The scene at Strange Matter last Sunday night, where Into It. Over It., The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, A Great Big Pile Of Leaves, and Sundials played an all-ages show, was familiar to me. But it wasn’t much like anything I’ve seen in a long time.
The scene at Strange Matter last Sunday night, where Into It. Over It., The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, A Great Big Pile Of Leaves, and Sundials played an all-ages show, was familiar to me. But it wasn’t much like anything I’ve seen in a long time. I haven’t seen Strange Matter packed out the way it was on Sunday since the mid-90s when it was still called Twisters. Back in those days, the West Grace St club could do two events a night, five or more nights a week, and the packed-out all-ages show was a normal phenomenon. Local pop-punk and emo bands, as well as those who came through on tour, could draw 300 or more kids on a Friday night. But now that most local clubs serve dinner until 9 or later, shows tend to start at 10 PM, and are restricted to either 18 and up or 21 and up. The lack of all ages shows around town in recent years has sometimes made me wonder if there is still interest in underground music amongst the youth of RVA. If Sunday’s turnout was any indication, the answer is a resounding yes.
I arrived at 7:15 for a show that started at 7 PM, only to find a line snaking down the sidewalk, reaching nearly down to Ipanema. I was somewhat charmed by this rarely-seen phenomenon, though the charm wore thin when I was still in line by the time Sundials started their set at 7:30. I finally made it through the door at 7:45 or thereabouts, in time to see about two and a half songs of Sundials’ set. I’m a fan of this RVA band’s mixture of punk, emo, and indie rock sounds, but I didn’t really absorb much of what I heard them play on Sunday night. I had just barely gotten settled in and started paying attention when they played their last song. It at least sounded good, and I have certainly seen Sundials play some excellent sets on other occasions, but I don’t feel like I’m the best judge of how well they played Sunday night. Clearly, I should have showed up earlier.
Photo by Garrett Born
Brooklyn’s A Great Big Pile Of Leaves were the first of three touring bands on this show, and of the three, they were the one I was least excited about. The clean, mannered sound of their albums doesn’t ruin their catchy songwriting arrangements and interesting guitar parts, by any means, but it makes it hard to get but so excited about them. The records just feel like they need a bit more fuzz. When the band took the stage sporting a solid line of hollow-body Gibson guitars, it helped me understand exactly why they have such a clean studio sound. But with their onstage energy and the increased overdrive caused by playing loud through a full-size amp, a lot of the grit that’s missing from their albums was suddenly there. By several songs in, the passionate performance and manic crowd response won me over. I found myself scooting closer to the stage, and dancing to the upbeat choruses. The last couple of songs in their set really brought the energy to an apex, and from the rapturous response, I could only conclude that plenty of other people in the room had also been converted into fans.
Photo by Ally Newbold Photography
The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die were next on the bill. This extensive ensemble were the main reason I’d come to this show. I discovered them when they released their debut full-length, Whenever If Ever, last year, and they have been hard for me to get a handle on. A brobdingnagian ensemble in every sense of the word (10 members, including cello, trumpet, keyboards, and four guitarists; plus, they have 15 words in their name–which is not only a complete sentence but a compound sentence), their unique approach to the 2013 version of the emo sound made them tough to figure out and form an opinion about. The live lineup The World Is… brought to Richmond was relatively stripped-down for them: no cello, no trumpet, and only seven total members, including a singer, three guitarists, a keyboard player, bass, and drums. It still seemed like plenty of people onstage, and as soon as they started playing, I knew their set would be something special. They held the crowd enraptured from the quiet opening notes of “Blank #9,” the brief instrumental that begins Whenever If Ever. Early on, there was one moment where the song they were playing dwindled down to almost nothing before turning slowly and building back up to an emotional crescendo. During that quiet moment, and several others over the course of the set, the crowd remained dead silent–no whoops or errant applause. From an audience that mainly consisted of teenagers, this was particularly noteworthy.
The fact that the band’s set was punctuated throughout by these quiet moments drew attention to the factors that make them unique and tough to initally judge. TWIABP clearly draws a significant influence from the epic-length post-hardcore songs that dotted the mid-90s emo landscape, but they mingle that sound with more modern influences that widen the scope of their sound in interesting ways–most notably through the interjection of Sigur Ros-style post-rock ambience. The fact that their keyboard player sometimes interjects 80s-sounding melodies that sound straight out of a Reggie And The Full Effect record also indicate their broad palette, but perhaps not always in a positive manner. During one musical crescendo, the whole band was playing a syncopated stop-start riff, with the keyboard playing a melody as counterpoint. I think I would have liked the melody a lot better if it had been a guitar lead, personally.
