As Cities Burn

support Chasing Traits + Violet + The Elijah
author DR date 26/07/12 venue The Sugarmill, Stoke, UK

One of the biggest problems with your favourite bands being located in America is that chances to see them are usually few and far between. Especially with As Cities Burn, who called it quits for the second (and what I thought to be final) time in 2009. Even when they announced a few reunion dates across America, it wasn't something I was getting particularly excited over. And then they announced they were coming to the UK. Well, there was not a chance that I was going to this miss this gig. It would have been ideal to catch them on the Birmingham date the previous night, but alas, fate conspired and it had to be on 26th in Stoke instead - which, by the way, just happened to be my birthday!

We were running late anyway, and due to some parking difficulties wound up even later, meaning we missed the first support act, Chasing Traits, entirely. (Sorry guys!)

Violet

We arrived in time to catch most of Violet's set - four or five songs, anway. They played exactly the kind of music Rise Records was signing left, right and centre a few years ago: The standard scene band format, including a singer, screamer, and a synth player. It would be unfair to judge Violet too harshly on their performance, as they certainly didn't sound terrible, but they were plagued with sound issues (something that the following band also suffered with). The guitars and synth lacked any prominence in the mix whatsoever; arguably their 'atmospheric' style ala Of Machines, early Oceana etc, didn't help. But mostly you just couldn't understand what was being said by either vocalist. Even when the music had stopped and it was just the vocalists talking, mentioning something about merch, the sound was muffled and generally inaudible. However, despite these problems it was still a relatively impressive performance. They put a lot of energy into the show - the members even kept bumping into each other - and were always willing to interact with the crowd. The most redeeming facet of their performance, though, was their 'clean' vocalist who, honestly, has an amazing set of pipes. Seriously, I'm talking Jonny Craig-esque. Not only were his clean vocals soaring effortlessly as his range seemed to have no limits, but his transitions from the angelic melodies to the aggressive screams were impressively crisp. What's more, he didn't even seem to tire throughout the performance. Overall, Violet aren't exactly the kind of band I'll be rushing to check out further, but their live show certainly showed they have promise.

7

The Elijah

Next up were The Elijah. Much like Violet, they were a band who took the more atmospheric aproach to soundscapes, only decidedly more 'metal'. Disappointingly, The Elijah got off to a terrible start with their introduction song; a monotonous chug fest that lacked any real purpose or direction. Although their performance did improve slightly after, and their shoegaze approach to metal occasionally rendered a solid crescendo, their performance was a little middle of the road for me. The singer and screamer seemed like they had solid pipes, but due to the messy sound they were largely inaudible also, even when they were interacting with the crowd. The musicianship was a bit repetitive, and the only real energy the screamer brought was stepping back and forth as he pointed towards himself and then the crowd, or standing square in the middle of the stage, arms spread, head thrown back, as if he's ready to be taken aboard a spaceship. Maybe their sound is one that relies heavily on subtleties, but when the sound was so bad for them that no such subtleties were being rendered, not much else was on offer.

6

As Cities Burn

As I've grew up and my music taste has changed, one of the few, if only, constants in my taste has been As Cities Burn. As they've evolved over the years, they've not only progressed in sound, but have managed to offer three genuinely excellent releases as they've done so. The chance to see these guys was not one I was ever going to miss, and my child-like excitement began to intensify as the four members of As Cities Burn took to the stage. A few minutes were spent tuning, tinkering with sound levels, and asking the audience for anti-bacterial handwash, before they catapulted into the thrilling opener "This Is It, This Is It"; by the time they entered the second verse it became clear: This is a band in top form.

Perhaps if they had come over circa 2008 there would have been more people in attendance. But, as it was, the crowd had about 50 people there, if that. We're all focused towards the stage as the opener plays out, and the infectious efforts of "Errand Rum" and "Petty" following vibrate throughout this tiny venue. Just as easily as they sped things up, the energy is slowed for the magnificent "Contact", which is easily one of the night's highlights. The collective musicianship is gorgeous as it creates delicate and spacious soundscapes, but the song's main focus is on the individual brilliance of Cody, especially at the end of the song, when it's him that brings the finest moment as his passionate a capella vocals resound throughout the room.

The only downside to the night was the crowd. Not that we were really giving that much away anyway - apart from a small section who were charmed by the charisma of guitarist Chris Lott - but midway through the set I began to notice a few people leaving. This didn't seem to faze the band, though, as they were all smiles from the first moment until the last. There's no superficiality, no lights, and the only real interaction with the crowd is the occasional "Thank you" and a brief mention that they need to sell merch in order to get home. There is a sincerity about their performance, a gratitude that thousands of miles away from their homeland people have come out to listen to their music.

The aggressive efforts of "84 Sheepdog" and "Empire" towards the second half of the set are expectedly awesome and perfectly placed to counterbalance the slower, melodic efforts of "Clouds" and "Capo". The epic "Pirate Blues" is a great choice for a closer, as there's a quiet poise before an explosive climax at the end of the song - the band even drew the quiet out just long enough for the crowd begin to applaud before launching into a final crescendo.

The only word to describe the performance is 'flawless'. It was as assured and as tight as you would have expected from a band this experienced and talented. Perhaps if we in the crowd were a little more lively, or at least responsive, it could have been a truly momentous evening. This is a minor complaint though, because unless they surprise us all and announce they're planning on writing more material together, this could conceivably be the only time As Cities Burn grace these shores - and they certainly didn't underwhelm. The form they were in, if they had the time to add "Timothy" on the end it would have been perfect!

Setlist:

  • 1. This Is It, This Is It
  • 2. Errand Rum
  • 3. Petty
  • 4. New Sun
  • 5. Contact
  • 6. Made Too Pretty
  • 7. Empire
  • 8. Clouds
  • 9. 84' Sheepdog
  • 10. Capo
  • 11. Pirate Blues

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