Friday Night: Whitechapel and Emmure at Fitzgerald's

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Whitechapel, Emmure Fitzgerald's January 11, 2013

While Houston's past three generations of metalheads gathered at Warehouse Live for sludge supergroup Down's biennial stop through town, the youngest generation --throngs of deathcore fans -- packed Fitzgerald's to the rafters to see three of the biggest names in the genre.

Since doors opened at 6 p.m. and we refuse on principle to arrive at a metal show before 8, Rocks Off missed The Plot in You and Obey the Brave entirely and saw only the final songs from metalcore stalwarts Unearth, who played to an already-full house despite their 7:45 start time. 7:45? What is this, Utah?

"Are you guys taking care of each other out there?" Emmure lead singer Frankie Palmeri asked the audience Friday night. It was a valid question The young crowd, packed wall to wall, got riled up early into Unearth's set and never dissipated So packed was Fitzgerald's upstairs stage that the merch booth had been moved out onto the front patio to accommodate the crowd.

Rocks Off has seen both headlining bands on a handful of occasions, but never on a stage quite so small and certainly not at this, the certain peak of both bands' careers. Emmure is on a third round of touring in support of Slave to the Game, their second-full length in as many years and their third to receive moderate commercial success. This tour also sees Emmure and Whitechapel headlining a tour featuring Unearth, a band both almost certainly would have opened for less than 18 months ago.

Metal promoters and tour sponsors are clever in this day and age, though, and band lineups are often less a reflection of status or seniority than current album cycles and critical saturation. Bands across the deathcore and metalcore genres -- long known for grueling tour schedules and heavy cross-promotion -- seem happy to oblige this newer convention, often completing headlining tours only to circle back a few months later in an opening slot.

While many deathcore bands are quick to distance themselves from their nu-metal roots despite the ever-present influence, Emmure seems quite comfortable embracing the association. Since the band was playing to a crowd young enough to have missed out on the bulk of nu-metal's origin, rise and quick demise, Palmeri's windbreaker and fitted cap Friday probably didn't have nearly the connotation it had for those of us in the crowd over 25.

The associations are more than skin-deep, though; Emmure's chugging rhythm section, frequent breakdowns and rapped lyrical interludes cement the connection. The distinct style, along with content inspired by comics and video games and titles like "She Gave Her Heart to Deadpool," for better or worse, serve to separate and distinguish Emmure from a very crowded field of contemporaries.

While Rocks Off couldn't help but flash backs to Family Values '97, the crowd's only concern -- especially once Emmure launched into their third song, "Demons with Ryu" -- was keeping their footing as the entire mass of people crashed and staggered around the room.

From then on Emmure rarely broke between songs for more than a moment to fiddle with equipment, or for Palmieri or guitarist Jesse Ketive to provoke the energetic crowd. The encouragement was probably largely unneeded as the undulating sea of bodies sent wave after wave of crowd-surfing kids crashing up and onto the stage only to have them hurdle back off into the masses.

Considering Emmure has probably spent entire tours on elevated stages and festival settings, they did an admirable job of dodging and ducking the ever-present interlopers looking to join them onstage. Only when one concertgoer lingered in front of a monitor for what seemed like an interminable period -- after at least his fifth trip to the stage in a matter of minutes -- did guitarist Mike Mullholland gently remind him to exit stage right with a solid shove of his foot.

As Emmure packed in their 11th song of the 40-minute set, we expected the crowd -- which had not stopped churning, even during the 15-minute interlude prior to the band -- to begin to tire. It's a pattern we've seen time and again at these early 6 p.m. shows: the crowd is often winded before the last band even sets foot onstage.

Friday it was not to be, and the crowd continued to hurdle themselves at the stage during "R2Deepthroat." At the end Palmeri implored us to "ask your girl what my dick tastes like," and we knew that our earlier Fred Durst allusion was more than a passing thought.

If the small stage upstairs at Fitz seemed crowded during Emmure and Unearth's sets, Whitechapel's addition of a second rhythm guitarist shrank it to comical proportions. The last time Rocks Off saw Whitechapel play was at House of Blues in 2011 on a stage at least three times this size, and even then they seemed to take up the entire space.

Rocks Off was quick to catch our beers as they began to walk themselves off the top of the bass cabinets to the side of the stage during Whitechapel's sound check. If Emmure had been loud, then the Tennessee sextet threatened to blow the back wall of Fitzgerald's straight off onto White Oak Drive.

The band stormed onstage and launched into title track from debut The Somatic Defilement in a matter of seconds. "We're taking you back to the old school," growled lead singer Phil Bozeman.

It might sound funny coming from the lead singer of a band barely past its sixth birthday, but it's hard to argue that Whitechapel's uncharacteristically static lineup has not grown and developed significantly in those six years, not to mention four full-length records.

After a disappointing and largely filler-laden 2011 EP, Whitechapel returned in 2012 with a highly praised self-titled effort that saw more cohesion and a move away from the overuse of breakdowns and -- with our sincere apologies to Deftones' Chino Moreno -- a reliance on guest vocals that slogged down A New Era of Corruption.

Not content with the still-steady stream of kids flying on and off the stage, Bozeman stopped after Whitechapel's third song to divide the crowd down the middle of the venue for a "Wall of Death," encouraging the two sides to rush each other upon the band's launching into "I, Dementia."

At risk of showing our age, while we were quite happy to find Houston's metal scene hasn't forgotten how to get rowdy, and having already seen two very young-looking concertgoers ferried out of the sea of bodies in various states of disrepair, the second time Bozeman called for the room to split seemed stupidly excessive to us. With the overcrowded space and inexperienced crowd, a repeat performance seemed to be inviting trouble and encourage ill intentions, which in our opinion should never happen in a pit.

All involved seemed to survive and Whitechapel surged into another 30 minutes, thankfully keeping their recent lackluster cover of Pantera's "Strength Beyond Strength" to themselves. Perhaps they knew Phil was in town and deferred out of reverence.

The band offered the cursory exit and re-entrance before ending the night with an encore performance of "Possibilities of an Impossible Existence," which the crowd thoroughly ate up.

If our focus on the crowd seems excessive, it was because it was hard not to notice. One of our friends -- herself a longtime extreme metal concert goer -- commented as we exited the show that she couldn't remember seeing such a young or dangerous crowd even at other deathcore shows.

"They were nervous and a lot of them shouldn't have been up at the front," she said. "And for fuck's sake, stop asking me to 'put you up.' I'm a fucking girl and you've been on that stage seven times already. There's etiquette!"

We filed out of Fitz, past the throngs of kids -- most still flashing wild grins -- waiting by the bands' trailers hoping to get a glimpse of someone... anyone. That was us once, at this very bar even -- she less removed than I -- and we couldn't help but smile knowingly.

Personal Bias: Whitechapel guitarist Alex Wade is a prolific tweeter and along with Jordan Buckley of Every Time I Die (@JordanETID), one of our favorite metal guys on Twitter. Follow him at @alexchapel.

The Crowd: Complete disregard for "The Gutter Rule" from PCU. Totes bummed about the first week back at school after the Christmas break and really hoping their parents don't find out they aren't really spending the night at Madysen's house.

Overheard In the Crowd: "Oh hey! Hey! there's your shoe! Oh no, that guy threw it again!"

Random Notebook Dump: Big thanks to the bar manager who insisted on going to get our beer of choice from the bar downstairs for no other reason than the fact he is an awesome bartender.

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