with Polar Bear Club, Crime In Stereo, Ruiner, Fail to Follow
I can't remember the last time I was genuinely excited to see every band playing as part of a single tour. Bridge Nine Records has done an excellent job of expanding its roster to further reaches of hardcore over the past few years, and even though this tour didn't necessarily feature the style of music that the label has been come to known be for, it was an excellent lineup. Sure, the label could've gone the easy route and put together a H20/Death Before Dishonor/Agnostic Front package, but solid as the lineup would have been, it wouldn't really reflect the risks that Bridge Nine has recently taken in signing bands that don't necessarily fit in with the established hardcore aesthetic. Strike Anywhere is at the forefront of modern melodic hardcore, Polar Bear Club is one of the most energetic and interesting bands to emerge from the pre-eyeliner post-hardcore/emo revival, Crime In Stereo integrate a melancholy sense of melody into their hardcore and Ruiner is just plain brutal. Yeah, I was definitely excited for this show.
By the time I arrived at Club Sound, a full hour after the advertised door time, there was, of course, a line of people wrapping around the building waiting for doors to open. Screw that. I went and got some food and returned about forty minutes later midway through local openers Fail to Follow's set. I've seen these guys a few times before, and they've always been pretty decent. They remind me of a less technical A Wilhelm Scream or a more aggressive Good Riddance. The crowd didn't seem super into it, but I thought Fail to Follow put on a pretty good set. However, I do think adding them to the bill was entirely unnecessary. Four bands is plenty, and even though each band tore down and set up very quickly, one can only take so much rockage.
Ruiner took the stage and set up quickly. I was surprised when they started their set only about ten minutes after Fail to Follow concluded theirs. Ruiner opened with "Dead Weight" from their recently released album Hell Is Empty and vocalist Rob Sullivan turned into a monster on the stage. The dude looks like he could've kicked the shit out of anyone who was in attendance that night and had a whole lot of intensity. A few hardcore kids got into it and started with the windmillin' and spin kickin' and what have you, but their ridiculous/violent dancing kept most of the crowd far from the stage. Between songs, Sullivan's stage presence was very different-he was soft-spoken and paced around the stage rather timidly, but when the band got into it, he transformed completely. Ruiner played a good mix of the old and the new and had a ton of energy, but most of the crowd was pretty apathetic.
Crime In Stereo was next. I've been a big fan of these guys for quite a while now, but I hadn't seen them live until this tour. They haven't played Utah in more than three years, skipping over our fair state during the entirety of their Crime In Stereo Is Dead tour cycle. Even though Crime In Stereo's style has changed remarkably over the years (think Dag Nasty meets Brand New), I was still interested in seeing how they would handle their live show. Predictably, the band drew heavily from ...Is Dead, it being their most recent release. This was disappointing, because though the songs sound good on record and offer a very unique take on hardcore and punk rock, they're rather boring live. Vocalist Kristian Hallbert's transition from harsh yells to nearly whispered melodic passages didn't come off well in the live setting, and guitarist Alex Dunne's technical difficulties throughout the CIS set also hampered them. When performing material from The Troubled Stateside, though, the band was incredibly. Their energy reminded me of Strike Anywhere's live show, and I was nearly hit in the head by bassist Gary Cionci's weapon of choice a number of times and Hallbert nearly even through the mic at my head during "Bicycles For Afghanistan." I still love this band, but hopefully they'll be able to create a more cohesive live show next time they roll into town.
When this tour was initially announced, I was skeptical about Polar Bear Club's ability to adequately perform as direct support for the always explosive Strike Anywhere. Having seen PBC twice this year, I totally should have known better. Easily the least hardcore band on the bill, Polar Bear Club were the most entertaining band of the night. Their music does have a certain heaviness, but they mix the restrained intensity of Hot Water Music with the melody and emotion of Saves The Day and The Get Up Kids. I know it doesn't sound like it would be good, but it's awesome. Polar Bear Club opened with "Living Saints," which is definitely in the running for the best song of 2009. Vocalist Jimmy Stadt is one of the most energetic frontmen I've ever seen, and he didn't let up for the entirety of PBC's performance. The band reached back and played three tracks from their debut EP The Redder The Better as well as a handful of tracks from their new album Chasing Hamburg and last year's Sometimes Things Just Disappear. These guys have a good chance of blowing up Gaslight Anthem style, and based on the increased number of people singing along compared to their show with Set Your Goals in August, I think they're already on their way.
Strike Anywhere is one of my favorite bands of all time. A few years ago, a couple of my friends and I drove to Montana for the sole reason of seeing them play. Their Salt Lake show with Bane in 2006 was the first thing I ever wrote about for SLUG. And I'm such a dork that I wrote a paper a college class about their album Dead FM. Needless to say, I was excited for them to take the stage. They opened with "Laughter In a Police State," and a small but crazy portion of the crowd went berserk. Everyone remotely near the stage suddenly found themselves as part of a very haphazard mosh pit, but most people didn't seem to mind. Vocalist Thomas Barnett thrust his mic into the crowd almost as much as he sang himself as the band hit all of the classics of their catalog: "Sedition," "Sunset on 32nd," "Amplify/Blaze," "Timebomb Generation," "Infrared" and more. One of the highlights for the night was their performance of "I'm Your Opposite Number" from Iron Front, which had only been released a week earlier. The song is tailor-made for the live setting, and it was awesome to see most of the crowd singing along to such a new song. The great thing about Strike Anyhwere's live sets is that even though they are short, they really don't leave you wanting any more. They're so intense and so draining (but in a good way), their 30-40 minutes on stage are the perfect. The band closed with "To the World," another live staple for good reason, and as the band walked off stage Barnett extended his hand to meet anyone in the crowd that wanted to shake it or just give him a high five and spent some time to talk to some of the audience still clamoring in front of the stage.
Strike Anywhere and Polar Bear Club more than made up for any of the disappointment I got from Ruiner and Crime In Stereo's sets. It's very easy to become burnt out on the lackluster lineups and phoned-in performances that are often the bread and butter of live performance, but this tour proved that every once in a while, we can be treated to something truly awesome. Kudos to Bridge Nine for taking yet another chance on this tour, and hopefully the new standard they are setting for hardcore is followed and accepted by more and more people.