The last time The Used played Melbourne’s 170 Russell was back in 2014 on their co-headline tour with Taking Back Sunday (with Sydney’s Breakaway in support). But there were no signs of that Long Island quintet this past Monday night as it was all about The Used playing their first album, 2002’s self-titled release, in full for the first show of their 15th anniversary Australian tour.
Sitting backstage with the band’s bassist, Jeph Howard tells me that The Used fan base is a very diverse bunch, saying that “certain fans like certain records. We have some fans that just love Lies For The Liars, some who love the first two records and others who solely love our last couple albums. But our shows never get smaller; they just diversify more. We have different types of fans showing up and our die-hard fans will come to every show possible.”
Likewise, in an interview we did with singer Bert McCracken in May of this year, the frontman said of their anniversary dates that “we can’t wait to bring it down to Australia, as we know we have some ravenous, die-hard fans over there”. Which is evident by the fact that this Australian tour has had a number of the venue upgrades due to the high-ticket demand from Aussie fans and that their final third and fourth Melbourne shows next month (which are also going down at 170 Russell) sold out lighting fast. As far as the fans are concerned for Howard, the first revelation that he and his band had that they were gaining a growing fan base was way back on the 2002 Vans Warped Tour, which featured a special show that he’ll never forget.
“There was one show that we played on Warped Tour that slapped us in the face act and showed us that we were onto something. We had toured a lot at that point, but nothing had really clicked and then we finally got on Warped Tour and there was this one show on the tour we played where the power went out in the middle of The Taste Of Ink. We kept the song going with just the drums, and the entire crowd sang the song the whole way through until the power came back on towards the song’s end. The point of that story is that in that very moment, at least for me, we knew we had fans and had people that cared about us a lot.”
Now, with the band currently standing fourteen years on from their debut, and in a strong, consistent place no less (even if ‘Imaginary Enemy‘ and ‘Vulnerable‘ were kinda average), I ask the bassist if there’s anything he wished that the band had done differently in either the writing, recording or mixing process of their debut record. His answer is ‘yes’ but adds that that would have changed the record, and that may not have been for the best, saying “I can nit-pick those older records to death but that would have really changed them. The [first] record came out and just sounded the way it did. So I try not to go back and regret and think so much about it. All you can do is change the future, change the next record for instance. I used to have a problem with the sound of the first couple records and a few other things that I won’t mention as it’s best not to dwell on them, but now that I’ve come to accept them as they are, it’s great! They sound better and it’s so much fun now to recreate them live in our own way” Howard says with a smile.
He also adds that he thinks The Used have always been a better band live, “from Bert’s voice to the tones, to the songs in general.” Having seen the band live on all of their Australian appearances since 2010 myself, I can attest to that and for any fans reading this that are seeing The Used live for the very first time on this tour – you’re about to find out how true that statement really is.
As our interview comes to its natural end, the noisy rock duo that is Sydney’s Corpus arrived onstage to kick off the first show of The Used’s 15th-anniversary Australian tour. And so the bassist and I say our goodbye’s and I step back out into the crowd to catch this opening act.
Now, Corpus make a lot of noise for just a two-piece band, made up of guitarist/vocalist Keiron Steel and drummer/majestic hair lord Jack Bruun-Hammond. Yet despite their solid efforts, the half empty room just does not resonate with their music save for a few cheers and appreciative clapping after each song ends. As per the aforementioned interview, fans of The Used are a very dedicated, “ravenous” bunch, and as callous as it may sound, if you’re not said band, you most likely aren’t going to win over many fans when supporting them. However, that wasn’t for a lack of a trying with the distorted riffs and harsh yelling of Steel and tight, energised drumming from Bruun-Hammond and I must say, odd support slot aside, these guys are a great live act! After a thirty or so minute set, and with some guitar feedback and a quick ‘thank you’ to the crowd, the Sydney duo depart the stage and that leaves Melbourne’s Storm The Sky up next.
The Melbourne quintet arrived on stage and ran through a solid set that consisted of their recent full-length ‘Sin Will Find You‘ with cuts like ‘Jaded Ghost’, ‘Wake Up Sleeping‘, ‘Medicine’, ‘Second Best‘, the title track, as well as ‘Alive‘ from their previous and far less interesting album, ‘Permanence‘. However, despite Storm The Sky’s strong sonic soundscape and their tight performance, just like the preceding band and despite this being a hometown show for them, there was just fuck all interaction and involvement from the crowd for the same reason I stated above – this band wasn’t The Used. But even so, you would be very hard-pressed to call this a ‘bad’ or ‘terrible’ set.
At one point, frontman William Jarratt posed the rather cliché support band question of who in the room was excited for The Used, and quickly added that “they [The Used] pretty much got me into music”. Mate, you and a few other hundred people by the looks of it!
Their set concluded with what is easily Storm The Sky’s best song to date, ‘Lilac’, proving that ditching the post-hardcore/metalcore sound in favour of this poppier, melodic sonic reinvention was indeed for the best (even if ‘Death-pop’ is still a dumb name).
With the venue starting to really fill up and after A-Ha’s ‘Take Me On’ and Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ came through the PA – garnering the most singing from the crowd up till this point of the night – the lights darkened and The Used took to the stage to the sound of air raid sirens and immense cheering.
