I've lived in Lawrence, Kansas for just over a year now, and one of the things I was most excited about when moving here was the number of concerts that come through the area. With three concert venues within a half-mile triangular area, there's a show happening just about every night, some good and some bad. One of the good ones hit a mid-sized bar called The Jackpot in early October and featured a whopping six-band lineup. Celebrating the tenth anniversary of O God the Aftermath, Norma Jean and friends tore the house down - almost literally.
As the initial sound check of the night was concluding, a small crowd had already begun to gather to check out the local support for the tour. Having a band called 34 playing the same show as a band called 68 is interesting, but they proved to be a decent opener. They didn't seem to be a Christian act, but members of the band are apparently former members of Flee the Seen and Saved By Grace, so there might still be some Christian influence. Nothing about their setlist or songs proved to be memorable, but their metalcore sound got the crowd warmed up really well (and their bassist, Erich Thomas, was enjoyable to watch, as he kicked his band members mid-song and took off the bass, held it by the neck, and just slapped the heck out of it). The official opener to the tour, however, was Australian outfit Belle Haven, featuring some very tall individuals. Playing a set of songs from their recently-released full-length album, Everything Ablaze, they brought a lot of energy and ferocity that was really surprising. The show got really good when the next band took the stage, though.
When Belle Haven was finished performing, a set of roadies began bringing up a bunch of handmade instruments, signaling that it was just about time for Solid State Records sophomore The Ongoing Concept. The band's most recent album, Handmade, is an eclectic beast of an album, mixing many different sounds and influences into one cohesive set of songs. Without flinching, the band jumped right into Handmade's opening track, "Amends." The unsuspecting audience - several members of which I heard mention that they weren't familiar with the band - immediately got into it. They jumped right into the raucous "Unwanted," one of the album's heaviest songs. The crowd was on fire. Following was the very first track from the debut album, Saloon, "Let's Deal the Cards Again," which naturally led straight into the first actual song of the album, "Saloon." Amidst the pummeling sound, the band introduced the keyboard for the first time in their set. It's an unexpected twist, for sure, if you were new to the band, but it works oh-so-well in the context of the song (and album, for that matter). Saloon's "Class of Twenty-Ten" was next, followed by the band's very first single with Solid State, "Cover Girl." Urging the listener to be creative and not just "a print of someone else's painting," it's an appropriate song for the band, as they aren't ones to copy what others are doing in the scene. Mid-song, vocalist Kyle Scholz grabbed a stand-alone tom and a couple drum sticks and jumped into the middle of the crowd and started banging on it along to the song. He came back up as the band finished with the southern rock-inspired "Soul." With a chorus and "sing-along" session that says "I sold my soul to the devil," it's really a track that requires some explanation or a reading of the entirety of the lyrics. However, it still served as a solid closing track for their set.
A fairly lengthy set change took place, as more people started to gather in for what were probably more familiar names for them. The next two bands featured very familiar lead vocalists, albeit with relatively new bands. The first of which was Sleepwave, led by former (er...current again, I guess) screamer from Underoath, Spencer Chamberlain. I wasn't, and still am not, very familiar with the band, but their live show was enough to make me interested to check out their 2014 debut album, Broken Compass. For those who are also not familiar with the band's music, it's very similar to Underoath's last record, Ø (Disambiguation), with a lot of Nine Inch Nails influence. It's not a terribly odd combination, and it works really well for the band, who seemed to really know each other well. It's a little different than you might have expected from a band that Chamberlain leads, but if you liked Disambiguation, then Broken Compass may be right up your alley as well.
Now, as much as I was excited about Norma Jean's show, I have to admit that I think I may have been most excited about what was to follow Sleepwave. Having never seen a Josh Scogin live show before, but seeing and hearing about it on the internet, I knew that if I ever got the chance, I was in for a real treat. The Chariot's break-up was only made more sad by the fact that I never got to see them perform. So learning that '68 was on this tour was just the thing I needed to hear. Knowing it was a two-piece hardcore/grunge/southern rock/alternative outfit, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. And I'm still not sure how to explain it. Foregoing the traditional "drummer in the back, guitarists and vocalist up front, all facing the front" stigma, drummer Michael McClellan took stage right, facing stage left, as Scogin set up a microphone facing McClellan (and, surprisingly, Dan Smith and Kris Rochelle of the band Listener, who were taking up residence nearby in the audience). The duo definitely played a couple of songs from their debut In Humor and Sadness, such as "Track 1" and "Track 4," but I feel like a lot of it was ad-libbed. The two seemed to play off of each other, even possibly messing with each other or playfully trying to get the other one to mess up. McClellan played the drums harder than I've ever seen anyone play, and Scogin channeling lead, rhythm, and bass through one guitar is something I didn't know was possible. It sounded like a full band with just two people and no backing tracks, and it's extremely impressive. I really can't do the show full justice, but if you get a chance to see '68 live, on this tour or any other time, please do it. I fully advocate their live show. And the album is good as well, if you like The Chariot and Nirvana.
