Metalcore Invades Baltimore, Maryland on The Cool Tour 2010
Band Photo: As I Lay Dying (?)
I recently got out to see the Cool Tour in Baltimore for a much-needed break. Featuring eight bands from every corner of the metalcore genre, one might be surprised to hear that this is the new tour by some of the Sounds of the Underground organizers, in it first year of the planned annual outing.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right away: With a name like “The Cool Tour” and a lineup full of metalcore bands, one might expect a bunch of straight/floppy haired teens in girl jeans as the audience. Luckily this was not the case, but it was clear that this tour is marketed to the younger and more trendy crowd. This was not your typical metal crowd, as short hair was the order of the day, but it was not what I expected either. While the name and first impressions might actually be a turn off to older and “true” metalheads, a closer look at the lineup reveals a few good reasons to check it out. I realized that if nothing else, headliners As I Lay Dying would put on a great show, and I also wanted to check out the much-hyped Between The Buried and Me as well as highly underrated Cancer Bats. If you are one who hates all things ‘core, don’t bother, however.
This was my second show at Sonar, and my impression of the venue since the first time was much improved. It seemed more organized and the security and staff were extremely helpful, the latter putting up with bands’ verbal jabs at them looking bored while encouraging the crowd to crowd surf to give them something to do.
While the entire venue was in use, the bands played only the main stage. Fortunately they had the process of switching bands down to a science and there was only a 10 to 15 minute gap between bands’ 30 minute sets for the most part.
Note: with a only passing familiarity with many of the bands, I am not able to name many songs or give set lists for this tour, even for the bands whose CDs I own. But read on for my account of the concert.
I entered just as Cancer Bats was starting their first song, unfortunately missing out on War of Ages. Joking about how unknown they were to the American crowd, the Canadians sounded loose and had the crowd moving with their interesting mix of metalcore screaming mixed with hardcore-tinged dirty rock riffs. For those who haven’t heard Cancer Bats before, their sound is somewhat akin to Every Time I Die’s “Gutter Phenomenon.” A few pits broke out on their heavier songs but, all joking aside, the crowd was most active during their cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” which had an excellent heavy groove live and was saved for their second to last song.
The UK’s Architects was up next, and they were probably no more well known than Cancer Bats. They played a largely forgettable set, with a mix of clean-sung and screamed metalcore. They kept the crowd involved and moshing on and off as well as Cancer Bats, however.
When The Acacia Strain took the stage, however, you could tell it was a step up in popularity as well as intensity. The Massachusetts band plays a brand of metalcore that flirts with deathcore, while not going entirely down that road. The intensity of their music rubbed off on the crowd, who became more aggressive in their moshing as well as the show’s first bunch of crowd surfers. The Acacia Strain was a nice change from the two lighter sounding bands before them. The band made some playful banter about being the ugliest band on the tour and not having the trendy straight hair, pointing out that the next band did have the straight hair and tight jeans look down pat. They also made a point to talk about their non-believer status amongst a tour featuring a number of Christian bands, saying while they don’t believe, whatever you believe is fine with them.
That next band would be Blessthefall. As one of the whinier, clean-singing bands on the bill, I fully expected to dislike them as much as their studio material. But their live sound came across heavier and the music and screams masked the clean-sung vocals present in many of their songs. The band still succeeded in getting the crowd to participate in the singalongs just the same. Occasional pits broke out for the few heavier songs and the band stood their own amongst the heavier bands of the night.
Between The Buried and Me is a band I’ve been meaning to catch live for a long time, and they were thankfully next. Clearly a favorite with the crowd, the band brought their brand of progressive metalcore with jazzy breaks and jams, going from full scream ahead to smooth jazz in seconds. Toward the middle of their set, they went into an extended jazzy interlude that, while a bit boring after a while, was a welcome respite from the hardcore screaming we’d heard all night. It seems not so far into their set when the band called out their last song, “White Walls,” which is a whopping 14 minutes long. I actually knew that one, but not enough to be able to tell if they were mixing some medleys into the mix as well, which I suspected a couple times.
Underoath was up next. They’re a band much maligned in metal circles, but I actually liked a little bit of what I’ve heard of their material. The core of their sound seems to be sing-along lyrics mixed with punctuating discordant guitar stops. It’s not a completely original sound, but few bands have become so popular playing it either. Underoath opted to start out with a sing-along from the opening verse. Unfortunately they were amped much louder than the previous bands and necessitated ear plugs for the first time that night. Overall, the sing-alongs were very popular, and there was hardly a pit to be seen while Underoath played.
Several songs into their set, they played a new song off the album they’re currently working on. It was a fast-paced metalcore screamer, but not familiar with it, the crowd mostly just stood there motionless. Aside from not knowing the song, fatigue was clearly settling in on the crowd, whether from standing for 5 hours straight or from the constant screaming it’s hard to say, and they became more stationary as Underoath’s set went on.
Headliners As I Lay Dying would finally be up next. Unfortunately it took a full 45 minutes to set up and do a sound check before the band took the stage. But once they did, the wait and any prior disappointments were quickly erased. The crispness and heaviness from the first note left no question of why As I Lay Dying was headlining this tour. For all the varieties of metalcore played up to this point, none of the bands had such an aggressive, thrashy delivery (save for The Acacia Strain on the aggression front). Machine gun guitar riffs and grooves punctuated songs throughout the set in light of the previous band’s performances. The band’s stage presence was spot-on as well and towered over the supporting bands.
With as much ribbing as they get from the metal community, As I Lay Dying delivers a solid, if not impressive, live show. They engaged the crowd with plenty of pit-worthy heaviness and a few shout-alongs as well. Near the end, they called for a Wall of Death, which was the first I’d seen in this venue. When they said they were playing their last couple of songs just around 10pm, I only assumed that they would be back for an encore, but sadly after 45 minutes playing, they were done.
Looking back at that lineup, the organizers knew exactly what they were doing for this tour, putting an interesting/heavier band in between the clean-singing singalong bands.
While seemingly marketed to the younger crowd, The Cool Tour has plenty to offer all sorts of fans of heavy music that are not strictly opposed to the metalcore style. While the genre may appear to be fading, it is also mutating and adapting at a rapid pace, just as metal has done to survive all these years. Bands on this tour mixed elements of pop, rock, progressive, jazz, death metal and melo-death with metalcore to breathe more variety into the music than is apparent on the surface.
The Cool Tour is running through the first of August, so if any of these bands pique your interest, get out and see them live and support live music. With tickets in the $30-40 range, this is a pretty good deal to see an eight band tour and possibly discover some new bands you may not have heard before. The remaining Cool Tour dates are as follows:
JULY 25, 2010 The Pageant St. Louis, MO
JULY 27, 2010 Verizon Wireless Theatre Houston, TX
JULY 28, 2010 The Palladium Ballroom Dallas, TX
JULY 30, 2010 Marquee Theatre Tempe, AZ
JULY 31, 2010 The Palladium Los Angeles, CA
AUGUST 01, 2010 The Regency Ballroom San Francisco, CA
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