with Miss May I, The Plot In You, Sirens and Sailors, A War Within
The Plaza Live – Orlando, FL • March 13, 2016
by Christopher Long
“Mr. Sunshine’s” smiley face peeked randomly through a slight cloud cover and mild, intermittent sprinkles, while birds sang and fresh-blooming flowers stretched out to kiss the sweet-smelling Florida sky. Yes, spring was in the air, and I was jazzed about the prospect of spending an evening surrounded by bright, energetic young people, brimming with peace, joy, hope and happiness. Ahh, the promise of rock and roll. “One senior’s ticket for tonight’s show, please!”
At just $20+ a head, the multi-band “Drop the Gloves Tour” was certainly priced affordably. Yet, despite advertised performances by a fistful of current kingpins, the 50-or-so pre-show early birds lined-up outside the 1,000+ capacity Plaza Live at 5pm comprised a considerably smaller flock than I had expected. Hence, he was easy to spot – the “complicated”-looking teenager standing near the venue entrance, modeling (with tremendous pride) a black T-shirt emblazoned with the huge white-print slogan, I Don’t Need a Fucking Savior. “Mr. Sunshine” immediately revealed his frowny face.
Proving quickly to be more about projecting a soul-assaulting mission statement than presenting a foot-stomping musical statement, the program kicked off promptly at 6:00 with Detroit’s own A War Within – energizing fans with potent portions of their newly-released independent record, Believe. To my personal sensibility, the fresh-faced collective was most effective when relying on melody and punch than when simply playing the cookie-cutter screamo game. Co-lead vocalist, Armando Castano, announced gleefully (more than once) during the 20-minute set that his mother was in attendance. This caused me to wonder if his mom would also be visiting the band’s merch table to purchase a T-shirt. And if so, would she choose the thought-provoking design that read, “I’ll Follow My Heart & My Soul Until I’m Fucking Dead,” OR, the rather adorable-looking option picturing a goat-horned cat with an upside-down cross. Just curious.
Sporting what could have been Safety Fire-inspired Hawaiian shirts and khaki shorts, the Rochester, New York combo, Sirens and Sailors added considerable angst-fueled energy to the mix at 6:40 – pelting disciples with a barrage of fiery briquettes from the band’s newest release, Rising Moon: Setting Sun. Frontman, Kyle Bihrle, connected easily with the audience, while the twin guitar work of Todd Golder and Jimm Lindsley was impressive, to be sure. Truth be told, I hadn’t witnessed authentic punk-style slam dancing in quite some time. This observation seemed to be also shared by the woman who was squeezed surgically into a grey bustier and black, strap-like leggings that formed leather pentagram shapes on both thighs. Holding court in the outdoor smoking section following the S-and-S set, the spikey-haired, blond 50-year-old preached proper mosh pit etiquette to attentive, wide-eyed newbies.
“I need you to jump, jump, jump!” commanded The Plot In You frontman, Landon Tewers, to the (still) scant crowd, as he led his four-piece force into the classic fan favorite, “Miscarriage.” Tewers further endeared himself by offering one million dollars to fans who would crowd surf. I didn’t notice any takers. The night’s apparent favorite of my two female high school-age companions, the Ohio-based collective leaned heavily on selections from the just-released album, Happiness In Self Destruction – tracks that included “Dear Old Friend,” “Take Me Away” and the set-closing, “My Old Ways.”
For a seasoned old school hard rock enthusiast like myself, Miss May I was the most personally satisfying act of the night. Possessing a bona fide “take no prisoners” metal-style approach, the gang from Ohio stormtrooped the Plaza Live stage at 8:10 – delivering a high-energy 40-plus-minute set that featured such turbo-charged fist-pumpers as “Trust My Heart” and “Relentless Chaos.” At one point, frontman and current YouTube metalcore poster boy, Levi Benton, declared his disdain for “music stealing” by announcing to his worshipers that the band’s latest release, Deathless, was available in the lobby for the bargain price of just $5. “We sell our CDs as cheaply as possible,” Benton confessed. “Now go out there and buy a fucking record!”
Contrary to the smidgens of online commentary suggesting that the tour was a co-headline affair, it was crystal clear (at least to me) that the night belonged to popcore stalwarts, Blessthefall. Following a painfully long delay, the Phoenix-based rock vets finally revved-up at around 9:30. Boasting a dozen spinning, multi colored lighting rigs, BTF staged an amazing-looking, state-of-the-art production. The molar-jarring hour-long set featured career-spanning selections – from such early classics as “Promised Ones” and “40 Days” to “Dead Air” – a favorite from the band’s 2015 offering, To Those Left Behind. And for his part, frontman Beau Bokan, was articulate and seemingly genuine – mixing it up, one-on-one with fans in the front row, while also taking time to (humbly) thank the 400-ish complicated teens for their years of support and for continuing to make his band’s dreams come true. Ahh, the promise of rock and roll.
Psst – hey kids! FYI, “Mr. Sunshine” says the emperor is naked. Just sayin’.