Sunday night’s sold-out show at Melbourne’s 170 Russell was a night of beautiful, instrumental post-rock courtesy of Sydney’s sleepmakeswaves, & the performance of Underoath’s two biggest albums; ‘They’re Only Chasing Safety’ & ‘Define The Great Line’.
Simply put, if you weren’t there, you seriously missed out on what will be looked back on as one of the best gigs of 2017.
Excluding We Lost The Sea, Sydney’s sleepmakeswaves may just be the best instrumental/post-rock band that Australia has to its name. No, scratch that, I know they are.
This four-piece, who are our answer to the likes of This Will Destroy You and Explosions In The Sky, were a perfect fit to support Underoath. After all, Underoath enjoys taking out bands that are quite different from their own sound. For instance, they brought the almighty Caspian on their US Rebirth tour, and they’ve followed suit here by choosing sleepmakeswaves to do the opening honours. A fine choice indeed.
As for sleepmakeswaves actual performance, their set was hard to fault and it was an utter experience. Songs like the uplifting opener ‘Perfect Detonator‘, the legitimately epic soundscape of ‘Great Northern‘, and the almost-danceable set ender ‘Something Like Avalanches‘ – all taken from their terrific ‘Love Of Cartography‘ album – showcased exactly why they’re the nations’ best in this field, and why they were more than worthy of this support slot.
If I could use a single phrase could sum up their brand of deeply textured, and beautifully atmospheric instrumental music it would be “tremolo for days”. But in all seriousness, the driving, gritty and distorted bass rumbling of Alex Wilson along with cacophonous yet solid drumming of Tim Adderley anchors the soaring guitar work and interplay of Otto Wicks-Green and Daniel Oreskovic so well. From soft ambient moments, clean chords to grand, distorted washes, pummeling drum and loud cymbal strikes to epic tremolo moments and awesome crescendos – their music and their live show is a dynamic, mesmerising audible experience.
Euphoria is the word I’m looking for here.
The band’s latest, hot-off-the-presses single, ‘Tundra‘ (from the upcoming album, ‘Made Of Breath‘) also got a good look in and just like the rest of their set, it was a joy to not only watch live but to also experience sonically as well. On more visually aesthetic terms, sleepmakeswaves‘ light show was also spot-on at times, something that not every support act can be so lucky with. The lights (and often times the lack of) created just the right kind of hazy mood to help elevate their music.
At one point, guitarist Otto Wicks-Green thanked the crowd for coming down early and for checking our their “weird music with no vocals”, in one of the few verbal interactions between the band and us. Now, some instrumental bands are very bad at communication but sleepmakeswaves actually aren’t, and that all comes down to their body language when they play and not so much what they present verbally. From the faces each member pulls while playing, the smiles in between songs, the way Wicks-Green and Oreskovic jump about and move their guitars around, to how they play off one another, to how Wilson thrashes his bass and engages with those right at the barrier, or to how quietly and loudly Adderley plays behind the kit at any given moment; this band communicates the various emotions and timbres of their songs better than most bands with actual fucking vocalists.
As someone who has been following this band for a couple years now, it was hard to contain my utter glee to witness the band garnering a very warm response from the crowd – a crowd that was here solely for Underoath, no doubt. So do yourself a favour, and be sure to catch this Aussie quartet, one that writes” love songs about delay pedals”, live in March and April on their very own headline tour and again when they support Devin Townsend Project in May. 2017 should be most excellent for these guys.
Underoath’s two-album performance tonight represented two things; youthfulness and adulthood.
It was 2004’s youthful, vibrant and poppy ‘They’re Only Chasing Safety‘ that saw the six-piece become a breakthrough band among the alternative and post-hardcore music scene both in the States and abroad. Yet during that time, the six members were still young men, all of whom were still finding themselves and still finding the sound of the ever-growing popular band they were each a part of. Come 2006’s darker, heavier and near-perfect follow-up, ‘Define The Great Line‘, you find the band attaining this sound all the while being at their peak with a watershed moment that cemented the Underoath moniker as something truly special.
I know this, you know this, their fans know it, the critics out there know it, and the band themselves most certainly know it too – ‘Define The Great Line‘ is “their” album. And tonight it was all about those two albums; the record that helped them attain household name status and the album that defined their entire career across an essentially flawless show.
Of course, the real beauty of full album performances like this is that everyone knows what’s coming. Everyone and their proverbial dog within 170 Russell knew that ‘Young & Aspiring‘ would be the first song of Underoath’s first Melbourne set in nearly exactly five years, but that didn’t stop the excited crowd from pushing madly to the front and singing along as loud as humanly possible!
It was clear to see how many people in attendance were reliving their teenage years during the likes of the classic, teen angst jam, ‘A Boy Brushed Red Living In Black & White‘, and how ‘Reinventing Your Exit‘ still resonates with just as many souls as ever. Plus, the electricity in the air when the all-encompassing choir call of “Drowning in my sleep, I’m drowning in my sleep” from career staple, ‘It’s Always Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door‘ was absolutely fucking surreal.
But ‘They’re Only Chasing Safety‘ is so much more than its three big hits, and this set thankfully brought great attention to how solid the album’s non-singles are. The early underrated banger of ‘The Impact Of Reason‘, the energetic ‘Down, Set, Go!‘ and ‘I’m Content With Losing‘ are all great songs that most certainly got shuffled to the sidelines to in favour of songs that received the music video treatment and the band’s later material. But tonight, these songs were given the full spotlight to shine in front of one thousand pairs of adoring eyes and ears.