As the brief intro of ‘Maybe Memories’ explodes the band and ready to go right back to 2002 for this set, and the crowd’s energy levels peaked in a matter of seconds. After an interlude jam and some brief talk of childhood, unity and the power of music from singer Bert McCracken, the quartet crescendo into what is easily one of their biggest and most cherished songs – ‘The Taste Of Ink‘. It was here, but two songs into their set, that Howard’s previous Warped Tour tale of rabid fandom manifested once again as the sing-alongs were just as loud as the band, especially when the guitars and bass dropped away and drummer Dan Whitesides held down the song’s groove and McCracken encouraged the crowd to sing even louder. Pure bliss, just pure bliss, I assure you.
Now, while The Used are, of course, a very well rehearsed band in their musical performance, the same goes for their stage banter and crowd interaction. I’m immensely confident that if you see the band multiple times on this current Australian tour, you’re bound to here many repeated phrases and anecdotes from their enigmatic frontman. However, you will also find a genuine sense of love, excitement and appreciation from McCracken and his three musical brothers and that’s the difference between a good live band that truly cares and a band that simply phones it in.
Before the fourth song of the set, ‘Say Days Ago’, McCracken states that he has now been four years sober as the band rip into one of their debut’s heaviest songs. ‘Poetic Tragedy’ was just wonderfully surreal in a live environment and the song’s emotion was more than palpable. But that serenity and calmness went out the window when the band then launched into the intro of ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ and transitioned it seamlessly into the jagged, post-hardcore ripper of ‘A Box Full Of Sharp Objects’ and both their actual song and it’s cheeky intro amped up the packed crowd to a frenzied level. Plus, a personal favourite song of not just this record but of The Used’s entire discography for myself is the bittersweet heart-wrencher of ‘Blue And Yellow‘, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of the best songs they have to their name.
Prior to their set, Howard said that “Bert’s so good at writing vague that you can take whatever you want from it and that’s the beauty of art.” And I can’t help but feel that’s true with not only ‘Blue And Yellow‘ but this first album in general. As what I may personally think ‘The Taste Of Ink‘ or ‘Poetic Tragedy‘ or again, ‘Blue And Yellow‘ are about may mean something completely different to the person standing next to in during this set. The five-stringed bassist also mentioned how he believes art should be consumed, saying that it should be looked at by “fifty percent the viewer and fifty percent the artist. So with a live show, if the band is great but the crowd sucks or if the band sucks but the crowd is great, the show is still going to be okay. If the band and the crowd are equally great, then the show is going to be off the hook.”
Well, looking at the earlier performance’s of ‘Bulimic‘, ‘The Taste Of Ink‘, among others and at that point in the set of ‘Greener With The Scenery‘, I can’t help but feel that the latter statement of both the band and the crowd being great is evident right before my very eyes. From the bouncing floor section, the deafening sing-alongs, the tight rhythm section of Howard and Whitesides, former Saosin guitarist Justin Shekoski fitting right in with the band so well, and McCracken’s high, character layered voice; off the hook this show was, indeed.
After ‘Noises and Kisses‘ the show winds down to the soft, acoustic reverie of ‘On My Own‘, which is just another bonafide anthem. Save for ‘Blue And Yellow‘ and ‘Poetic Tragedy‘, this was created the only real lapse in energy levels, but definitely not the emotional gauges as the crowd screams every word back at their heroes. Originally, the song is just vocals, strings and acoustic guitar, but a really nice touch for their live show was the inclusion of booming drum fills and tight bass lines to accompany the end of ‘On My Own‘, and adding more instrumentation to the song was not only better for the song itself, but also to the betterment of The Used’s overall set.
I know for a fact that many of my friends avoid websites like Setlist.fm so they can be surprised when they see a band live, but the beauty of an album show like this is that everyone know’s what’s coming next. At this point in time, it was the self-titled album’s final song ‘Pieces Mended‘, which was followed by a brief encore of their debut album’s “hidden track”, the breakneck and the churning punk rock rager ‘Choke Me‘ to end the night and marking a fine start to their 2016 Australian tour.
You know, I’ve always considered their debut album to be one of the band’s better records (well, perhaps second to the almighty ‘Artwork‘, anyway – that album is amazing), and this set proved exactly why their debut is most certainly one of The Used’s strongest release, even fourteen years onwards.
Throughout The Used’s set, I looked around the venue and saw people of all ages, of all sexes and of all backgrounds singing along as loud as they could, smiles spread wide across their respective faces, witnessing one of their favourite bands or at least, one of their favourite albums live. “Our live shows capture both the vibe and soul of our records” was what Howard had told me backstage and after this set, more so than any of the previous times I’ve seen the band live, I’m inclined to agree with him. I feel that I wasn’t alone in thinking that, either.
Now, considering that their self-titled album was the very first time that The Used had ever recorded in a professional studio, and considering that it has since come to help define the impact and success of their band, Howard laughingly described the album to me as being “the very opposite of traumatic”. And after spending so much of 2016 within such internal retrospection of their first two records, it’ll be very interesting to see what The Used do with their next album, which I might add is currently set for a release sometime in 2017, and whether they can once more recapture that “opposite of traumatic” feeling. Get keen.