When I was in high school, an uncle of mine asked how I managed to hear of this band or that band if they weren’t on the radio and weren’t on MTV. At the time, the answer was, “People I know talk about them, and if you read the special thanks in these albums, they’ll usually name off some more bands. Oh, and label comps.” Within a couple years, though, I started attending shows regularly, and many of the bands of which I heard were performers at these shows. Many of the bands I now like were bands that opened for the primary band I went to see, and many of those bands outperformed the headliners without question.
Here’s a few bands that either out-performed or did just as good as the headliners; that means they either STOLE the show or SHARED the show. So we’re clear, I had never heard nor heard of any of these artists before seeing them, outside of seeing their name on a flier or when I got my ticket.
When: October 2008
Where: Showbox at the Market, Seattle
Opened for: Stars
The Show was: Shared
Miracle Fortress is the group the Beach Boys would have been if they were 40 years younger and from Montreal. The band is actually the project of one guy, Graham Van Pelt, who makes the weirdest faces I’ve ever seen when he sings. His songs are already great, but at this show he had, in addition to a keyboard player and another guitarist, two drummers. And neither of them sat at a set; instead they stood and played an arrangement of drums in front of them. I was honestly expecting some out-there, artsy noise from this group when I saw the stage, but they knocked everyone’s socks off. Stars did just as well; all in all that was a great show. My friend who went to the show with me also liked this band a great deal. Oh, and that friend is now my wife. I just wanted to add that part in.
There were no live videos of these guys that could do their performance justice, so here’s a weird video for their song “Maybe Lately.”
Coheed & Cambria
When: May/June 2002
Where: The Hi-Pointe, St. Louis
Opened for: Shai Hulud, From Autumn to Ashes
The Show was: STOLEN!
I talk about Coheed & Cambria a lot, and love to bring up this show. My old friend Aaron and I wanted to go catch a Hey Mercedes/Kaufax show that summer. I got off work on Thursday and I called him up, asking if he was ready to go, and he informed me that he had found out that the show was the night before. Well, we’re going to a show, darnit! Aaron found that Shai Hulud was playing, and even though I wasn’t then, nor am I now, a huge hardcore fan, I didn’t want to stay home. So we traveled to the world’s largest Amoco sign and waited to get in. The Hi-Pointe is the upper section of a small bar on the West side of St. Louis. It’s maybe 20 feet wide, but pretty long. We were pinned up against the left wall when Coheed & Cambria came out and played. I quickly noticed that they were anything but hardcore. I actually thought them to be very emo at the time. In retrospect, I think that was just a contrast thing. I bought their CD a week later, when I could afford it, and haven’t looked back since . . . or, I look back all the time. I don’t know; whichever is right.
They played this song that night; it’s still my favorite off of that first album, The Second Stage Turbine Blade. When I saw them, though, no one knew their songs, they re-tuned their own guitars inbetween songs, and Claudio tied his hair back:
When: Spring 2001
Where: The Galaxy, St. Louis
Opened for: The Anniversary, Hey Mercedes
The Show was: Shared
I somehow learned that one of my favorite bands, Hey Mercedes, was on tour with the I’m-rather-interested-in-these-guys band, The Anniversary, and they were coming to St. Louis. I asked some friends if they wanted to go, and I had thought that two friends said they would be there. So I went on my own, thinking I was catching up with them. Well–they didn’t come. And it was their loss. On my way in I had seen that there were 3 bands on the tour’s poster. I paid no mind to the third name, so when the crappy local band started playing, I assumed they were that band. That meant the next band should have been Hey Mercedes. I started to panic when they set up a case full of acoustic guitars and a stool. I put together my error when he started the show, and was floored during his whole performance. I loved the intimacy of everyone in the crowd singing along, and how he encouraged it. I asked the guy next to me who he was. He informed me that he was the lead singer of the band Further Seems Forever, and this is his side project called Dashboard Confessional. When the whole show was over, I went and dropped some green. I got an Anniversary hoodie (which my wife wears all the time, now), a Hey Mercedes shirt (which is in my closet somewhere, still), and both the Drowning EP and The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, a whole week before it was technically released, directly from Chris Carraba himself. He shook my hand as a “thank you,” I gave him high compliments on his show, and he gave me a free poster. Which I have framed with the Hey Mercedes set list I snagged.
I’ve not seen him since; I just can’t imagine the show would be as fun when I would have to stand among his current fan base.
When: November 2009
Where: El Corazon, Seattle
Opened for: Say Anything, Eisley, Moneen
The Show was: STOLEN, GRAFFITIED, and subsequently SMASHED!