Photo by Dye Photography
Regardless, their set was spellbinding, mixing a bunch of tunes I didn’t recognize with some of my faves from Whenever If Ever. “Picture Of A Tree That Doesn’t Look Okay” was a particular highlight. But that was still just a prelude for the set’s undeniable peak. “Getting Sodas,” the seven-minute final track from Whenever If Ever, was a predictable set-closer; its anthemic second half has “emotional singalong” written all over it. Not that that made it any less devastating. Beginning with a bass line reminiscent of Still Life’s mid-90s emo anthem “Sunrise Sunset,” “Getting Sodas” establishes a melodic, relatively upbeat sound at first, which gives little hint of what’s to come. Halfway through the song, though, things grew quiet, and the musicians began slowly building towards the final crescendo. Once again, the entire room was in the palm of TWIABP’s hand, as enraptured audience members began raising their hands toward the stage in what almost looked like supplication. In the end, the song’s anthemic finale was less choral than the recorded version, with the band’s lead singer doing most of the vocal parts by himself, but it was no less affecting for all that, and achieved a transcendent emotional crescendo that brought their set to a fitting close.
I knew Into It. Over It. would be the highlight of the show for most of the people there,but after seeing TWIABP, I was feeling a bit tapped out. I did want to see Into It. Over It.’s set, but I figured casual enjoyment was the most I could expect. Soon enough, though, I was drawn in. Into It. Over It. is a project headed by Evan Weiss, who is listed on the albums as the only official member, and I think if I’d seen him on one of his many acoustic solo tours, I would have been less enamored with his music. However, while melodic, emotionally-driven music can seem pretty but slight in solo acoustic form, it’s often much more convincing when given the power of a full electric band. Such was definitely the case with Into It. Over It., who performed their set as an amplified dual-guitar quartet. The songs they played towards the beginning of the set often featured finger-picked lead guitar parts from Weiss, backed by riff-oriented rhythm playing from his backing musicians. Everyone in the band tended to get active and move around a lot during their heavier parts, which helped the songs connect with the audience. I found myself reminded musically of Kind Of Like Spitting, which was an interesting comparison in light of the fact that KOLS’s Ben Barnett often ran the band as a de facto solo project, touring mainly as a solo acoustic performer… just as Weiss does now with Into It. Over It. Kind Of Like Spitting always worked best for me as a full band too–go figure.
After a few songs, Weiss brought out Matt Fazzi of A Great Big Pile Of Leaves to play keyboards. This was the first of a few longer transitions in the set, during which Weiss would trigger prerecorded snatches of instrumental music that would play as members and equipment were moved around and switched up. None of the pauses between songs really seemed long enough to need these prerecorded bits, and I think they could have gotten away without them, but they weren’t actively bothersome either. Unlike with TWIABP, I never found myself bothered by the keyboards that were added by Fazzi while he was playing with Into It. Over It. He had one of those annoyingly 80s-sounding keyboards as part of his setup, but spent more time playing electric piano, which sounded much better to my ears.
Eventually, Fazzi departed the stage and the band returned to a quartet lineup (though Fazzi returned for the set’s last couple of songs). The longer they played, the more I enjoyed what I was hearing. I think I needed some time to get on their emotional level, but Into It. Over It. were more than good enough to draw me in. Some of their material reminded me of late 90s guitar-rock bands who incorporated hints of hardcore-based song composition (think Texas Is the Reason, or first-LP Elliott), while others had more of the epic tinges that I associate with early-2000s emo bands (such as Penfold or Further Seems Forever). But Into It. Over It. can’t be reduced to comparison–there is an element to their music that is distinctly their own.
The end of Into It. Over It.’s set was marked by similar excitement from the crowd as that generated by TWIABP, but this time I didn’t know the band’s music well enough to recognize the songs. However, that was somewhat offset by the guy standing near me who was so excited by their last couple songs that he was pogoing like a maniac, doing five-foot leaps straight into the air every few seconds. I wish I’d taken a picture, because he was getting a lot of air. Oh, teenagers.
Sunday night’s show was incredibly invigorating for me. I haven’t left a show feeling that positive, that excited in a long time. For a jaded old dude, it was a flashback to my teenage years, in the best way possible. I know shows that create those sorts of feelings don’t come around that often, but I sure hope I run across another one soon.