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Tuesday June 27th, 2023 at Record Bar in Kansas City, MO
Alesana, Limbs, Vampires Everywhere, & Across the White Water Tower

I've been here before. No, I don't mean the Record Bar (but I have), but rather at the edge of the stage, watching bands like these. But it's been a while and I figured I was due a refresher.

Twenty years ago, I wrote in Too Much Rock that certain names were reserved for screamo bands. I cited two of my favorites as examples: The Receiving End of Sirens and The Plot to Kill the President. New York's Across the White Water Tower continue that lineage as if no time had passed at all. The quartet is fronted by Matt Sosa. He's a slight kid with Myspace bangs and a long wallet chain. He's active as can be, dancing and spinning around the stage, and jumping on and off a small riser placed at the stage's apron. And he wanted the audience to be active too. The number of times he shouted, "Get the f*ck up!" or simply "Kansas City!" was unknowable. But not everything about the act was familiar territory for me. It used to be that clean vocals were the norm, with the screams coming from an overemotional, red-faced guitarist. ATWWT flips that script. Sosa's vocals were usually shrieked or growled. His delivery is borrowed from extreme metal, possibly qualifying the band as metalcore – the distinction between the genres is a sticking point for those stuck on taxonomy. The clean vocals came from bassist Myles Weinfeld. Interesting. The foursome was completed with help from guitarist Evan Fortgang and drummer Stephen Feuer. The band filled its allotted half-hour set with six songs – the first three being new unreleased numbers, the final three taken from the band's 2022 full length. Pre-programmed electronica played between songs, as well as augmented the songs they performed. However, from my position against the stage, I heard little of it, but I could tell it added a pop buoyancy to closer "Reasons of Recall."

Across the White Water Tower were opening act on a package tour currently crossing the country, delivering the same show night after night. To accomplish this, spontaneity must be traded for optimization. Only repetition allows the roadies to quickly prepare the stage for each act, the tour's sound engineer to set each musician's in-ear monitors to pre-defined specifications, and the touring photographer to rush in at just the right moment to capture the reoccurring climaxes with a flash of his camera. Midway through the tour, this cast was already a well-oiled machine, allowing the second act to start only twenty minutes after the first finished.

White the opening act's set unfolded on expected lines, Las Vegas foursome Vampires Everywhere was full of surprises. Michael "Vampire" Orlando formed the band in Los Angeles fifteen years ago with a line-up that has long since blown up. Since then, Orlando has recruited numerous musicians for the project, including this tour's Jessie James Smith (drums), Michael "Ghost" Rodd (guitar), and Brandon Burke (bass). The three performers at the front of the stage strike a stunning pose. Tall, thin, attractive, big black hair, black tattoos, and black leather. A little rock & roll. A little glam. A lot of Steve Stevens. The band doesn't look like, or sound like, its touring compatriots, but pinpointing its sound is difficult as it traverses multiple genres brazenly. Considering the entire package (including the band's fixation with 1987 horror flick The Lost Boys), the foursome might best be described as a horror punk. Orlando frequently screams his vocals, though his clean voice is solid too. His banter was delivered with that back-of-the-throat DJ style known colorfully as puking. Though he didn't jump around the stage, he wasn't immune to shouting, "Kansas City!" before a solo or breakdown. Rodd's guitar is driving punk rock – no chugging, not metal, but with some occasional crunch just to throw everything into question. The bass and drums bounce, sometimes leaning into disco punk rhythms. Burke also provided backing vocals. And backing screams. In the end, the band is dark but not dour. The audience only got a quick 30-minute taste of the band during its eight-song set that expectedly ended with a cover of "Cry Little Sister" (from The Lost Boys soundtrack).

Between bands, I glanced at the merch tables that had taken over the back of the club – not just the usual corner with the riser, but both walls behind the sound booth as well. Merch keeps tours like this afloat. Especially in the small markets like Kansas City. There were the expected t-shirts and albums, but also shorts and signed drumheads too. There were lots of pretty pentagrams on Vampires Everywhere's merch, but my closet is full and my bank account empty.

