Panic! at the Disco Owns the Spotlight at Jingle Jam

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“Welcome to the end of eras / Ice has melted back to life / Done my time and served my sentence / Dress me up and watch me die”

As 2016 comes to a close, there’s a lot of validation to be felt if you’re Brendon Urie. Earlier this year, Death of a Bachelor became Panic! at the Disco’s first number one album on the Billboard 200, and the resulting success landed Urie his first Grammy nomination just a few weeks ago. As it turns out, taking full creative control of Panic has transformed the singer into a bonafide pop star and creative genius.

With snow and ice on the ground and a mighty chill in the air, Urie took the stage as the headliner for this year’s WZPL Jingle Jam, an annual holiday concert event in Indianapolis. While the previous night saw X Ambassadors take top billing, this evening’s event welcomed up and coming pop performer Daya and hip hop newcomer Jon Bellion in addition to Panic! at the Disco.

Panic! at the Disco

Panic! at the Disco

When I interviewed Urie in the spring of 2011, Panic had just released Vices and Virtues, the band’s first release featuring Brendon as primary songwriter and first without founding members Ryan Ross and Jon Walker. Sensitive and thoughtful, Urie was quick to note his fears and hesitations during the writing process of that album and how he often felt overwhelmed with creative responsibility. It’s amazing to see the same man nearly six years later so full of confidence, belting out, “The crown, so close I can taste it / I see what’s mine and take it” while absolutely owning the spotlight.

In the decade since Panic! at the Disco’s theatrical emergence into the public eye, Brendon Urie has become far more than a pretty face with an even prettier voice. In front of a solid out crowd at the Pan Am Plaza in downtown Indianapolis, he is the main attraction and he knows it. Once a stoic vocalist standing civilly at the mic, Urie is now a full-fledged performer, bounding (and even back-flipping) about the stage with swagger. You don’t dare take your eyes off him.

Panic! at the Disco

Panic! at the Disco

Stabilizing moments come when Urie sings a rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” or when he sits behind the piano for a performance of “Nine in the Afternoon”, the sole song on the setlist from 2008’s Pretty. Odd., which now feels like it released a lifetime ago. Most of the night is spent splashing in the revelry of Death of a Bachelor and even the sensual gloom of Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die. In an unexpected twist of fate, it is no longer the emo glamor of “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” that the crowd clamors for. This new era of Panic is connecting with a whole new audience.

Earlier this year, I panned Death of a Bachelor as indulgence of the highest order. Lines like “I’m not as think as you drunk I am” still don’t excite me, but it’s impossible to not be impressed at how well Urie has played his cards. He has not only weathered the loss of multiple band members and creative contributors, he has taken the reins of a project that could have easily imploded and made it something his own, learning all of the necessary tools along the way to ensure it succeeds.

At times on stage, Urie takes on the character of drunken stupor and carousing that bleeds throughout Bachelor, perfectly executing to the crowd’s delight. He’s the life of the party with seeming ease and you can sense his confidence. There’s no need for makeup or costume – instead, Urie shines simply through self-assured performance, the new Sinatra for the Snapchat era. It’s certainly a bit brash and bright for some tastes, but it has the potential to make the success of 2016 something that repeats itself. Lord knows, he’s earned it.

By Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.

Copeland: Cracking Nostalgia in Chicago

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The Double Door is one of those classic music venues in Chicago that almost seems like a stereotype – tucked beneath a train line, it could appear to be a graffiti riddled wall easy to overlook. Inside, it shows its age with darks walls, dim lights and the vinyl-gleamed stucco that old buildings brandish like tattoos. This place was made for music, and even though its location seems pushed to the side, everyone in the city knows and respects its reputation.

There couldn’t be a better location for Copeland’s Now/Then tour. A band who has never particularly been directly in the spotlight, they have caught the attention of the highest aspects of the scene, be that vocalist Aaron Marsh’s recommendation plastered on the cover of arena-rockers Paramore’s debut album or gathering powerhouse talents like Ace Enders and Kenny Vasoli to open for their (first) farewell tour.

The Now/Then tour is an ethereal experience that might focus on the “best of,” but it encompasses every aspect of what makes them such a unique brand. Their writing is nearly orchestral in arrangement, which lends to the fact that they’re one of the few musical acts that might actually sound more polished live than recorded. With a tour structured on working backwards through their discography, Copeland have shown not particularly their growth as a band, but how well-crafted their music has been since Beneath the Medicine Tree came out 13 years ago.

rae-cassidyWith the floor filled with talkative hipsters finding the happy medium between a light buzz and shouting conversation, opener Rae Cassidy took the stage. Armed with three violinists and a ukulele, Cassidy set right in, lightly plucking against the swell of violins. Her voice, bright and powerful, seemed to silence the crowd instantly, with a round of shushing sweeping the back of the room.

