with mewithoutyou, The Drowning Men
House of Blues, Orlando, FL • August 19, 2011
Some bands have got the Mega Sound on their albums, using additional instrumentation and cranking up the vocals in the studio to make their records really POP! Out on the road, they strip it down to basics, preferring the bones to the meat of the music. Alkaline Trio are one such band on their average tour – with the three members holding down the fort alone onstage.
On this, their 15-year anniversary tour, they’ve stripped off an extra layer – playing a short acoustic set for the second half of their greatest-hits-filled set, as they do on their newest release Damnesia. The moshers and surfers get their kicks for the first hour, and then everyone – band included – are given a calm reprieve to allow the sweat to cool. For a room full of fans mostly in their 30s, who probably worked all day before the Friday night concert, it makes perfect sense.
Slightly Celtic rock music with a circus element (thanks to the digital organ playing of Gabe Messer) is what The Drowning Men dished out for the opening course. Singer/multi-instrumentalist Nato Bardeen – who sports an Errol Flynn mustache and wears a sailor’s cap – sounds like a unification of Win Butler and Joe Strummer and dance-twitches his way around the stage while switching between the guitar, the keyboard, the mandolin, and the theremin. Bardeen captivates, but the music doesn’t do much more than fill the air with sound for me.
For the second band, something unexpected happened. I can’t say if it was the band or the beer, but pockets of dancing fools opened up once mewithoutyou got going.
What a strange little tornado front man Aaron Weiss is. His thick framed glasses kept getting flung from his head as he thrashed about like a fish freshly plucked from the sea, and his shouting approach to singing was just as frantic as his bodily movements. Not to be outdone, drummer Rickie Mazzotta made the most of the limited area upon his stool and threw himself into every smash and bash.
As dissimiliar as the band is to Alkaline Trio’s streamlined pop punk – imagine Manchester Orchestra and At the Drive-In sharing DNA – the House of Blues crowd were steeping themselves in it.
A lot has happened in the 15 years that Alkaline Trio have sprinkled us with sweet-tasting declarations of gloom and doom. Off the top of my head: Napster spurred the digital music revolution; America became a vulnerable nation; gas prices went from $1/gal to nearly $4/gal; phones went from a way to connect, to a way of life; and a trio of metalheads in Arkansas, convicted of murder based on circumstantial evidence, spent those entire 15 years (and then some) in prison… until the morning of this little rock concert.
After ceremoniously tearing off the front of his amp, which had been spray painted with the words “Free the West Memphis Three,” singer/guitarist Matt Skiba tapped his chest as singer/bassist Dan Andriano declared “It’s a fuckin’ really beautiful day right now.”
“This song is for the West Memphis Three,” Skiba added. “It’s called ‘Prevent This Tragedy.’” Along with everyone from Henry Rollins to Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp, Alkaline Trio have been huge advocates for getting the word out about the story behind the WM3.
Keeping the momentum of emotions going for a few extra minutes, the next song – “Goodbye Forever” – was dedicated to the recently deceased Jackass star, Ryan Dunn.
As expected, the setlist was a greatest hits of sorts, with “Old School Reasons,” “Mercy Me,” and “Nose Over Tail” all getting air time – pleasing the dancefloor fans who spun the room into a flesh filled whirlpool. Even the opening bands got in on the action, watching from the sidelines, or – in the case of Gabe from The Drowning Men – running out to centerstage to shotgun a beer.
During the acoustic second half of the night, Andriano had a solo moment to play the underwhelming “I Remember a Rooftop.” “Clavicle” and the always thrilling “Radio” were campfire-ized brilliantly, but it was the celebratory carousel ride “Olde English 800” that elevated an already excellent show.
Another quick break, and the Chicago trio reemerged – and plugged back in – to reignite with “Crawl” and “‘97.” Unplugged is fine for a few songs, but Alkaline Trio is a band at its best when jacked in and cranked up.
Galleries of live shots from this show: Alkaline Trio•mewithoutyou• The Drowning Men ◼
Alkaline Trio: http://www.alkalinetrio.com ◼