Tampa's Limbs were up next. Like the previous act, the Limbs has a history. Multiple lineup changes (including swapping out lead singers), multiple hometowns, multiple names, multiple labels. It's been an eventful ten years for the band that currently lines up as Austin McAuley (vocals), Jordan Hunter (guitar/vocals), Tyler Martin (guitar), Chris Klumpp (bass), and Joey DiBiase (drums). The set started with McAuley asking the audience to give the band its undivided attention for the next 40 minutes. In my mind that's something to earn not ask, but the band did both. Limbs stood apart from its allies by adding emotional bits of post-hardcore to its sound. Halftime sections set danceable tempos that often built to big anthemic climaxes that culminated in DiBiase's double bass clicking away. The two guitarists offered few notey leads or solos, instead each played shifting chords that chugged along at pace. Some songs skipped the foreplay entirely, setting a mosh tempo immediately and never letting up. Regardless of approach, all songs were joyfully loud. McAuley's vocals were either clean or screamed. In closer "Coma Year" (the title track of the band's 2022 EP), they were straight up emo before being engulfed in pounding waves generated by the rest of the band. While the quintet didn't parade across the platform as previous acts had, it did move furiously about the stage. And like the other acts, each guitarist was equipped with a wireless rig, allowing for maximum mobility. Klumpp took that to an extreme, jumping into the crowd for a song. McAuley's banter wasn't quite as caustic as the opener's – instead he merely wanted the audience to get out their mobile phones, turn on their flashlights, and "Feel this f*cking chorus with me." I think the audience did.

As I watched the roadies do their work, I studied their laminates wistfully, remembering the late nights when we used to make them at Kinkos for small tours that only played VFW halls and community centers. None of those venues had a backstage, and there was no security, but we had laminates nevertheless. Thirty years later and not much had changed, except that for $100, fans could buy a personalized VIP experience that included meeting the headliner, the permission to watch the show from the side of the stage, and a laminate one's own. Of course, none of that mattered at RecordBar, though it probably did at other stops on the tour though. And as I noted, consistency is important on a tour like this.

It was 10:15 when Alesana began its set. This Raleigh band formed twenty years ago, has released five albums, has spent time on the Billboard charts, has over a million followers on Facebook, and I've never heard of it. Still, I was sure I knew what I'd find: gauged ears, neck tattoos, asymmetrical haircuts, wireless guitars, in-ear monitors, and those laminates. I expected a textbook screamo act. In the olden days, bands like this spent most of the set rolling around on basement floors with microphone cords wrapped around their necks. Sets were always short visceral affairs. While I knew this band were no longer kids, I expected only slight variations on the theme. I got something a lot different.

The stage was indeed chaos, with players moving around each other like they were running a picket fence offense. Everyone did, however, remain on their feet. The biggest motion man was secondary vocalist Dennis Lee. This part vocalist, part cheerleader was all over the stage and always bent over, face-to-face with the audience. His vocals were harsh, built on shrieks, screams, and squeals. Guitarists Patrick Thompson and Jake Campbell traversed the stage as well, swapping places, standing tall at the stage's apron, and delivering twin leads reminiscent of Iron Maiden's Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Bassist Shane Crump was just as mobile, taking his turn on the elevated platform like the others. Drummer Jeremy Bryan was immobile, thus forced to be content only playing galloping rhythms. Frontman Shawn Milke was similarly tethered to his spot, saddled with both lead vocal and guitar duties. His vocals were clean and unexpectedly high, combining with the rest of the musicians in interesting ways. Sure, there was screamo – vicious, pounding, double bass and breakdowns screamo – but there were other songs that pushed past post-hardcore to tease straight up pop, and others still that delivered vaudevillian, Dresden Dolls-styled theatricality. The latter two variations often relied on backing tracks for keyboards and strings. I wasn't expecting any of that.

The band's long 75-minute set contained all sixteen tracks from A Place Where the Sun Is Silent as well as a few older tracks added between that album's two movements. This 2011 release is a concept album inspired by Dante's Inferno, and its songs shift in mood and tone as required to tell the story. I found the changes between heavy and light, fast and slow, jarring, but the packed room of exuberate fans were completely on board for the narrative set. I believe that the audience danced, screamed, and clapped nearly as much as the band did. Although Alesana left the stage at 11:30 covered in sweat, holding their hands aloft in devil horns, it was only moments later that Dennis Lee returned – just without his soaked battle vest this time. He spoke to the audience while the rest of the band slowly returned to the stage, each of them grinning as they had decided on the encore without Lee. Once tipped off, Lee unleashed a hoarse screech that signaled "Murderer" from 2010's The Emptiness.

I packed up my camera gear after the encore, thanked all the bands, and then started my walk home at nearly midnight on a Tuesday. After I few blocks I had mentally cataloged each of the sets, recalling the familiar sights and sounds incorporated by each, the tropes honored, and the new influences each added. I thought about the growth of the genre and large package tours. I also thought about the varying degrees of disinterest each act had when it came to following the rules and expectations of hardcore generations past. Sure, I've been here before, but it wasn't like this. And that's a good thing for all of us.