A mix of pop and indie R&B, her music was a perfect hybrid of someone who seemed influenced by Copeland’s softness, but embraced multiple genres to flesh itself out, unafraid to let the violins and gentle pauses lead the song. Though the music was soft, her voice was beautiful.

Standing center stage like a princess in a summer dress, she sang with command. I couldn’t help but think of a female Kenny Choi from Wolftron (and Daphne Loves Derby) with country and folk influence imbued with the purpose of Lorde. I was left wondering not only how I had never heard of her before, but also how long it would be before she became a household name.

copeland-3While finishing her last song, Copeland took the stage, becoming her backing band while perfectly transitioning from her setlist to theirs. Their first song, “Not So Tough Found Out” (featuring Rae Cassidy!) suddenly became “Chin Up” as Rae left the stage, only to crop back up throughout the night to provide backing vocals. Her violinists remained on the side, adding to almost every song they played.

Split into two distinct playlists, their first set contained music exclusively from You Are My Sunshine and Ixora, including the version of “Ordinary” off of the companion Ixora: Twin album. It was a perfect ploy to lure back the drop-off fans, who listen to nothing but the “classic” albums. It’s easy to say that a band “doesn’t sound like they used to,” but watching them work backwards, it became obvious that Copeland has known their trajectory all along. It was fascinating to hear the crowd singing along louder with each song as they became more familiar with the material.

After an intermission, they returned to play from their better-known albums, In Motion and Eat, Sleep, Repeat. As expected, this set was much more energetic. Not only because the crowd as a whole knew the words to every song, but because it included the few pop songs with Aaron Marsh on guitar, including “No One Really Wins”. Paired against and after their new material, there was a distinct awareness of just how talented the band was in their younger years compared to their peers. Their first albums didn’t sound like a band finding itself, with singles that sound out of place compared to their current material. “You Have My Attention” stood out as it closed the set with Marsh hitting the perfect high note against the rapidly swelling guitars.

copeland-2After stepping away for just a second, Copeland reappeared for their encore: a full six song set from Beneath the Medicine Tree, arguably their most famed record. Featuring “Take Care”, “When Paula Sparks”, “Coffee” and ending on the bittersweet “California”, the band melted the room into an intoxicating atmosphere of nostalgia and profound romance.

Now/Then is a simple, but effective concept that manages to blur the line between a greatest hits tour and a timeline of artistry that shows the complexity and craft of a band unlike anything else in their genre. They may be tucked away from the obvious, but they were built for this all along.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and has now seen Copeland three times, twice awkwardly opening for punk bands, but holding their own. Aaron Marsh once hit the high note in “You Have My Attention” for what felt like a solid minute. He is for sure over exaggerating the recollection, but the crowd lost its mind cheering Marsh on as he tried to hold it as long as possible. Good times. Better than yours.

 

Craig Owens Takes the Stage as badXchannels

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The small stage at the Emerson Theater in Indianapolis looks slightly bigger than normal as Craig Owens walks into the spotlight. On this evening, the proclaimed frontman of post-hardcore fame is not flanked by flailing guitarists or even a drummer. Unaccompanied, Owens takes the stage for the first time as badXchannels, his latest solo persona.

It’s the night before the release of WHYDFML, his R&B influenced debut EP, and it’s difficult to gauge expectations. Owens has rarely failed to produce quality music, regardless of those surrounding him, yet this particular endeavor seems like a risk. Furthermore, with only a small collection of badXchannels songs, is there enough material to make the set pop?

Marina City

Marina City

Before we find out, the night kicks off with Marina City, an unsigned pop rock act from Chicago that finds themselves on the cusp of a breakthrough. Their set is extremely tight for an opener, with vocalist Ryan Argast hitting a groove early on and getting the crowd involved. Before the band finishes, they climb down to the floor for a campfire-ish acoustic number, encircled by a crowd that seems happy to sing along.

Following an energetic set from Marina City comes Colours, an act newly signed to Victory Records. The duo, comprised of Kyle Tamo and Morgan Alley, feels like a true primer for badXchannels – deep bass and crisp synthesizers fill the room as Colours unleashes their own brand of smooth R&B pop. Tamo captures the sultry feel of his songs with his stage presence as he patiently delivers hooky payoff on tracks like “Monster” and “Gone”.

