Posted by: Necci – Dec 07, 2010
These all-ages Canal Club shows are going to be the death of me. I understand they've gotta start early in order to get them done by the time the underage kids have to leave the show, but it seems like I'm always stuck at work until at least an hour after the doors open. This time I couldn't get to the show until over two hours after everything started, and then I had to do some frantic scrambling for a parking space, before bolting through the doors of the Canal Club and quickly up the stairs to the big room where the show was happening. Regardless of how fast I tried to get there, I still managed to miss the first two groups on the bill. My apologies to Cadeline and The Greater The Risk. I'll catch you guys soon, I promise.
When I hit the top of the stairs, Mayfair had just started playing. Mayfair is the latest project featuring the vocal talents of Race The Sun's Daniel Long, and as I've always been into Race The Sun, I was looking forward to seeing his new band. The studio recordings I've heard on the internet had a bit more studio gloss than I really like, but live, that wasn't a problem, as the band's rhythm section did a great job of giving the songs the propulsive punch that they needed. Overtop of these chunky, driving rhythms, lead guitarist Zack Reichert mostly focused on ringing single-note melodies. Sometimes pop-punk bands overuse parts like this, but despite the fact that Reichert played single notes far more often than he played chords, the lead parts he laid down never got annoying. Instead, they mixed perfectly with Daniel Long's high, clear vocal melodies, which avoided the pop-punk touches of his previous work with Race The Sun in favor of a more melancholy style that reminded me of Jimmy Eat World circa Clarity. Like that band, Mayfair worked through a variety of moods, with Daniel sometimes playing an acoustic guitar during quieter moments. Also like Jimmy Eat World, Mayfair showed a striking ability to construct their songs for maximum emotional impact. Their songwriting is straightforward enough to work very well as conventional pop music, but nonetheless it is clear that Mayfair have above-average songwriting talent, as well as the necessary musicianship to play those songs perfectly in a live setting. This was one of their first shows, too, so they're only going to get better from here.
Safety Word Orange played next, and were the only band of the evening who didn't do much for me. They were extremely well-rehearsed, and played their songs tightly and well, but the songs themselves just weren't very original. I couldn't point at one particular group they were ripping off, but their songs managed to echo every popular pop-punk group of the past five years at one point or another. Unoriginality can be offset in some cases by significant talent; if a band writes songs that are better than any of the groups they draw from, it doesn't matter that they wear their influences on their sleeve. However, Safety Word Orange didn't have the talent necessary to overcome their derivative songwriting, so all they were left with was a competent stage show. It wasn't enough to impress me, and what's more, their performance was filled with the sort of pandering arena-ready stage moves that are my least-favorite part of modern pop-punk. "They pose hard," I posted to my twitter account midset, and I stand behind that comment. When pop-punk bands come across like boy bands in a live setting, I am guaranteed to be turned off.
I was much happier with the band that played next. Life On Repeat reminded me at points of early Thrice, in that they managed to play pop-punk with a severe metal edge. However, where Thrice's most metal moments resembled 80s power-metal bands like Iron Maiden, Life On Repeat's heaviest moments were closer to metallic hardcore. With the addition of screamed vocals, their music would have strongly resembled the melodic, emotional metalcore of Shai Hulud or Misery Signals. But as it was, their vocalist always sang cleanly and melodically, and the amazingly catchy choruses of the songs added the hooks that kept the band grounded in the pop-punk genre. Their fusion of the two genres was excellent, though, and seemed likely to please fans of both styles. Their performance was geared to win over everyone in attendance, too--forsaking the poses that had turned me off in the previous band's set, Life On Repeat instead focused on energy, bouncing across the stage and tossing their long hair around as they played. They sounded excellent and were a lot of fun to watch.
But the best was still to come. Back when I discovered Conditions earlier this year, I found myself wondering why I hadn't heard of them before, and whether they might not have as big a following in their hometown as they did elsewhere. The set at the Canal Club showed me that I was wrong about that--not only was there a crowd of somewhere around 800 people packed into the upstairs room by the time Conditions hit the stage, all of them went nuts as soon as the headlining band appeared. The overall vehemence of the crowd's reaction to Conditions' music was a strong indication of how much the Richmond scene loves what they do. It was easy to understand why as the set proceeded--their already excellent songs were given new life in the live setting.
The messages in their lyrics were underscored by the way Conditions put every ounce of passion they had into the performance. It was clear that they meant everything they said, and felt it was important to get these ideas across to the audience. It seemed like everyone in the place knew the words, and kids were eager to get up front and sing along. In fact, considering the melodic sound of Conditions' music, I was surprised at how intense the action in the crowd was. There was a little bit of hardcore-style "kickboxing" going on, but most of the kids were just shoving and smashing into one another. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm boiled over into outright aggression at points, and once the band had to stop playing and tell some kids in the front row to stop fighting. Things calmed down after that, though, and they brought the show to a strong conclusion with an excellent and highly necessary encore, only stopping when the show was required by law to end.
The crowd's energy level had remained at fever pitch throughout the set, and when Conditions finished playing, I was drained. Despite the cold air of the late November night, I didn't feel the chill--I was still sweating from the intensity of the performance I'd just seen. With the strength of their live show, Conditions proved--as if there was any doubt--that they're one of the best bands in Richmond today. I can't wait to see them again.
Words by Andrew Necci Photos by Matt Szymanski