By now, loyal Too Much Rock readers know my affinity for all-ages shows. So often, it's the kids who are doing the most interesting things in music – maybe not always the smartest things, but they're certainly the ones who don't care about the rules, genres, or marketing, and that can be exhilarating. An additional bonus is that all-ages shows tend to start earlier and thus get me home earlier. Unfortunately they're also populated entirely by kids and their awkward chaos. This show exemplified the all-ages experience.
At 6:30 I joined a queue that stretched from The Subterranean down North Avenue in Wicker Park. A light rain kept everyone looking down, forcing water droplets into the teased, sprayed and chunked hair of my not-quite peers. The atmosphere of the line was social, as patrons shared their curiosities about the venue itself – "Is it a bar or what?" "How big is it?" – and traded their stories of long drives from suburban towns unfamiliar to me. But mostly the banter was about Enter Shikari: favourite songs, how each person had waited for a year to see the band live, and speculation about the evening's set list informed by prolonged YouTube sessions. After about ten minutes in line, the doors opened allowing the audience to quickly push up the narrow stairway into the club.
Knowing the layout of the Subterranean helps, and while other attendees gaped at the two-level venue, and wondered where the best view might be had, I made a beeline for the front of the stage. I held that position (against my better judgement) until the final song of the night.
At 7:15 Chicago's Killed in the 1st climbed on stage. Singer Chris Kasianczuk is tall and lanky – a fact that was further emphasized when he climbed onto a wooden box that he had placed at the front of the stage. It was from this vantage point, and under a mass of dirty brown hair, that Kasianczuk would perform for the next 30 minutes. While the first song seemed to indicate the band was classic hardcore, soon other influences seeped out: Emo vocals traded time with the hardcore vocals, a guitar buried in effects betrayed a nu metal fondness, and by the end a post-grunge vibe took hold. While not all elements were present in each song, occasionally a song was unlucky enough to incorporate them all. All songs – but especially these ones – proved to be too long, thus diminishing the urgent punch the band tried to its music. The band's stage show was no shot of energy either; aside from a rare Kasianczuk pace, the rest of the foursome were motionless. The only hint of movement came when both bassist Jason Schaefer and guitarist Josh Niemiera threw their instruments onto the stage after completing the final number. Sorry guys, it's going to take more than that to get the crowd excited.
As I said, I go to a lot of all-ages shows. I'm used to seeing hands marked with restrictive black X's. Generally these are marks imposed by the club to prevent the kids from sneaking a beer, however at this show it seemed plausible that some of the X's might be the self-immolation of straightedge kids. I listened to a conversation where a teenage boy told a gal, whom he was obviously trying to impress, that he didn't smoke and that he was "probably never going to drink either." I had to chuckle at the grand pronouncements of an 18 year old. When he added that he would probably smoke marijuana though, and explained the medical issues surrounding both alcohol and marijuana, the girl did seem impressed. The now-smug boy proudly offered that he had done his research. Probably a research paper. I think I wrote that one in high school too.
At 8:10 Seize the Moment [nominally ///seizethemoment] began its set with a big hardcore punch. This Chicago quintet weren't altogether different than the opening act, it just seemed to do everything better: Vocalist Matt Nosek's screams were deeper and stronger. Drummer Mat Braken's drums were bigger with an impressive double bass blast. Guitarist Steve Bliss provided excellent contrasting rock vocals, while the smooth emo vocals of guitarist Tom Mikailin toned everything. The entire band – but bassist Dave Bobka in particular – moved about the stage well. This was a band that could have used wireless gear. Add in a simple light show provided by Home Depot work lamps, and Seize The Moment simply nailed its 30-minute set.
From my spot at the stage, I had little idea how packed the club might be. I only knew that the kids were casually trying to slide me out of the way, and work their way to the stage. Some were slyer about it than others, but by the time the headliner went on, the area in front of the stage was packed with four times the crowd that stood in that same area an hour earlier, and five times the amount that would have been comfortable. Many of those sardined around me were girls anxious to see the members of Enter Shikari whom they spoke of by first name. The girls were, however, not as interested in the previous acts if the conversation I overheard is indicative. "Did you see the way the lead singer kept staring me down?" "Yeah, he's creepy." For the record, I didn't think he was creepy – just appropriately intense.
Enter Shikari descended the spiral staircase onto the stage a bit after 9pm. From that point forward, the evening was a thrill ride – I thought I might die, but I enjoyed it immensely, and was immediately ready to do it again.