Once the music dies down and the stage is stripped of neon lights and fog, it feels oddly barren. Aside from a small table at the back of the stage for an accompanying DJ, the open space belongs to Owens, who takes the stage devoid of the ski mask he donned for press photos and his first badXchannels music video. Tonight, he’s just a man in a hoodie who has some songs to share.

Gone is the frantic frontman of bands like Chiodos and D.R.U.G.S. – here, Craig Owens is confident and loose during his songs and humble and grateful between takes. This opening night performance feels intimate and personal.

badXchannels

badXchannels

It’s true – the set is short. Owens performs the five songs from WHYDFML with scattered thoughts shared in between. Each track feels vibrant and full of potential in a live setting, particularly the dark, simmering “You Know I Will” which finds Owens crooning, “I mix my vices with vice / It makes the devil on my shoulder seem nice / She’s playing princess, no lie / I won’t stop her, you can save it, I tried”.

True to his word, these new songs share a striking resemblance to the sinful R&B emissions of The Weeknd, both in tone and message. From the quirky beat and syrupy delivery of “Same Thing Every Day” to the delicate movements of “Complicated”, Owens sounds on point. It’s a complete departure from anything he’s ever done, but at this moment in time, it sounds like the perfect move.

From the stage, Owens shares that he considered stepping away from performance to focus on producing, but just couldn’t seem to give up singing. badXchannels clearly offers him that opportunity in an unexpected form and WHYDFML is a pleasant surprise from front to back.

Before ending his set, Owens’ DJ throws on “No Problem” by Chance the Rapper, leading Owens to climb down into the crowd. “Let’s jump!” he shouts as those in attendance join in on the celebration. This new iteration of Craig Owens is up close and personal for now. With the right moves, badXchannels could find its way to bigger stages in the very near future.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.

The Spirit of Eisley Perseveres on Latest Tour

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There’s no room for Sherri DuPree-Bemis to hide. The stage at the Hi-Fi in Fountain Square, a small artsy district just south of downtown Indianapolis, is small, just like the venue itself, and sits at the front of a tiny room packed shoulder-to-shoulder with onlookers. Unfazed by the mission at hand, the woman now tasked with leading one of indie rock’s most charming bands steps up to the mic and belts out the opening notes of an 18-song set.

Sherri is no stranger to the stage, but recent events have changed the dynamic. Earlier this year, it was announced that Tyler, Texas, outfit Eisley would continue on without two of its founding members (and two of Sherri’s sisters): Stacy King and Chauntelle D’Agostino. In preparation for a fifth full-length album coming in early 2017, Eisley is back on the road in their new formation.

For a band that has relied heavily in the past on whimsical harmonies and team vocal duties from each sister on stage, Eisley has a new feel with Sherri’s edgy delivery taking the spotlight. In an effort to retain the multi-vocal feel of the band, younger sister Christie DuPree now flanks Sherri onstage, providing her own unique twist to the songs.

Before Eisley’s performance, Christie and Remington DuPree took the stage as Merriment, a stripped-down indie pop act that resembles a lighter side of their older siblings’ music. Merriment debuted with Sway in 2014, an effort full of promise and light. As the duo prepares for their follow-up, it’s clear that Christie is more comfortable than ever on stage, whether performing upbeat indie folk tracks like “Backwards” or slow-burning acoustic ballads like “Patterns”.

Eisley

Eisley

On stage with Eisley, Christie offers range for the band, especially as they perform older tracks like “Brightly Wound” and “Trolley Wood”, serving as a soothing harmony to Sherri’s bite. Even so, the night’s set finds Sherri fully embracing the role of front woman in all the right ways. She owns the stage during performances of “Smarter” and “Many Funerals” and even sounds strong taking the lead on tracks that were previously piloted by Stacy, like “Ambulance” and “Shelter”.

As wonderful as it is to hear these tracks performed again after the band’s brief hiatus, the night’s best moment belongs to a rendition of their latest song, “Defeatist”. Here, Sherri sounds more confident than ever as she belts out the pleading chorus of, “You know I want to / You know I will fight / Down in the trenches / Holding your hand tight”. It’s a song of determination – one that fits the current mood of Eisley quite nicely.

The wait for more new Eisley music is likely to feel lengthy, but despite past trials, the band has never failed to deliver. As odd as it feels to gaze upon the stage and not see Stacy behind the keyboard and Chauntelle with her guitar, it’s still inspiring to watch Sherri carry on. On the band’s latest track, she labels herself a defeatist. It’s a bold self-assessment, but from our view on the floor, her demeanor is one of strength and resolve.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.

Blink-182 Caps Off Summer in Style on California Tour

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As the cool nights and crisp air of autumn arrive, there’s really no better way to celebrate the passing of another summer season than with one last night of pop punk bliss. Fortunately for us all, blink-182 has provided just such an affair with their latest tour.

