July 11, 2014
Around the time Touché Amoré was getting ready to close its set with a visceral rendition of “~,” the opening song from its phenomenal Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me, I got a text message from a friend of mine who was catching Beck’s set at the Uptown Amphitheatre. The genre-hopping pop singer, he said, was in the middle of “Debra,” a silly but seriously funky tune that’s one of my favorites from Beck’s catalog. My friend was, in essence, gloating: I had chosen to see Touché Amoré, an intensely loved and meaningful punk band, instead, and he was attempting to iterate that I had chosen poorly.
There’s a romance to punk, mostly of its tendency to be, for young turks, life-affirming. And watching people fight their way to the front of a sea of bodies just to scream a single lyric within earshot of Touché Amoré frontman Jeremy Bolm is something of a life-affirming experience in itself, to say nothing of how life-affirming it was for everyone in the crowd to be seeing this band in the flesh.
Touché Amoré seems to grasp that. The Los Angeles quintet’s music is loud, fast and anthemic — but leaves space for prettier moments, too — and delivered in frenetic, tightly wound bursts. Still, pay special attention to Bolm, and you’ll notice he’s cleancut and constantly smiling, as if he knows his band would be nothing without who it’s playing for.
“They take this stuff seriously because this, right here, matters. You matter,” Pitchfork’s Ian Cohen writes in his review of Touché Amoré’s most recent record, Is Survived By. “And within these songs is the struggle in realizing that self-esteem comes more from estimable acts than outside validation.”
New Jersey’s Dads — normally a duo but performing at Amos’ as a trio — kicked off the night to a friendly, if lukewarm, crowd. Which is unfortunate: Dads’ rich reinvigoration of classic Midwestern emo puts it at the forefront of the current “emo revival” wave. The band raced through its Pretty Good EP, including massive renditions of the moving “My Crass Patch” and “No We’re Not Actually,” and cuts from 2012 longplayer American Radass, but only set closer “Groin Twerk” seemed to receive more than a polite response. (The most applause the band got all night? After Bradley told a story about fixing a toilet in Amos’ green room. Ouch.)
Perhaps the chilly reception could be traced to wonky sound: A bass-heavy mix drowned out many of guitarist Scott Scharinger’s more intricate — and technically impressive — patterns, and drummer John Bradley’s vocals were often buried by his fierce playing. (Hey, it’s hard out there for a singing drummer, especially one who plays as hard as Bradley.)
Tigers Jaw fared considerably better with the crowd. (Not to mention the sound system, though Brianna Collins’ keyboards were often less than audible.)
The quintet seems an odd tour pairing with Touché Amoré and Dads, a Technicolor pop-rock sore thumb — think Fleetwood Mac, but with more pop-punk palm mutes — sticking out among dour, heavier bands that aren’t quite as radio-friendly, even if that forum isn’t going anywhere near Tigers Jaw. To wit: The set was a giant singalong from the opening chords of “The Sun” until the end of its near-45-minute set. Again, there might be an explanation: Tigers Jaw has Charlotte ties, as local label Tiny Engines released its first record. And a good portion of Tigers Jaw’s set seemed to draw from its back catalog: Set highlights “I Saw Water” and “Never Saw It Coming” came from its 2009 self-titled record. Two songs from this year’s Charmer, too, charmed: the vibrant “Hum” and the thick “Distress Signal.”
But despite the peppy tempos, Tigers Jaw was a little lacking in energy. That can be problematic: Many of Tigers Jaw songs work the same riff throughout their entirety, with only small variations throughout — maybe a slight chord inversion or a harmonized lead riff. When it works, like on “The Sun” or on peppy closing number “I Saw Water,” the end result is a song that’s all hook. But when it doesn’t, Tigers Jaw is a little underwhelming, not a magnetic enough band to offset an occasionally flatlining set.
Touché Amoré suffered from no such sag, bombarding the audience with vigorous, three- or four-song bursts of its wiry hardcore, pausing only briefly every few songs or so to change guitars (there were a lot of guitar changes) and catch its breath. Its near hour-long set was taut and efficient, with gaps spackled by pre-recorded ambient sounds and incidental music. The setlist drew from each of its three LPs, with an emphasis on its two latest, 2013’s buzzed-about Is Survived By and 2011’s Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me. (Though “Honest Sleep,” a mid-set song taken from 2009’s … To the Beat of a Dead Horse, was a huge crowd-pleaser.)
Though Amos’ floor was only about half-full and the balconies were closed, Touché Amoré still played with the same intensity I saw when I caught them a few years back in a basement a fraction of the size. Of course, the band’s a much bigger draw, now, replete with stage hands and guitar techs and touring band trappings. But little else has changed: Elliot Babin’s drum fills still cut sharply. Guitarists Nick Steinhardt and Clayton Stevens still boomed big chords and traded slashing post-punk riffs. Bolm still fed keenly off the crowd’s energy, and the crowd reciprocated, hanging on the wiry frontman’s every hoarsely shouted word and shouting along when he turned the microphone to them. (I’m pretty sure he only sang about five or six words on the band’s blistering version of “Home Away From Here.”)
Indeed, the crowd was the most enthusiastic the band had ever played to in the Queen City, Bolm noted.
“No bullshit,” he panted toward the end of the set, his voice raw from a night of shouting, “this is the best crowd all tour.” Coming from anyone else, it would have seemed little more than an empty platitude, something to say to placate a crowd. But, of course, Bolm was beaming, adding that Touché Amoré has “a crush on the Carolinas.”
He recalled the last time the band played Amos’, as an opening act for Circa Survive — a far cry, he said, from the basement shows in the Carolinas Touché Amoré was playing just a few short years ago.
“This venue is so big, but you guys made it feel not so big,” Bolm said, grinning from ear to ear. Put another way: This, right here, matters. You matter.
As set closer “~” built to its cathartic climax, Bolm shoved his mic into the crowd for a singalong to the song’s final lines, a sort of : “If actions speak louder than words / I’m the most deafening noise you’ve heard / I’ll be the ringing in your ears / That will stick around for years.” In the ensuing rush to the front, I got kicked in the head by a careening stage diver. When he fell, I helped pick him up. The kid smiled, patted me on the back, and went back up.
I texted my Beck-seeing friend when I got back on the train. I countered his tale about seeing “Debra” with my own story about getting kicked in the head. I told him I think I came out ahead in the end.