords could give, now appears effortless, as he holds incredibly high notes for extra beats, just for good measure.
His 2013 debut solo album flew largely under the radar, but Genuine & Counterfeit is chock full of the gorgeous melodies that made Academy such hit, even as he relies far more on his pop sensibilities than his punk and emo tendencies. “Hanging on a Honeymoon” sounds just as wonderful in this acoustic setting as old favorites such as “The Phrase That Pays”.
Beckett’s ability to capture a crowd while on stage has long been lauded, but it’s clear that he hasn’t lost a beat. As exciting as the upcoming Academy reunion at Riot Fest may be, it’s even more exciting to know that Beckett is planning on sticking around for the foreseeable future.
Gillespie’s set finds a treasure trove of hits to choose from. Both The Almost and Underoath have provided a large collection of fan favorites through the years, but stripping these songs down for this acoustic setting was surely a challenge. Even so, the melodic leanings of They’re Only Chasing Safety-era Underoath tracks like “Reinventing Your Exit” and “A Boy Brushed Red Living in Black and White” make for obvious choices. Likewise, calmer numbers like “Dirty and Left Out” and “Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape” lend quite well, too.
With an acoustic guitar and a single pedal-powered drum, Gillespie is able to add dimension to the songs as the crowd sings along. When he picks up pace for “Say This Sooner”, the audience goes into full choir mode during the chorus. Gillespie has made a name for himself with his ability to capture the moment with both gentle and explosive deliveries. Red in the face, he belts out the high points of “No, I Don’t” just as if a full band were on stage to back him up.
Even with such an expansive catalogue to pull from, Gillespie still makes time for cover songs from U2, Oasis and Tom Petty. The highlight of the night finds Beckett and tour mate Nathan Hussey of All Get Out joining Gillespie on stage for a performance of “Free Fallin’”, featuring a delightful three-part harmony during the song’s chorus.
A longtime fan of Beckett and Gillespie, I’ve found myself in attendance for numerous concerts from both throughout the past decade. The music of The Academy Is… and Underoath are likely to remain timeless for me – a touchstone to a coming-of-age period in my life. Truthfully, it’s hard to think back without remembering their voices as the soundtrack. All of these years later, it’s a pleasure and an honor to sing along again.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.