Not many expected one of 2016’s biggest tours to involve blink-182, especially after another messy fallout with Tom Delonge early last year, but the band has rebounded in a way that seems to defy logic. Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba hasn’t just filled Tom’s shoes – he’s elevated the band to another level with his stellar performance on blink’s latest release, California.

As the band embarks on yet another trek through the country’s biggest amphitheaters, they’ve brought out the big guns in support. All American Rejects and A Day to Remember warmed the stage for the California Tour’s recent stop in Indianapolis – two bands you wouldn’t typically expect to find on an opening bill.

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All American Rejects

All American Rejects

It’s been a minute since The All American Rejects have found themselves at the forefront of the pop culture ethos, but there’s no denying their credentials. While 2012’s Kids in the Street didn’t match past commercial and critical success, the band seems as strong as ever onstage as they prepare for their fifth full length release.

Tyson Ritter sounds every bit as much of the showman he was when the band broke through to the mainstream just over a decade ago. In addition to a taste of what’s to come with “DGAF”, the band rips through fan favorites like “Move Along”, “Swing, Swing” and “Gives You Hell” with ease. Here’s hoping for a return to the pop gold that made past releases from the band such a treat.

Having watched A Day to Remember play club shows and side stages at Warped Tour over the past several years, I actually got choked up seeing the band take the stage in front of a crowd of 20,000 people. For all of the hard work the band has put in, for all of the relentless touring, for all of the label battles and determination to stay true to their craft, this feels like a rightful reward for A Day to Remember.

A Day to Remember

A Day to Remember

Jeremy McKinnon has always had a stage presence worthy of large crowds, and his confidence was on full display in Indianapolis. McKinnon struts from side to side, riling the crowd and effortlessly transitioning between his signature growls and clean vocals. The band devoted one song of their set to their latest release, Bad Vibrations, choosing to play a variety of fan favorites, including the obvious opener, “The Downfall of Us All” and crowd-pleasers like “Right Back at It Again” and “All I Want”.

The set is punctuated by typical ADTR fare: beach balls bouncing atop the massive crowd, synchronized head-banging to supplement the band’s breakdowns, and one of the most colorful and playful stage set-ups you’ll ever see. The entire production is spot-on, offering gratification to long-time fans and a worthy introduction for newcomers. Just to show that time hasn’t worn the band thin or softened their delivery, A Day to Remember offers the night’s most pulse-pounding moment with “2nd Sucks”.

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I’ll admit that the opening moments when blink-182 took the stage felt slightly odd – it took a few seconds before Skiba’s presence sunk in. Opening with “Feeling This”, Skiba immediately was pushed to the forefront, belting out the verses of the song and then harmonizing with Mark Hoppus atop the song’s chorus. As one of my favorite blink songs came to a close with the track’s swirling conclusion, I was fully immersed. Matt Skiba belongs on this stage.

blink-182

blink-182

The band played a 25-song set full of old standards and new songs from this summer’s California. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that not a single track from 2011’s odd, uncomfortable comeback album Neighborhoods was present on the setlist. Instead, blink-182 showed off their return as the fun-loving carefree pop punk band we all fell in love with.

Amid exciting new songs like “Bored to Death”, “San Diego”, “Kings of the Weekend” and “Los Angeles”, blink offered up a variety of delightfully juvenile throwbacks like “Family Reunion”, “Happy Holidays, You Bastard” and “Dysentery Gary”. Is it weird or problematic that we’re all still singing and laughing along to these songs? Who cares.

Per usual, Travis Barker shines behind the kit, getting his usual drum solo portion of the set to show off his skills. The trio feels more in sync on stage than blink has in years. Not to slight Delonge, but it’s clear that Skiba is a better fit for the band in nearly every at this point in their career. We’ll always be able to cherish the Mark, Tom and Travis days, but 2016 is all about moving forward.

It’s delightful to see blink-182 having fun again, especially when it seemed possible that the band might be done for good as little as 18 months ago. Instead, they’ve capped off another summer with a tour for the ages and their best album in years. We’re glad to have you back, guys.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.

Kanye West Reaches New Heights on Saint Pablo Tour

Photo courtesy of Jared Hay

Photo courtesy of Jared Hay

The days leading up to the opening night of Kanye West’s Saint Pablo Tour in Indianapolis were marked by a specific discussion amongst my friends: Who would be the opening act? Frank Ocean just dropped a much-anticipated release. Kid Cudi and Pusha T are always in play. Maybe newcomer Desiigner would make an appearance. And what about Chance?

