Between The Record & The Stage: The Used’s ‘In love & Death’


Recently on Buzzfeed, there was an article titled “We Need To Talk About How Concerts Are Actually Terrible”, written by Kat Angus (insert joke about the article being a pain in the Angus here) that went through around twenty-six points of why concerts suck. Most of them were complete and utter bullshit that relied solely on subjective opinions stated as fact without any discernible sarcasm in place (unlike my revie- oh god, I couldn’t say that with a straight face).

Now, what stuck out to me was the last point:

And when you finally get home and listen to the album in the private comfort of your home, you realize that THIS is how you should have spent your night in the first place.

It got me thinking about why I myself go to concerts and why I enjoy them so goddamn much when there is a perfectly recorded and comfortable listening experience to be had in my home. I wasn’t second guessing my enjoyment – I know I fucking dig concerts – but it really got me searching for specifics reasons of where that enjoyment came from. Henceforth, we come to this: a comparison between the experience of listening to a record in a sensory deprivation like environment (my room, which doesn’t have any large water tanks) versus seeing and hearing those songs performed live. And what better record to do it with than The Used’s second album, ‘In Love and Death’, which the band played in full on their recent Australian tour that has now come to a close. I’ll also be acknowledging a winner between the studio and the stage as to which experience was better for each song.

But first off, an acknowledgement of the night’s two opening bands, Corpus and Storm the Sky:

They played.

Anyways, let’s get stuck into it!

Take It Away:

The record’s opener is pretty demonstrative of the band’s punk rock influences. Like, really demonstrative of it. ‘Take it Away‘ is ferocious and calls for your attention the second you hit play on the album and I remember thinking to myself all those years ago when my older brother brought this record home: “What the hell is this!?” I wasn’t even sure if I liked it! But flash forward to Monday night in my bedroom as this record roars in my ears, all I can think now is: “God, I wanna fucking hit something!” In a totally non-violent and harmful way, mind you. It makes you jittery and gets you flustered with a desire to simply move. Which is exactly what I did when The Used took to the stage on Tuesday to open with this.

This song is a track that demands to be heard live. It screams for you to throw your arms around, angrily finger point like you just got told some bad news whilst finger banging a hooker and scream your lungs out right next to someone’s ear. And for this song, that was exactly where the fun came from. It was a cathartic release of the energy built up from all the time’s I’d spun this track. It didn’t matter if I got pushed in the ribs or hit in the jaw; it only fuelled the energy and desire to hit shit. The more the crowd moved, the more energy was built up and the more energy that was built up the more we had to move. It was a vicious cycle all brought on from a single three and a half minute song that we all heard some ten or so years ago. Sitting down and listening to this song pails in comparison

Winner: Stage.

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The crowd wasn’t gonna fall for that old “Look, behind you” trick/PC: Lord Media.

I Caught Fire:

So back when I was much younger and my brother showed me ‘In Love and Death’, I remember feeling super uncertain about this band after that opening “screem-0” song. Yet when this song came on, my baby-normie heart melted. That opening riff is so well put together and orchestrated that my young little face couldn’t help but stretch out a huge smile. Hearing Bert McCrackn sing “I’m melting in your eyes” as every instrument strips away before the final chorus and having it all fall back into place bigger than before was fucking wild, to say the least! Laying on my bed as that outro simmers the song to a close I feel a wave of nostalgia rush over me as I remember the days of my youth before the troubles of adult life encroached on my mind. Those days were calm and fun and filled with new and exciting musical discoveries – this song being one of them.

So come Tuesday night as that opening riffs hits and in one swift motion, myself and everyone else on 170 Russell’s floor area, are jumping as high as our legs would allow. It was another one of those moments where I couldn’t help but not grin from ear to ear no matter how hard I tried to pull it away. There was a warm feeling in my stomach that trickled up the back of my spine as we all sang in imperfect harmony with each other and the band. It was a moment of solidarity in strangers who felt like friends all brought together by a stadium rock song sung by a punk band. Whilst laying on my bed and mouthing the words felt like nostalgia, standing in a room filled with people screaming those same words was the creation of a memory

I did, however, notice that the song was shifted down a couple semi-tones, most likely to help Bert sing it easier after all these years or to help him and the maintain consistent tuning. Which is fine for me! It moved from E major to D major and I like both keys (music snob alert). But it got me thinking what other songs they might have changed…

Winner: Stage. 

