Nearly three and a half years have passed since Chicago crowded into Metro, an intimate venue in Wrigleyville, to say farewell to Underoath. That night passed all too quickly – an uncomfortable goodbye to a band that didn’t seem quite ready to let go, even as every sound bite and interview pointed to the contrary. The documentary that followed, Tired Violence, showed a band in distress, fighting against the fractures that time creates.
It’s almost surreal then to stand amidst a sold out crowd at Riviera Theatre as the lights go down, the crowd roars, and one of the most powerful and influential post-hardcore bands on the planet makes their grand return.
In truth, the pangs of heartbreak in light of Underoath’s untimely departure hadn’t even passed for many fans by the time the band announced their return late last year. They say time heals all wounds – apparently some wounds require much less time than others. What’s so pleasant about this rebirth, as the band calls it, is that nothing feels forced. It’s a team effort in which everyone seems truly happy to be together again.
As the Rebirth tour hits Chicago, it’s stunning to witness the response. Riviera Theatre is over twice the size of Metro, but on this night, it’s packed to capacity – breathing room is a luxury reserved for the outdoors. Given the turnout, you’d be inclined to assume the band had been absent for decades. On this night, the buzz in the building rivals that of the band’s initial breakout in the summer of 2004.
Part of the appeal surely lies in the offering. This isn’t a greatest hits tour, per say. Instead, Underoath is playing their two most popular albums, They’re Only Chasing Safety and Define the Great Line, in their entirety. Several songs have never been played live. As two of the most influential post-hardcore albums in recent memory, it’s a special night, indeed.
The only question is, how does the band’s performance hold up three years removed from practice and six years removed from original drummer and singer Aaron Gillespie? Pardon the hyperbole, but the answer is: better than ever.
Hearing They’re Only Chasing Safety in this setting is a nostalgia trip of the highest order. As Spencer opens “Young and Aspiring” with the cry of, “Let’s not even try, you’re right / Let’s ball it up and throw it out the window”, the crowd roars the lyrics in unison. It’s incredible to see the band perform these songs all these years later, mostly because the band’s performance has improved so much since those early days.
Underoath rips through Safety, only stopping after the final notes of “It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door” to address the crowd. Hearing tracks like “Down, Set, Go!” and “I’m Content With Losing” performed for the first time is a wonderful nod to the past. As two of the most enjoyable Safety tracks to sing along to, it’s still shocking that they’ve never made their way to the stage until now.
They’re Only Chasing Safety was a gateway drug for many, introducing legions of fans to not only Underoath, but to heavy music. In hindsight, it was a primer for everything that came to follow. After a short break, the band returns to the stage to launch into Define the Great Line, their groundbreaking follow-up. The transition from melodic screamo to ambient post-metal is jarring. Safety is a fun record, but Define marks the moment that Underoath dropped the gloves. It’s a magnificent piece of art in its own right, but in a live performance, it’s absolutely soul-rattling.
From the opening moments of “In Regards to Myself” to the final whispers of “To Whom it May Concern”, Underoath are in rare form. Guitarist Tim McTague and keyboardist Chris Dudley bounce about the stage with youthful energy, harkening back to the band’s early days. The complexities of Define’s track list allow Gillespie to flex his muscles behind the kit, even throwing in some extra fills when appropriate. During the final moments of “Writing on the Walls”, perhaps the band’s most beloved song, the crowd becomes a choir, led gracefully by Gillespie toward the song’s crushing conclusion.
Coupling the performance itself, the band’s trademark lights and visuals grace the stage. Screens showing accompanying short films and imagery play along with the music, offering an additional element to the auditory experience. While Underoath could have easily ran through this tour on the music alone, it’s this extra care for their craft that has always set the band apart. It’s nearly impossible to leave feeling disappointed.
Throughout the evening, Chamberlain will sporadically address the crowd, mostly sharing how happy the band is to be together again. “None of us thought this would ever happen,” is stated on multiple occasions. Whatever the reasons for the band’s initial demise, and whatever their reasons for reconciliation, is of little concern. Seeing the sextet on stage once more is enough to wash away any lingering apprehension.
When Underoath stepped away in 2013, it left a gaping void in the post-punk scene, mostly because it felt like the band still had life left in the tank. Whether this current rebirth leads to new music or simply offers an outlet for the members to keep playing the songs we all know by heart, it just feels right to have Underoath back in the mix. Judging from the turnout on their current tour, they’ll be welcomed with open arms for however long they choose to stay.
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.