Those conversations were based on the unspoken idea that this would be a typical concert-going experience in which performers would take a set stage at scheduled times as onlookers faced forward and watched. A better question to ask might have been, “What in the hell is Kanye going to do now?

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Photo by Kiel Hauck

As you’ve certainly read and seen by this point, the Saint Pablo Tour is anything but typical. There was no stage, per say, but instead, an enormous contraption made of various platforms, lights and framework hung from the ceiling at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and served as a sort of installation art from which West would spend the evening performing.

This opening night of the tour featured one sole performer – West – tethered to a platform that floated above the general admission crowd that filled the floor of the venue. The platform tilted and glided from end to end, offering a different perspective and vantage point of the performance for everyone in the building. A few intermissions filled with ambient music and light would lead into a completely new segment of the set with West appearing on another portion of the shape-shifting apparatus.

Photo courtesy of Jared Hay

Photo courtesy of Jared Hay

As expected, West used the evening to premiere many of the tracks from this year’s The Life of Pablo, which composed just over a third of the set. However, Kanye also sprinkled in several cuts that rarely see the live stage, including “Amazing”, “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and “Devil in a New Dress”. With a set that lasted over two hours and included 30 songs across an expansive catalogue, it’s hard to complain, although the absence of “Ultralight Beam” felt slightly egregious.

Then again, as the opening night for a nearly-implausible performance with so many (literal) moving parts, grace certainly abounds. At times, the evening felt slightly like a dress rehearsal. “Blood on the Leaves” was stopped and re-started three times before Kanye finally cut his losses and moved on. Opener “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” was played twice. West ad-libbed an array of apologies and thank you’s during a 20-minute interlude after “Runaway”.

Even with its hiccups, the night was a true spectacle of the highest order. I found it hard to focus my attention in any one direction for longer than a few seconds. The moving platforms and fluid light movement provided constant engagement, although I often found my eyes drawn to the crowd below, moshing and moving like a body of water beneath West as he performed. Yet this wasn’t a meaningless and chaotic display – there was meaning buried at nearly every turn.

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Photo by Kiel Hauck

After the concert, my wife made an astute observation of West’s use of light. The show began with West awash in the glow as his platform drifted out over the fans. Kanye appeared god-like above his worshipers; the clear center of attention. Near the end of the set, though, the lights had shifted to highlight the sold-out crowd in the Fieldhouse, leaving West in complete darkness – his presence only known by the sound of his voice. The payoff is yet another example of West’s startling self-awareness and a beautifully painted picture of some of his deepest inner struggles.

At age 39, now seven albums and 21 Grammys into an illustrious career, Kanye has nothing left to prove as an artist. Yet instead of mailing in this tour for a quick cash grab while performing some new songs, West has once again pushed boundaries – this time in regard to what it means to experience a concert and where our attentions are focused in such a setting. A mid-concert ad-libbed refrain of, “I know they call me crazy sometimes; I just call them lazy all the time” proved funny at first, but oddly profound by night’s end.

Kanye has explained The Life of Pablo as being a living, breathing work of art – subject to change and expansion. The Saint Pablo Tour appears to be a reflection of that very sentiment, displayed as a constantly evolving two-and-a-half-hour experience. If the tour stops near you, make every effort to attend. It’s worth every minute.

Photo courtesy of Jared Hay

Photo courtesy of Jared Hay

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.

Country or Comedy? Wheeler Walker Jr. Bridges the Divide

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Wheeler Walker Jr. sneaks an impressive country performance into a club comedy act

 

It’s easy to forget that Wheeler Walker Jr. is a comedy act. Not that his music avoids it, Walker’s brand of country satire—as subtle as a sledgehammer—was on full display during a Monday night stop in Bloomington, Indiana. But it’s clear that Ben Hoffman, who created the Wheeler Walker Jr. character after his 2013 series The Ben Show on Comedy Central, also likes to rock. And the small, but rowdy crowd that gathered at The Bluebird Nightclub was right there with him throughout his set.

The five-piece band brilliantly played through a myriad of country music styles oddly and often amusingly juxtaposed against filthy lyrics. It was like watching Waylon Jennings cover Dave Attell. Even Hoffman works as front man, an adequate singer behind his Wheeler Walker Jr. character. The satire of Wheeler Walker Jr. goes for easy laughs over social commentary, but Hoffman and Co. earn an audience by backing its redneck character with a group of serious music professionals.

Hoffman has had no lack of talent rooting on his creation of Wheeler Walker Jr. It was alt-country singer Sturgill Simpson who encouraged him to cut a record as Walker Jr. with Grammy-award winning producer Dave Cobb (who recently worked with Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton, along with Simpson), with the caveat that he must go “full Kauffman” in character commitment.