Have you ever discovered a band that did a particular kind of music exactly the way you’ve wanted to hear it? I remember loving good harmonies and fast songs, then I discovered Bad Religion. I remember liking moving, orchestral pieces over solid rock arrangements with layered vocals, and then I discovered Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity. I remember loving acoustic numbers and ballads, then I heard Dashboard. Well, I love massive, epic, chest-patting emo songs, and then I saw these guys. I went to this show for Moneen; I left knowing about a band that I like WAY better. Their stage setup is brilliant–just four yellow lights on either side of the stage, and they dim and go on and off with the songs. Their energy is perfect for their style: they don’t run all over the stage, but they still let the music move them. These guys are at the top of my list of favorite bands right now, and I’m impatiently waiting for them to come to the Northwest again . . .
I looked, and no iPhone video I can find captures the feel of their live show the way this official video does. Enjoy. (Fun fact: this song is trimmed by a good 6 minutes, which is understandable but still unfortunate, since the whole thing is epic.)
When: May 2008
Where: El Corazon, Seattle
Opened for: Demon Hunter, Living Sacrifice
The Show was: STOLEN! Sorry, Tim.
Heading to a heavy metal show, I wouldn’t think that I would discover a band that I couldn’t get enough of. I went to see Demon Hunter. I like that band plenty, but I was more interested in going to a show with my friends, period. Now, a portion of what makes a metal band work is their image. The true opener, whose name I can’t even remember, was four or five guys that were all under 150 pounds and didn’t look like they were over 23. Oh, and they all struck me as closet Jack Johnson fans. Then The Famine took the stage. They had the short, skinny bassist, the some-what beefy guitarist, the stocky, growling singer, and the really fat drummer. And they all had huge beards. Perfect. They started playing and I was sold. It’s like they majored in Awesome Face Melting Metal in college. The drummer was so fast, but barely appeared to move. The guitarist was by far the most entertaining to watch–but then again, I like watching good guitarists play. I bought their CD before their set was over to beat the crowd, and later tossed the guitarist a “You ROCK!” look when he was by the merch table during Living Sacrifice’s set. He gave me a cool smile and nod in return. Living Sacrifice and Demon Hunter both did amazing sets, but honestly the show ended for me after the second band.
I’m not pleased that I couldn’t find a picture of them playing live, but the awesome compromise here is that I found a video of them playing one of the two best songs on their album merely weeks after I saw them. This was even the same angle I had . . . except I was more elevated. Still awesome, though.
When: Late 1999
Where: The U of I Student Union, Champaign, IL
Opened for: Alkaline Trio
The Show was: in retospect, very stolen.
Early August was a band from Springfield, Illinois, made up of three guys from nearby Jacksonville, Illinois. This one might be considered cheating, since I had heard of these guys just a little before going to this show, via a friend telling me that a guy in his class was in a band that was going to open for Alkaline Trio. I didn’t expect to be as blown away as I was. These guys took their music seriously. But don’t take that to mean that they were snobs or jerks; they were actually some of the nicest guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of becoming acquaintanced with. My experience as an Early August fan, and simultaneously as an infant musician in my own band, is one of the most significant in my life. It really showed me how good a local band could be, and was a key factor in me coming to understand that talent doesn’t always seek fame, and that it’s possible for three musicians to be amazing at what they do and have no intentions of doing anything with it but having fun. They wrote songs that still blow me away to this day, and I usually keep both of their DIY albums in whatever portable music device I have on me.
They did a single run, from early August 1999 (hence their name) to . . . sometime in late 2000 or early 2001. I can’t remember. They got back together for a few months the next summer, wrote several new songs, and played their last show (of which I’m aware) at The Asylum in Springfield at (appropriately enough) the end of August 2001.
Do yourself a favor and visit their MySpace page and check out a couple songs: http://www.myspace.com/earlyaugust. This video is by the brothers Surratt (the bass player and drummer), and the song is their on-and-off, post-EA project, Bridgewalk. There’s lots of footage of Early August playing. At 3:34 and 5:29, you can see them at their last show at The Asylum in 2001 (Fun fact, I was asked by singer/guitarist Steve to play trombone with them that night, but my schedule conflicted with practice times), and at 5:45 and 6:23, you see them playing at (I think) the VFW in Jacksonville (IL) in summer 2000. I was at both shows.
All great bands open for someone, and having this happen is one of the things I love about being a music fan. I’m already looking forward to the next time.