First and foremost the four member of England's Enter Shikari were energy. Each member was in constant motion. Vocalist/keyboardist Rou Reynolds climbed his keyboards, floor-punched the stage, dove into the audience, and walked on the hands of the audience to reach the crowd in the balcony above. Both bassist Chris Batten and guitarist Rory Clewlow were similarly rambunctious, but also set their instruments down to dance to the occasional electronic interludes – but more on that in a bit. Although typically anchored to a kit, even drummer Rob Rolfe found time to climb the lighting rig and hang upside down behind his drums. Unfortunately he didn't attempt to play from that inverted position, but certainly no one felt cheated by the band's stage show.
In hardcore, energy is just as important as music. I've been thrilled to see bands live who have spent their enter set with the microphone stretched out to the audience, and with guitarists sprawled across an unplayable drum kit. Enter Shikari didn't take it to such spazzcore levels, but the audience interaction and sloganeering was still there. Reynolds attempted to organize the audience to build a human pyramid during the set, exploring the crowd with, "This is what builds unity and trust." When the bouncers quashed that idea, Reynolds weakly protested that it wasn't dangerous, but soon returned to more acceptable band interactions such as trips into (and onto) the audience. Although he frequently leaned the microphone out to the crowd, it wasn't generally necessary – the audience knew all the words to all the songs, and were resolute to sing them as loudly as the house PA. Reynolds addressed the crowd personally, sharing the band's enthusiasm to have swum in Lake Michigan earlier that day, and even admitting that the band tasted the lake water to settle a dispute as to the lake's fresh or salt water status. Reynolds thanked the audience for coming to the show throughout the night, saying that in England kids seem content to wait for the pictures the next day on Facebook or to simply read about the show on the blogs. Reynolds exclaimed that shows like this one were "real" and then launched his band into another song. Bands don't interact with the audience like this at bars, this was a return to the all-ages matinee era of hardcore.
Of course during all this band interaction with the audience, I was getting killed. It began at the opening chord of the night when a very young girl was passed up through the crowd. Upon reaching the stage, she was pulled down on top of me by a friend (possibly her brother). The friend, I should say, had recently eased his way into my original spot, so now there were three people standing where there was once one. It was only ten seconds into the show, and I was squished and had already been kicked in the head. Throughout the night this would be repeated as crowd members surfed forward, reached the stage, and then dove back into the audience. There was a constant crush of audience members reaching to touch the band members, or get their hands on the microphone for a chorus. Thankfully I outweighed the typical audience member by 80lbs (thankfully?) and was able to push myself upright on occasion, otherwise I would have spent the entire night doubled over at the waist while my thighs were pressed into the stage. And the end of the night I would find bruises on my legs and knees, and a broken phone in my pocket.
While all the above elements are what made the show, presumably the audience were enticed to the show by the band's music. Enter Shikari have a somewhat unique sound that blends several genres. Reynolds' vocals are gruff and hardcore – nearly death metal. The vocals in the choruses (again by Reynolds or from Clewlow), however, are much smoother. Although a bit more extreme than your typical Fearless Records emo band, the variances aren't that interesting in themselves. The real oddity is probably due to geography. Enter Shikari's European home makes them keenly aware of the continent's predominate dance pop trends. As such, Enter Shikari's music is littered with techno-friendly euro-pop rhythms, breaks, and melodies. Synthesizer swells are ubiquitous in the band's music, and giant eruptions of dance rhythms quite common. Reynolds even called out the quaint, "During this next break, I want to see every raver on their WORST behaviour!" before one such explosion. While the audience was always ready to explode into motion, there was certainly no room around me for actual dancing.
Occasionally things went too far. Large breaks of pure techno were inserted into songs, allowing Clewlow and Batten to set down their instruments and dance about the stage awkwardly. While I felt almost embarrassed for the rhythmless English hardcore kids peacocking about the stage, I must say the players seemed to be happily lost amidst the wild cheers from the audience. Throughout this aberrant dance breaks, the girls next to me swooned as if they were watching Justin Timberlake on the Grammy's. This has to be a generational thing.
When the members of Enter Shikari stopped to catch their breath, I grabbed my camera and batteries, held them close to my chest, and leaned backward into the crowd so that it might part and let me out of the fray – I've learned this is the best method of escape in years of trial and error with politeness. I was shocked when I burst through the crowd after only bumping through six or seven rows of fans. The crush at the front of the stage was just that – at the front of the stage. Ten feet back there was open dance floor occupied by a few dancers, and then only spotty fans behind that dance pit. I hurried up the stairs where I easily found a spot on the balcony with a good view of the stage, then readied my camera for the band's final number.
After one last sweat-fuelled song that incorporated every element of the band's sound, the members of Enter Shikari again moved to the front of the stage to meet their audience. Through a wall of guitar feedback and sustained synthesizer squall, the band shook the stretched hands of the fanatical audience members. I skipped the hero worship, ran from the stifling hot club, and peered through the broken LCD on my phone to see if I could still catch the last direct bus home. 10pm? Definitely. I love all-ages shows.