Let It Bleed:

Another track that really stuck with me the first time hearing ‘In love and Death’, ‘Let It Bleed’ has a level of nostalgia attached to it that for some unknown reason I associate with 2008 third person shooter game from Capcom, Lost Planet. I’m trying to work it out, pacing back and forth in my both my room and my mind, muttering the catchy chorus under my breath and even bopping my head up and down. As I sit on the edge of my bed and listen to that dissonant and wild bridge that juxtaposes the rest of the song, it hits me! Some of my early memories of this record were sitting and watching my brother play Xbox with this record on loop. And somehow, ‘Let It Bleed’ got attached to that in my mind. It’s a memory that makes me smile. Despite the fact I thought that that game was awful [no, it’s fucking solid – Ed], the memory of sitting on the couch and talking shit with Alex is a happy one and one that comes to mind even as I stand in the crowd staring up at the band who penned this song.

Much like ‘I Caught Fire’, that feeling of solidarity and connection shines through during ‘Let It Bleed’ as well sing along with Mr McCracken. But when the song goes into that fantastic half-time chorus towards the end, the guy next to me throws his arms around me and the guy next to him and together we sway in time with the groove. We must’ve looked like one of those group of drunken Irish dudes at the bar who all sway and sing together terribly. The only difference is it’s not Irish folk songs we’re singing – it’s a goddamn emo banger from 2004 that means something different to each and every one of us. You don’t get that moment from an iPod. You just don’t.

Winner: Stage. 

All That I’ve Got:

Monday night was one of my first listens to this record in a long while, I’ll tell you that much. But what fucked me up the most as I listened to these tracks one after another was that the same band who wrote ‘Take It Away’ and ‘Listening’ also wrote ‘All That I’ve Got’ which is a few semi-tones away from plagiarising ‘Yellow’ by Coldplay. On the record, you don’t really notice it, though. It took me until much further down the track list to even think about it. I was blissfully happy to sit there and get caught up in the well-structured and produced rock song with its huge chorus. For me, there was nothing personal about this song. Don’t get me wrong, I like it. I like it a whole lot but it never attached itself to any memory or feeling within me that I’ve held onto for years.

One of the things that put this song into perspective for me was the girl beside me who stood around five feet tall if she stretched her back out. She caught my attention when she managed to scream the titular lyrics so loud it rose above everybody else in the room. Looking down at her I saw painted across her face a whole range of emotions. Her eyes were watery and hazy as she gazed longingly, almost in despair, at the band whilst her mouth twisted into a smile. I can’t say specifics, but for her, this song clearly means so goddamn much. Much more than I would ever be able to know. Maybe it reminds her of pain and loss but at the same of survival and perseverance. All I know is it meant something. And that was beautiful. To see right before me the impact that this song had and share that moment with her and so many other people feeling similar things… that’s what it’s all about. The collective experience and sharing of emotions in relation to one thing: music.

Winner: Stage.

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The Used bassist Jeph Howard, backing up Bert with some vocals/PC: Lord Media.

 

Cut Up Angels:

OKAY! This is my favourite song by The Used hands-fucking-down. From it’s gorgeous and melodic beginnings to it’s groovy and catchy verses all the way to the huge and beautiful choruses, I sweat this song so fucking hard you have no clue. This was the kind of song that I would just sit on repeat for entire car rides, listening to all its intricacies and instrumentation, tearing it apart and putting it back together again in my head. And on Monday night in my room, I couldn’t help do the same. It was like revisiting and old friend you haven’t seen in a while; talking of times at school and of other friends, recalling adventures and jokes told and loves lost – all these things are connected to this song for me. Listening to it in the context of the entire album really took me back to that time in my life where I was growing up and learning so much more about the world and was discovering so much new music.