Walker Jr. on stage doesn’t resemble anything close to an Andy Kauffman character, though. Not for lack of commitment—Hoffman is masterful at inhabiting the X-rated redneck rockstar. But he is much more interested in drawing cheers than boos, unlike Kauffman’s turn as a professional wrestling heel. He unites his audience in its distaste for popular country music—Florida Georgia Line is a favorite target—instead of enticing the crowd to turn on him.

Beyond a few attempts at Hoosier blasphemy (he claimed he could kick Axl Rose and John Mellencamp’s asses, and said “he rode around Bloomington” that day looking for the latter for such a challenge), Wheeler Walker Jr. embraced his status as a welcomed guest. The Lexington, Kentucky, native even went as far as to reluctantly congratulate Indiana University basketball on its recent tournament win over his hometown Kentucky Wildcats, which drew one the biggest cheers of the night.

The performance and Walker Jr. as a character are not a deconstruction of popular music as much as they are a pile driver—plowing into the core of the bro country id and exposing its more explicit nature to let everyone in on the laugh. If you can stomach the intentionally outrageous material, it’s a good time. And for Monday night show in a college town with classes out of session, Walker Jr. gave a performance worthy of a small, dedicated crowd that was partying like it was the weekend.

by Brock Benefiel

kiel_hauckBrock Benefiel is a writer from Indianapolis. In addition to his rap nerdom, he is currently writing a spec script for a “Love Monkey” reboot. You can follow him on Twitter.

Aaron West and The Roarin’ Twenties: You Only Know Half the Story…

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Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties is a unique entity in the music scene. There are thousands of bands that tell stories on their records, but few that follow those stories through until we have something of substance. Aaron West, the side project of The Wonder Years frontman Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell, is an emotional catastrophe. It tells a story about a broken man so earnestly that you would almost think that ‘Dan Campbell’ is the fake name of Aaron West, trying his best to hide amongst the living.

I knew that Aaron West was a passion project for Campbell, but until I saw his blistering set at the Subterranean in Chicago, I had no idea that listening to the record was only half of the story.

The Subterranean is a small venue by Chicago standards; hidden under the incredibly noisy Blue Line ‘L’ Train and tucked in the side of a building at a six-point intersection. It’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it, and with so much traffic and congestion, the area can get dirty very quickly. The dark rooms are just big enough to fill up smaller shows and create a sense that the room is bigger and fuller than it really is. The entire venue feels like a cheap secret, and it’s the exact kind of place that you would imagine Aaron West, a man broken, alone and clawing his way home, to hide out and play music for money.

Before the show, I found Campbell hanging out near his merch table, posing for photos and signing anything tossed in front of him, a fact I know because I tossed the Aaron West Vinyl in front of him. As he disappeared, I looked down at the signature, taken aback at the fact that Campbell had signed it “A. West”. It didn’t bother me, but it was the first inkling to Campbell’s commitment to the character, and that this concert would be far different than I had expected it.

The show was a smooth collective of rowdy up-and-coming punk, followed by the soulful intimate songs of Allison Weiss. Cold Collective, a mashup of musicians from previously well-known bands such as Transit and Defeater, led the charge. Their songs were that of short, sweet punk rock with a twinge of Nirvana’s edge to the guitar with a hard, crisp bassline. It seemed clear that their debut album had been out for less than a month by the people singing along, but for a band taking the stage at 6:30 (I know, right?), the crowd that showed up to see them was large, even by Subterranean standards.

Taking the stage next was Can’t Swim, a newer melodic band signed to Pure Noise Records. Their songs caught my attention, as the guitars swayed between a hefty crunch to various tempo changes that reminded me of a mix of a young Early November and Set Your Goals. Vocalist Chris Loporto’s voice ached with an edge not unlike Polar Bear Club’s Jimmy Stadt. Each song garnered a louder round of applause until they made their exit, taking the noise with them up the dark spiral staircase behind the stage.

After an hour of loud, aggressive punk rock, it seemed odd that Allison Weiss should take the stage next. An indie artist more than a staple to the pop punk scene, Allison stood alone on an empty stage with one electric guitar plugged into an amp. With the drum kit removed entirely, the stage suddenly looked enormous. For anyone else, it could have been a disaster to suddenly change the vibe of the room and be left alone without even a backing band to cover you.

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Allison Weiss

Weiss has slipped through my attention for several years; not because I didn’t want to listen to her, but I always had something else to do. It led to me knowing her name and what she did, but not enough to know any of her songs. However, after the first song, I knew that she was indisputably the most talented musician of the night.

