Levi Benton of Miss May I, conjuring metal gods of old with his fist in the air. Photo: Megan Kennedy
I love shows at Saltair. Even the drive, which would normally be an inconvenience, can be a wonderful relaxation if you take the right route. So it was Friday evening as my friends and I piled into a few cars and chased the sun out to the Great Salt Lake, ready to have our earholes sweetly penetrated by Killswitch Engage and their tour brethren Miss May I, Darkest Hour, The Word Alive and Affiance. My last show out here was the Coheed and Cambria tour, and memories of that show and its massive swarm of humanity were still fresh. So it was a bit of a pleasant surprise to find no line of cars waiting to get into the parking lot, no line stretching around the building to get in, and more than enough space to breathe in the venue itself. Granted, I got there early, and by the time the show was in full swing, the crowd size was bigger, but it was still a manageable and decent group, big without smothering. Especially compared to the crowd packed into the sardine can that was In The Venue for Lamb of God, this was a treat. The night was warm, the lake wasn’t stinking too much, and in between sets, you could enjoy a beer on the back porch and watch the sun set. Only a heartless fool wouldn’t have enjoyed himself here.
And without any pomp and circumstance, the show started at 7:30 on the dot, as promised. (Honestly, when the shit does that ever happen?) First up was Affiance, a bit of a younger band career-wise, but with two full-lengths and a headlining tour already under their belts. They had the always tricky job of warming up the still-gathering crowd before everyone was buzzed and the sun was still bright in the sky, but they accepted the challenge wholly. Singer Dennis Tvrdik did not use baby gloves with the crowd—he demanded their screaming, their energy, their full attention. They had the most traditionally hardcore sound and feel of anyone on the tour. Tvrdik’s vocals were mostly clean with a little bit of that hardcore shouting, interspliced with some actual screaming, and I will say his singing range was impressively high. Wouldn’t be the first time I’d feel a band’s set was a little short, but the group was really interactive and aggressive, and I left wanting to check out more of their catalogue.
Following was The Word Alive, a band which got the first risers of the evening set up for them so that vocalist Tyler Smith could hop around and get a better view of the crowd. He wasn’t alone in his acrobatics—every member was tossing themselves around the stage as they played, really creating a fun spectacle to watch (though it was a little on the ‘hardcore dancing’ side for my tastes). Their physical energy really got the crowd into it with plenty of jumping cues and screaming. Musically, I’d have to say they were the most generic-sounding on this tour. They aren’t bad at producing that metalcore sound, there just wasn’t much in their tunes that stood out or that grabbed me and said, “Check this band out when the show’s over.” Lots of breakdowns and squealing, the expected mix of clean and scream, the thumping double bass—it was a bit formulaic. Where The Word Alive really stood out was their show display, which was more vigorous and spirited than pretty much any other group on the set aside from Killswitch.
Next up was Darkest Hour, a DC-based melodic death metal outfit and the only other band on the bill I had any experience or familiarity with. This spot on the tour originally belonged to As I Lay Dying, but the band dropped off after the well-publicized “legal troubles” of their vocalist, and Darkest Hour was only too happy to hop on and round out the bill. They are also the oldest band on this tour, formed in 1995, and about to release their eighth album. I’ve been a casual fan of these dudes for quite a while and was stoked to see their set. They brought a seriously old-school metal vibe to the whole affair, not least of which was thanks to their age (no hate, just fact!) and actual appearance: long, straight hair, epic beards, and none of the fancy throw-dancing, just lots and lots of headbanging. Thanks to their dimmed and evil-looking lighting, I actually had a hard time getting photos of the lead singer John Henry, because the dude just would not hold still, running around behind his bandmates and generally having a hell of a time with a giant smile plastered on his face. Their set stretched as far back as their 2003 release “Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation,” but mostly took from their more recent releases in ’07 and ’11. It was a bit of a short set for my tastes, but with this many bands on the bill, that’s more or less the name of the game. It was great to hear their foundational melodic sound, a sound a lot of these younger bands are now building off of in this new generation, and while AILD would have been sweet to see, Darkest Hour was an excellent choice to throw on this tour. They were upbeat, and their sound rounded out and strengthened every other band on the bill.
Miss May I is one of those bands I’ve heard talked about all over, but am generally ignorant of. Right away, however, I was greatly impressed by their sharpened energy and stage presence. The crowd was stoked to see them, and they soaked up every inch of it and threw it right back at them. This Ohio-based group is one that has risen to stand out among the billions of contenders in the new wave of metalcore, and frankly, I can see why. They understand the genre very well, with lots of anthemic melodies, breakdowns, and sporadic singing from the bassist. Their sound is a little more brutal than some others in genre, and they were definitely one of (if not the) heaviest bands on this tour. Lead screamer Levi Benton’s mane of thick, curly hair also made for some sweet visuals while he was headbanging, and even at one point busting out an awesome dropkick that I (sort of) caught on camera. Benton was extremely interactive with the crowd. I think sheer technicality (and I use that word loosely—this ain’t Meshuggah) in their sound made it harder for Miss May I to put on the stomping stage antics of The Word Alive; they just had a more complex and difficult-to-play set. It’s great to see this new generation of young’uns producing acts that are professional, polished and passionate.
In a word, Killswitch was outstanding. Every member was a boundless ball of power that refused to dim even for a second during their surprisingly long, 15-plus song set. Although he was without his trademark short-shorts and cape, guitarist Adam D was still as big a goofball as he’s ever been, throwing up Rockette-style kicks while strumming, talking about his plans to “masturbate excessively” on the bus after the show, and introducing the songs as “boner jams,” because “who doesn’t like a boner jam?” It was so heartening as a fan to see Jesse Leach back at the head of this band, especially since I had missed seeing these guys live in the early eras. Jesse and Killswitch was a mix I thought would never occur again, but here we are. The entire group seemed so happy to be there, their chemistry mix an unmistakable success. The set ran the gamut of their catalogue, bringing back old classics like “Numbered Days” and “My Last Serenade” (a perfect closer, of course). They also didn’t shy away from the years when Howard Jones took over vocal duties, producing some of the band’s biggest hits like “The End of Heartache” and “My Curse” and “Rose of Sharyn,” which Leach handled with expected forte. We also got a wonderful helping of the new album, with tracks like “The Hell In Me” and “In Due Time” mixed very well into the set of familiar tunes. There was little banter or pause between songs, so the set just flew right the fuck by, a kind of bittersweet night really. It was wonderful to let loose and hear these songs that bring back serious nostalgia for my late teens/early 20s and those long warm summer nights being hooligans with my friends. (Most of the hooligans were there with me, an extra gift.) I will say I was disappointed by the pit the crowd produced, a noodle-armed hug fest that had barely any fire to it—maybe everyone was too drunk by then, or spent their good moshes on Miss May I. In any case, I scream-sang my voice to oblivion and lost an earring headbanging, so it was, hands down, a successful and amazing evening.