Once the sublime, instrumental reworking of ‘Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape‘ ended, which left the original version for dead, capped off the band’s ‘TOCS‘ set, the lights went off and this low drone looped through the PA. It eventually morphed into a kind of harsh noise piece and as it ended, the tape sample that opens the band’s magnum opus began. Cue the intro guitar riff of ‘In Regards To Myself‘, Chamberlain screaming “Wake Up! Wake Up! My God!“, and the pure chaos that unfolded afterwards stating loud and clear that the emotional, wondrous sonic journey that is ‘Define The Great Line‘ was well underway.
The cacophonous and emotionally fucked up standout that is the album’s second-in-line, ‘A Moment Suspended In Time‘, is just… something else entirely live too. It’s a song that when presented in the full context of its larger album housing, takes on a whole new light. And it’s one that I just cannot stop thinking about since seeing it live barely 24 hours earlier to writing this review. That’s the sign of a truly special song, right there.
As for the following tracks, the set unsurprisingly moved from strength to earth-moving strength. ‘There Could Be Nothing After This‘? Probably one of the best Underoath songs ever written. ‘You’re Ever So Inviting‘? A pure live anthem from start to finish. And ‘Returning Empty Handed‘? So, so much heavier than you remember and a song that proves that even when the band went in a weightier, immense direction musically, they could still expertly retain their melodic musical shades.
The real “wild card” from ‘Define The Great Line‘ is most notably the post-metal epic, ‘Casting Such A Thin Shadow‘. It shows off some massive ISIS influences (seriously, those fucking riffs) with its three-guitar attack with Chamberlian donning a guitar himself and it’s a song that feels at odds with its fellow track listing. Yet also oddly necessary, despite it being a far cry from the pair that follows it. Speaking of which, Aaron Gillespie’s thunderous drum fill at the start of the blistering and energetic ‘Moving For The Sake Of Motion‘ never gets old. It has also just occurred to me during this set that this song, in particular, is like a long last ‘TOCS‘ song… just with far more energy and punch!
Of course, each Underoath album has that one single that became the new classic for its respective era of their career, and for ‘Define The Great Line‘, it is none other than ‘Writing On The Walls‘. After having an incredibly eager and rather shocked fan introduce the song via Chamberlain’s mic, their third album’s key single began. To be blunt, this song and the momentous reaction it received is perhaps the perfect example as to how Underoath came to be the revered and loved band they are now, and why tickets for this show went out the door in less than a day.
From here, a personal favourite Underoath song of yours truly – ‘Everyone Looks So Good From Here‘ – hits and I’m reminded why I utterly loved the heavier, metal direction the band went in on their last two records. For it was a song like this that showed how the band could effortlessly pull off jagged riffs, heavier vocals and faster, more intense drumming, move away from their pop elements, and make it work. Stopping myself from going off on an endless tangent of nostalgia and reverie, every great journey must come to an end and this second set reaches its grand finale with ‘To Whom It May Concern‘, one of the best album closers you’re likely to ever hear.
‘They’re Only Chasing Safety‘ turns 13 in 2017, and ‘Define The Great Line‘ turns 11 this year as well. In the music industry, that can be a fucking lifetime for anybody. As for Underoath, they were still but kids in the eyes of the wider spectrum of time. Now, in 2017, time and the band members ageing has thankfully not dwindled their musical ability nor the engaging and energetic performance that they so effortlessly supply audiences.
Whether it be Gillespie’s solid drumming or his angelic cleans, Chamberlain’s throaty screams, deep growls or for just how frequently he sang, (even fully taking over Gillespie’s parts on multiple occasions), or to the way bassist Grant Brandell and guitarist Timothy McTague put their absolute all into their playing; this band doesn’t phone a single fucking thing in and they always create an honest and intense atmosphere.
Oh, and of course, I cannot forget keyboardist and occasional second percussionist, Chris Dudley, who moves around his own side of the stage like an energiser bunny clocking into fucking overdrive! Seriously, the photos we have of the guy don’t do his stage presence justice.
‘They’re Only Chasing Safety‘ is a great record and it’s a great record live, that much is sure. But in all honesty, it is ‘Define The Great Line‘ that is my favourite Underoath album. If ever asked, that’s an answer that I don’t ever have to think about – it’s always going to be ‘Define The Great Line‘, through and through. And this show reminded me exactly why I was so drawn to it when I first heard it at the young age of 13, and why now over eight years later I still fucking love it!
Okay, great. Now that my immense bias has been addressed after this whole review already confirmed its existence, let us wrap up.
In a 2016 interview I conducted with Spencer Chamberlain, he told me that Underoath is a band again and that bands make music. So, after reflecting on their own past, now that they’ve defiantly returned to the stage, I am going to read between the very obvious lines there and ask, ‘Should we be excited for a new Underoath album in this post-reunion era?‘
Fucking oath, we should be!
PC: Lee Christie.
Check out the remaining tour dates of Underoath’s Rebirth tour below. You can still nab tickets for those shows here.
Wednesday, February 15th – Governor Hindmarsh, Adelaide, Lic/AA
Thursday, February 16th – Metropolis, Perth, 18+