Weiss tore down the room with beautiful songwriting, pure vocals and quick strums of the guitar. As someone unfamiliar with her albums, I already know that seeing her live is the way she is meant to be appreciated. Her witty banter with the audience between songs as she tuned the guitar only added to her charm, even as she covered (I believe) “Call It Off” by Tegan and Sara. “New Love” included an energetic chorus shouted by the audience and ended with a song for the LGBT community, “The Same”. For one person standing alone on stage, her show became louder inch by inch and she crooned into the melting mic, gaining at least one new rabid fan.

Headlining the night was Aaron West. As he took the stage, I no longer saw Dan Campbell – he had committed to the character of Aaron completely. The usual energetic and fierce Campbell that I have seen several times at The Wonder Years shows was replaced by a nervous-talking creep. He was wearing a different shirt than I had seen him in earlier, and possibly wearing a very, very realistic fake beard (I say that because I met him earlier in the night and would swear to the Jeezy Creezy his beard wasn’t that long, but I’m half-a-creep as well, so take that with some healthy skepticism). This was Aaron West, alone on stage with an acoustic guitar and a few bright lights, telling his story.

Aaron played his debut LP, We Don’t Have Each Other front-to-back, in order, with the addition of the newly released Bittersweet EP finishing off the set. Under other circumstances, I would be disappointed with an artist just playing their songs like this, as concerts are usually a means to play with the setlist and find which tracks mesh well together. But Aaron West is a different entity. He is a broken man desperate to tell his story to anyone willing to listen, and there is no other order than this one.

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Aaron West

West’s songs are deeply depressing affairs – the opening song, “Our Apartment”, a song about West losing his mind as he sits alone after his wife leaves him, wondering where she went, was sung from the rafters by the crowd. Half way through, I looked to my left to see a woman holding her husband’s hand, wiping away a stream of tears, a process she would repeat several times throughout the night.

Between songs, a twitchy, Aaron would explain the storyline, where he was geographically and what was going through his head before each song. It gave even more insight into a story that is already extraordinarily detailed.

Before my personal favorite, “St. Joe Keeps Us Safe”, West explained, “When I was in kindergarten, I went to a Catholic school, and they told us that there were 10 commandments. It always blew my mind that there was a specific amount, not nine, or 269, but 10. And one of them was (and I’m going to fuck this up), ‘Thou shalt worship no false idols.’ But my mom kept these small statues of saints throughout our house. One facing the doorway to make sure we had enough food, stuff like that. And she buried a statue of St. Joe in the backyard to keep us safe. She was so devout, and it blew my mind that she was blatantly ignoring one of the 10 rules that we were supposed to strictly follow.”

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Aaron West

Aaron West has been an obsession of mine ever since the debut LP came out two years ago. The intense lyricism, the strong storyline, and the mix between aggressive singing and whispered crooning, as though Campbell found himself nearly in tears recording the damn thing, have always been something powerful for me. But seeing him live, I realized I was only seeing half the show. The other part was the dedicated performance piece, showing someone who has already found their bottom time and time again as they tried to get home. The nervous voice between songs and the twitchy movements may be that of a broken man, but he also showed the resolve of someone determined to fix themselves.

That said, the entire evening wasn’t all doom and gloom: a couple got on stage for the man to propose to a girl (she said yes, btw), to which West said, “”Have you even listened to the record, man?” However, following the proposal, instead of jumping straight back into Aaron’s dire straits, he performed a cover of Rilo Kiley’s “More Adventurous”.

Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties is an event that should be seen if it’s even remotely near you. Dan Campbell has proven himself not only as a musician, but as a writer and performance artist that would make Gerard Way jealous. Once again, though, Aaron West finds himself at a crossroads: with just one LP and one EP, he can tell his story as it was intended up through where he is now, and it is perfect. But as someone clamoring for the next part of the story, he may soon have to pick and choose which parts to tell. Even so, I can’t wait to hear how it ends.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and is anxious for the next chapter of Aaron West, whenever that may be. Two years is a long wait 😦

 

Taste of Chaos 2016: A Reason to Look Forward

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If you’ve followed any of the chatter surrounding this year’s resurrected Taste of Chaos tour, you’ve undoubtedly had your fill of wistful musings of days past. Certainly, it’s easy to get sentimental when glancing at the lineup – a who’s who of scene goliaths that paved the way for the approaching hurricane of nu-emo culture at the turn of the millennium. But to boil this summer trek down to nothing more than a mere nostalgia trip would be to miss the point entirely.

