Ear-crunching sound checks clatter down the stairs from Room 3 at The Cockpit into the bar. Tonight will be a true test of the ear drums – Room 3 is little more than a mezzanine above the bar and forces the crowd right up the nostrils of the acts.
Departures don’t mess around and blast straight into their opening track. The noise engulfs everybody in the room. The guitar riffs are classic skater metal inventions; tight, fast riffs with stabbing, melodic licks punctuating the onslaught. The vocals are authentic screams from north of the border; frontman James McKean hurls himself around into the front of the crowd as if he is somehow directly connected to Ally Morrison’s relentless pounding of the drum kit just behind him or paces up and down like a caged animal. The rest of the band (considering the sound they’re making) are relatively still and seemed quite happy to just churn out their slick, fast tunes while their nut-job singer does his best to pull a muscle. It is an ass-kicking opening set though it feels like Seahaven are going to have to do well to match it.
“We’re Seahaven, we’re from L.A.– thanks for watching” utters vocalist Kyle Soto politely before kicking off a set that seems to have a certain level of expectation hanging off it. The initial feeling is one of hard edged indie; thick guitar chords, vocals that are sung (not screamed) and call and answer choruses. It doesn’t take long for the crowd to look more engaged than maybe they did for Departures. The previous offering was a wall of noise that had the same sort of appeal as watching the demolition of a tall building, this is different. It is more measured, calmer but by no means less intense. Then, in a pretty excellent fashion, they crank out their first big riff with a tune that doesn’t dare stray from the traditional ‘chilled verse/crazy chorus’ formula. Don’t think I’m slating it though, it works. For whatever reason it has worked on the soundtrack to every Underworld or Twilight movie, it works. It’s the soundtrack to that kind of escapism – good angsty, teen fodder that has Soto staring out into the middle distance in between lunges towards his microphone as if he’s trying spit the frustration down it and out through the speakers. The half hour or so that they spend on stage is full of riffs and big distorted chords, the sound spanning the punk, indie and skate-rock part of the spectrum. All the way through, the continuous crash of cymbals ensures it never truly steps down into indie. Drummer Eric Findlay goes at it like he’s had a few too many blue Smarties while guitarist Mike Craver and bass player Mike DeBartolo hurl themselves into each song as if it were some kind of aurally administered, psychological dialysis for them. It is an accomplished performance and quite rightly they receive much applause as they finish up and start to unplug their gear.
Pianos Become the Teeth don’t deliver much chit-chat at the mic because, well, they just don’t have time. A lengthy intro to the first lengthy song of many sees us washed over by atmospheric tub thumping, reverb and effects-soaked guitars. All the songs are directly connected by waves of feedback making it feel like this is just one continuous tune, like an emo version of a Happy Hardcore tape (yes, tape.)
Kyle Durfey (who may or may not have genetic links to the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) spends the whole set more or less in the crowd, screaming vocals right down the face of a quiffed headbanger. He definitely fits in with what I’m hearing, unlike his bandmates who all seem to be wearing things more suited to summer holidays – albeit slightly rainy ones. All except bass player Zac Sewell, who has the air of a spreadsheeter on a work night out.
Appearances aside we have entered the big, dramatic act of the Twilight movie with this stuff – it is a complete wall of sound, more so even than Departures. The tempo isn’t as high but any spaces that may have been created by this less thrashy approach are filled with double helpings of guitar effects from the two axe men, Chad McDonald and Mike York and the type of drum fills that could fool you into thinking David Haik truly hates his own kit. It is all about atmospheric, angsty drama – I could’ve sworn I saw my inner teenager somewhere in the background; necking a bottle of bourbon, hating the world and then begging for forgiveness. It’s the perfect soundtrack to somebody losing it; which appears to split the audience – an opinion I arrive at when almost exactly half of the crowd decide it’s time for a beer.
The room is full again by the time Balance and Composure urge the audience to practically get on stage with them. The first track sets the scene for what is to come – a change in direction again, as with Seahaven, this brings us back towards the indie end of the spectrum. The vocals are still intense and pressured, stepping into the realms of screams from time to time; the guitars are loaded with heavy distortion, but it’s music more suited to drinking beer on a half pipe than rocking backwards and forwards in the corner of a bedroom lit by church candles.
Of the five guys on stage only two are not pounding guitars; bassist Matthew Warner and drummer Bailey van Ellis provide a solid backing for three six-stringers – Erik Petersen, Jonathan Simmons (also the source of the afore-mentioned intense vocals) and, just sneaking the award for best name of the evening from Mr van Ellis, Andrew Slaymaker. The result is, at times, a very thick barrage of sound that pummels you. At other points during the songs it calms down for a more chilled middle eight before kicking off again – almost exactly what you’d expect. They have come a long way from their Pennsylvania home to the UK on tour and they are a well rehearsed unit with some powerful amp-smashers in their armoury – but they seem to be peddling a formula that struggles a bit tonight. Maybe the crowd is weighted more towards the self-harmists than the skaters or maybe the set really is too samey. The latter is certainly heavily suggested when, on unleashing their first true riff of the set, we almost immediately see our first stage diver of the night (an admirable effort given that the stage is just a continuation of the floor but on the other side of the floor monitors) – it doesn’t take a lot of variation to instigate some excitement. The audience begin to loosen up a bit though. The occasional nod towards bands like Rise Against, in terms of the guitar licks at least, does wonders for the levels of enthusiasm and, eventually, the rabble goes home satisfied.