After a monstrous set by '68, it was time for the main event. What started as a thrash metal band called Luti-kriss, fronted by Josh Scogin, slowly evolved over the years into the giant known today as Norma Jean. It's hard to believe O God the Aftermath, which coincidentally was also lead vocalist Cory Brandan's first record with the band, came out ten years ago. Admittedly, I had a very hard time getting into it when I first heard it. I actually didn't even come around to liking the band until the following year's Redeemer came out, but I've grown up, and O God the Aftermath is a mammoth of an album that rightfully deserves a ten-year anniversary celebration. The band came onto the stage with flashing lights as they jumped right into the opening track, "Murderotica: An Avalanche In D Minor." With such power behind them, the flashing lights actually went out, and if it weren't for the room's small lights scattered throughout on the walls, the band would've been rocking out in complete darkness. Regardless, the show went on, as if nothing was wrong. The lights stayed off for a couple of songs, but the band's tour manager was on it, getting things fixed by the third song, "Bayonetwork: Vultures in Vivid Color." As they soared through the album, track-by-track, it became clear that this album is near timeless, sounding as good as, if not better than, it did ten years ago. After "Disconnecktie: The Faithful Vampire," Norma Jean pulled out what was a b-side for the album, called "ShaunLuu." Dedicated to a friend of the band who lost his battle with cancer, it can be an emotional song, but the band seemed understanding that they'll see him again one day in Heaven, so it also serves as a victorious tribute to the friend. Album single "Absentimental: Street Clam" followed, as the crowd was well into several mosh pits and crowd surfing. And that thing I mentioned about almost tearing down the house? Well, the ceiling, which was roughly seven feet above the stage, kept getting hit all night long by various band's hands and guitars, and finally, during Norma Jean's set, one piece of the ceiling just dropped, exposing insulation and everything, which Brandan tried to fix with duct tape. Eventually, a couple songs later, the onslaught of metal just tore it down again. The band wound down with the final song of the night, "Scientifiction: A Clot of Tragedy / A Swarm of Dedication," and the crowd, sweaty and tired (and possibly some drunk, like the guy who spilled beer on me... thanks, man), wasn't ready for it to be over. As the band exited the stage, a couple people attempted the "one more song" chant, which gained a little momentum, but didn't pick up super well. There were rumors that other shows on the tour got an extra treat in the form of "Memphis Will Be Laid To Waste," performed by Norma Jean along with Josh Scogin, and no doubt this is what the crowd was hoping for. For one reason or another, the soundman just turned on house music, the crowd started to dissipate, and we got no encore. It's hard to complain, though, given the show we were given, and the crowd definitely got the twenty dollars' worth.
What a night. Not including time between sets, the crowd on that chilly, early October evening got about four hours of music slammed into their ears and faces, some of whom had been waiting months for this show. Concerts of this magnitude and strength don't come around too often, and these bands lived up to the fullest potential. As of my writing this, there are only a couple weeks left of this show, and if you've been on the fence about going, this is my official shove to get you onto the side that's going. I can't recommend it enough. So pull out your copy of O God the Aftermath, memorize it, and have a blast. Then just sit back and wait for their next album, coming in 2016 on Solid State Records.-- Scott Fryberger, 10/9/15
Norma Jean Set List
01. Murderotica: An Avalanche In D Minor
02. Vertebraille: Choke That Thief Called Dependence
03. Bayonetwork: Vultures in Vivid Color
04. Dilemmachine: Coalition, Hoax
05. Coffinspire: Multitudes, Multitudes in the Valley of Decision!
06. Liarsenic: Creating a Universe of Discourse
07. Disconnecktie: The Faithful Vampire
09. Absentimental: Street Clam
10. Charactarantula: Talking To You and the Intake of Glass
11. Pretendeavor: In Reference To A Sinking Ship
12. Scientifiction: A Clot of Tragedy / A Swarm of Dedication
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