But I was disappointed. When the band started playing the song I was ready to scream and cry but something felt… off about it. It was great, don’t get me wrong but what I was seeing wasn’t the song that I knew from the record in a really odd way. Then it hit me: The key had changed two steps down like ‘I Caught Fire’. And that really got to me. I can handle a key change and am not against them in the live setting if it makes things easier for the band to perform but for a song that was so closely attached to so many memories for me and is in and of itself one of those memories, it was off-putting to have it change so significantly. I still had an amazing time screaming out those words along to my favourite song by The Used but for me, the fondest memories will remain on that record.

Winner: Studio.

Listening:

Okay, so I don’t really like ‘Listening’, even after all these years of my music taste evolving and changing. I don’t have anything against the song but more or less I don’t have anything for it either. So naturally I was keen to experience it live and see what I might think about it after.

When the song began, a circle pit opened up and I amongst other stormed into the fray of it like we were charging into battle. But as fate would have it, a stray beer bottle on the ground intercepted my path, my foot standing on the rollie-pollie object with immense force by mistake. So much so it gave way beneath me and I fucked up my ankle as it twisted itself what felt like a full 900 degrees. I fell down like a fucking wanker and what ensured for the next thirty seconds was a score of men all grabbing at me trying to help me up. Which is nice and really shows the caring nature of this music community. The only problem is when they all try and help you up at once, you kind of get pulled in ten different directions and just sort of remain stagnant semi-hovering up the ground. Eventually, I surfaced back up to head height and in that split second, I rose to this normal view I looked towards the stage to see The Used going pretty fucking crazy along with everyone else in the room. In that second, I got really excited. I had fallen and rose again like a circle pitting Jesus Christ and was back up and ready to feel this song in my blood as it pounded through the speakers.

The only problem came when I put my left foot down on the ground a surge of pain ran through my ankle, and fuck me sideways and call me Samantha did it hurt! That shit felt like the devil himself was trying to escape through my foot, crawling between the molecules of my skin like he thinks he’s Ant-Man or some shit. So I hobbled out of that swirl of people and ended up standing pretty much on one foot for the rest of the song (and eventually the rest of the night). Using the weight. As you can guess, my experience of this wasn’t the brightest. As I write this my foot is wrapped tightly in a bandage and hurts every time my dog bumps my leg so the memory now associated with ‘Listening’ is one of pain and suffering. Though the song did sound really freaking good, so I’m gonna have to call this one even between the album and the live set.

Winner: Tie.

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The silhouette of guitarist, Justin Shekoski/PC: Lord Media.

Yesterday’s Feelings:

Similar to ‘Listening’ I’m not a huge fan of this track, as lovely as it is. It’s usually been a skipper for me but when I spun the track on Monday I must say that it is a very relaxing song in a lot of ways. It’s a real breather after the intensity ‘Listening’ and works really well on the record.

Though, when performed live it kind of kills the show’s pace. The energy in a small sweaty club is always going to be huge and intense so to come from the craziness of ‘Listening’ and go right into one of The Used’s softest and most chilled out songs of all time somewhat kills the mood that was just created. So I stood there in a fair amount of pain and sang along with the rest of the crowd yet something about it just felt a bit… dead. It wasn’t an emotionally pulling

Winner: Studio.

Light With A Sharpened Edge:

One of the things that I love about this song is how far you can get swept up in it. It’s a song that just builds and builds, with each section being bigger and more dramatic then the last. Lying on my bed and closing my eyes, this track sucked me in and got me visualising its story in such a vivid way as if I was reading a book.

And the exact same happened when that opening riff sounded out across 170 Russell. Instantly I felt swept away in the hugeness of it all and once again that feeling of union and comradery wept into the room once again. The song’s build into the final chorus felt so fulfilling and satisfying for everyone no doubt and proved that this was one of the band’s best “poppier” songs.

Winner: Stage.

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Here, you fucking sing it/PC: Lord Media.

 

Sound Effects and Overdramatics

Sound Effects and Overdramatics’ was actually a song that I loved the first time I heard it despite being heavy as all hell. The huge fucking riffs coupled with the awesome melodies and brewing verses made it a track that really opened my eyes and ears to the possibilities of heavier music and a such was a huge part of developing my music taste. As my ten-dollar headphones clip out at the song’s intense bass drops I can’t help but get a rush of excitement and thrill at the fact I’d be seeing it the next night through huge speakers and an amazing atmosphere.

