If there’s one thing I love the most about the recent trend of reunion and anniversary tours, it’s the community. When Armor for Sleep released their classic sophomore album What to Do When You Are Dead in early 2005, I was a 21-year-old college student who made relentless road trips to see my favorite bands. My friends and I would pack into small, sweaty venues and sing and dance along to our favorite songs until our throats were raw and our bodies were sore.
Times have changed, to a certain extent. Although I still frequent shows, the vibe is different. Whether I like to admit it or not, I’ve lost much of the youthful excitement and abandon that used to radiate from within. A good concert experience still delights, but it rarely takes me to that place of wonder.
That’s why I find myself smiling when the opening notes of “Car Underwater” play through the speakers at The Metro in Chicago. I spend half of the set singing along to some of my favorite songs and the other half looking around and taking in the experience. It feels as though I can relate to everyone in attendance – an audience of grown-ups who still remember what it feels like to be a kid in love with the music.
As odd as it seems that a crowd of several hundred adults would sing along so loudly to songs of death, despair and regret, there’s something touchingly therapeutic about this night. Armor for Sleep existed as a unique mix of dark, thoughtful emo churning amidst rabid melodic sensibilities. What to Do When You Are Dead was one of the most distressing and expressive releases of its time, but it was also one of the most appealing.
Hearing these songs once again causes me to reflect on how far I’ve come while reminding me that the journey is far from over. As a young, lost college student, Armor for Sleep’s story of suicide and the painful revelations of the afterlife dug deep at my own insecurities and uncertainty. Although the years have brought maturity in many ways, some of those fears still persist.
There’s something about the key change during the pre-chorus of “Remember to Feel Real”, accompanied by Ben Jorgensen’s lines of, “You know I change myself to impress whoever happens to be next to me / But I’m sick of trying so hard” that still strikes a nerve. On this night, I don’t feel alone during that moment, surrounded by a chorus of friends singing along just as loudly and just as convicted as they did a decade ago.
After four opening tracks from 2003’s Dream to Make Believe and 2007’s Smile for Them, the band kick into What to Do When You Are Dead, playing the entire album from front to back with essentially no pause for stage banter. The story is allowed to speak for itself and the entire crowd is aware of each subsequent moment and song.
To hear Jorgensen, guitarist PJ DeCicco, bassist Anthony Dilonno and drummer Nash Breen play these songs so effortlessly is to nearly forget that the band has been absent for years. It’s hard not to wonder if there’s any remaining pain existent that spawned these tracks a decade ago. Jorgensen’s voice sounds just as tortured as ever, whether for effect or out of necessity it’s impossible to tell. Nevertheless, the night is meant to be a celebration of the band’s most lauded album and the fans that made a reunion like this a reality. The songs are sad, but the crowd seems overjoyed to sing them together once more.
The band returned to the stage after completing the album to play What to Do bonus track “Very Invisible” along with a few personal favorites of mine, “Frost and Front Steps” and “Dream to Make Believe”. The show feels like a goodbye, although it’s deflating to once again consider the possibility. In a time where bands are once again attempting to shed their glossy finish in favor of darker, grittier sounds, Armor for Sleep is the original archetype for such a movement in this scene. Their mere presence seems to elevate the authenticity.
Armor for Sleep’s music is rich in self-loathing and doubt, which just so happen to be traits I possess in spades. When I was younger, they aided me when I wallowed and gave me the courage to shake it off. Now, they remind me of a time when direction was much less clear and help seemed much further away. It’s likely that everyone in the crowd had a unique story for why this music mattered to them, but for this night, we all shared our stories in unison.
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.