Chris Carrabba has dusted off Dashboard Confessional in recent months, releasing a new song this spring with plans for further recording. Taking Back Sunday is fresh off the heels of 2014’s refreshing Happiness Is and has a new album in the works. Saosin has reunited with original lead vocalist Anthony Green and released a new album, Along the Shadow, to critical acclaim last month. The Early November dropped one of 2015’s best rock records in Imbue just last spring.

All this to say that while it’s fun to reflect on the past, every band on this year’s Taste of Chaos tour is in full swing and primed for another step forward. Even if there’s nothing left to prove, there’s still plenty left to say.

For Early November vocalist Ace Enders, a man who has written and released a mountain of songs through his various creative channels, it’s almost hard to believe that he’s still getting better. Imbue is arguably the band’s best work to date, and on night three of Taste of Chaos in Indianapolis, Enders sounds just as impassioned singing “Narrow Mouth” as he does “Baby Blue”. Playing from a catalogue that stretches across 12 years, The Early November sound tighter than ever.

Saosin

Saosin

Speaking of spans of time, it’s still hard to believe your eyes when Anthony Green takes the stage with Saosin, a band he departed in 2004. Still, after the release of the ambitious Along the Shadow, it’s clear that this reunion means business. With a collection of 13 new songs to draw from, Saosin is able to stretch beyond Translating the Name with their setlist, offering fans the chance to hear the band shred across their new tracks.

While it’s still just as fun to hear “Seven Years” as it was all those years ago, it’s more interesting to hear the band tackle their new creations. In this setting, “Racing Toward a Red Light” sounds like the heaviest song Saosin has ever written. Likewise, “Illusion & Control” allows guitarist Beau Burchell and drummer Alex Rodriguez to let loose on stage during the song’s climactic close. With an expanding setlist, the only downside is not being rewarded with “Voices” or another track from the band’s equally celebrated Cove Reber era.

Taking Back Sunday

Taking Back Sunday

By the time Taking Back Sunday takes the stage, the lawn at White River State Park has filled out and the sun is beginning to set along the horizon. Rays of light cut through the stage backdrop, highlighting a confident Adam Lazzara as he struts across the stage. It’s a testament to Lazzara’s continued commitment to his craft that the mystifying mic swings are now merely a compliment to his overall performance. On this night, he rips through the set, sounding as solid as ever.

It’s a mix of the old and the new as the band opens with “Cute Without the ‘e’” before shifting to “Liar” and “Flicker, Fade”. With six albums under their belt and a laundry list of hits, it gets harder to know which tracks are the real mainstays. During their set, Taking Back Sunday try out a few new tricks fresh from the studio. “Holy Water” sounds like a suitable evolution from Happiness Is, while Tidal Wave sounds like a Ramones cover.

As intriguing as it is to get a glimpse of the future, it’s still hard to deny the indulgence of “A Decade Under the Influence” and “MakeDamnSure”. With any luck, band’s forthcoming record will only add to the growing list of Taking Back Sunday signature tracks, just as “Better Homes and Gardens” joined the list two years ago.

Dashboard Confessional

Dashboard Confessional

After three provisions of various kinds of chaos, it’s almost appropriate for Dashboard Confessional to bring things to a close. Carrabba has long been one of the most joyful performers in the scene, providing an ironic catharsis in the midst of so many painful songs. Yet to hear the crowd sing along heartily to “Stolen” and “Don’t Wait”, it’s clear that his songs of delight resound just as loudly with fans.

Carrabba has shape-shifted through the years from broken-hearted loner to confident rock icon to pensive folk artist without ever seeming unsure in his step. He’s a crafty songwriter with a knack for connecting with his aging audience, effortlessly meeting them where they are. On stage, he’s just as much a conductor as he is a performer, leading the choir through a history of heartbreak and redemption.

It’s only here that the nostalgia seems prevalent, perhaps because of the subject matter, but also because Carrabba seems to understand his role in 2016. He no doubt wants to revisit Dashboard with the intent of creating new material, but he also seems satisfied to rekindle an old flame with his fans. As is his custom, he regularly steps away from the mic for long periods, letting the crowd carry the band through songs like “The Best Deceptions”, “Saints and Sailors” and even the chorus of Coldplay’s “Fix You”. We’re all Dashboard Confessional, according to Chris.

While it’s not wrong to remember the past, it’s unnecessary to dwell there. On this year’s Taste of Chaos, we reflect on the moments that made us fall in love with music, but we also celebrate the fact that the same voices that sang our soundtracks are still singing new songs. And so are we.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.

Underoath Return From the Shadows on Rebirth Tour

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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.

Underoath

Underoath

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.

Underoath

Underoath

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_hauckKiel 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.