That excitement from Monday was well awarded and the track blew my expectations well out of the water. As holy shit, this is one noisy and fucking forceful song. The first nine seconds sounded like I was at a harsh noise gig before the kick into the song’s opening resonated well into my chest and down into the floor. The dark and sombre lighting added to the track’s mood so well and made it feel only heavier on both my soul and ears.

Winner: Stage.

It’s Hard To Say:

This song has always been an interesting song for me as a listener. I’ve always known that I should be feeling a lot during the song. But I never really do. I know that I should feel emotional and somewhat sad but I often times just feel kind of numb towards the song and the same went for my play through the night before the show. But as Bert introduced the song, he spoke of being four years sober and the fact that for him, this song was what kept him going after his girlfriend and first love overdosed.

Shit.

As the track began to play, I finally got it. It hit me like a wave and I finally felt what I should’ve been feeling this whole time. An empathetic sense of sadness for the things this man has been through. As we all sang along to the words Bert wrote in order to stay alive, it felt like in some ways, we all have our meaning for this song and it was in there that I found mine for the first time of hearing it.

Winner: Stage.

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Mmmmm moody/PC: Lord Media.

Lunacy Fringe:

Man, this song is a fucking ripper, both on the record and off. In my room, I’m tapping my toes like no tomorrow and then in the venue, I’m doing the same and having a hell of a time. I’ve always had such a hard-on for ‘Lunacy Fringe’ and always thought to myself how cool it would be to scream the “Do you wanna take me on?” part at one of their gigs. Well, now I can answer that: fucking mint.

Winner: Stage.

I’m A Fake:

I really don’t like this song on the record. I find it sloppy and a pretty dull punk rock song that was done far better with ‘Take it Away’. When it came to listening to it on my original listen through I was very, very tempted to just skip it.

So as ‘Lunacy Fringe‘ came to close I felt inclined to hobble up and get ready to beat the rush of people who would soon be leaving the venue. But just as I was planning my escape route through the ocean of bodies, he pulled a random girl known only to us as “Jelly” (that’s not her real name. Bert’s just a bit weird) up onto the stage. He handed her the mic and told her to start the spoken word intro of ‘I’m A Fake’ for us all. And so she did. She spoke the lines and we all joined in with her and screamed the words back at her and Bert’s faces. What made me stay put where I stood was the sheer look on this girl’s face. The smile that glowed across her cheeks as the song kicked in and the band let her flail her arms and legs around was just infectious. As the song went on, I couldn’t help up feel so goddamn happy for “Jelly”. Bass player Jeph Howard at one point nudges her and points to his mic, gesturing her to take it and use it. We then get a fucking brilliant duet between her and Bert screaming the words at each other in what you could feel was a moment filled with nothing but joy and elation for everyone in the room. This was going to be a moment she would never ever forget for the rest of her life. As someone’s been pulled up on stage to perform with a band before, I can resonate with how much an incredible and awesome experience it is. This really made the song stand out to me within the set and I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face until well after the song finished and the band left the stage. On ya’ Jelly! (Oh, and the band did an encore of one of their biggest songs, ‘Pretty Handsome Awkward‘, which is always a great song to wrap up their set).

Winner: Stage.

Overall Winner: No shit, it’s the stage!

In Love and Death’ is, in my opinion, the band’s best work as an overall album and to see that translated in full to the live stage was nothing short of incredible. I got to live out my childhood fantasies of singing these lyrics in a room full of people who all felt the same thing for this music as I did: passion. That’s what mattered the most. It didn’t matter that I fucked up my ankle or that it was hot and sweaty and crammed from shoulder to shoulder. What matters is that there was nothing but love, passion and synergy in that room that we all felt deep down into ourselves and we got to experience music we love with one another. Music that has had a profound impact on each and every one of us in one way or another. Music that is fucking awesome!

So in conclusion: Fuck you, Kat Angus of Buzzfeed. Concerts are cool and you are not.

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All of the photo credit here goes out to the Lord Media (Liam Davidson). Check out his other killer work here


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