Underoath House of Blues January 23, 2013
It looks like all of the members of Underoath finally decided to quit at the same time. The Florida metalcore turned post-hardcore outfit has had no less than 15 people fill its ranks in its 15-year history, leaving the current iteration with no original members -- a feat typically reserved for classic-rock bands touring well past their prime.
And while keeping track of the band members, past and present, may be difficult, finding a member of their rabid and dedicated fanbase is not. So when Underoath announced a farewell tour late last year, the tickets were a lock to sell out.
Formed in 1997 and riding the crest of '90s emo and post-hardcore with it's commercial swell into the early '00s, Underoath finally shored up a concrete lineup in 2003 prior to the release of critical and commercial coming-out party They're Only Chasing Safety.
The sextet would remain unchanged through the next three records, albums which jettisoned any lingering ideas of a static genre -- as the band embraced more post-hardcore influence -- yet never seemed to alienate Underoath's ever-growing fanbase.
That devoted crowd was out en masse at House of Blues Wednesday night to bid farewell to a band that is largely responsible for giving many Gen-Y listeners their first dose of heavy-metal music. Despite that somber note, the vibe was largely upbeat in keeping with Underoath's persona. Despite being a suitably heavy band, there has always been a constant tone of sincerity and upbeat swagger to Underoath's music, and never is this more obvious than at their live shows.
The band, sharing the stage with a battery of strobes and light rigs, erupted onto the stage with "Breathing In a New Mentality," a song that highlights the timing structures and focus on percussion that would help define the band in its twilight years.
The crowd, the absolute fullest in memory for a House of Blues show -- much less for an average Wednesday night in January -- swelled and screamed along from the first bar and did not seem to let up for the remainder of the night. There would be no pit because there was simply never room in the sea of bodies.
A few left out of the initial mass -- milling in the back outside the crush of the crowd -- rushed into the fray head long when Spencer Chamberlain announced "Reinventing Your Exit," pushing and pulling themselves past the people standing in the back of the mob. The mass churned through songs from the bands last two releases, far more crushing than previous efforts, vocals never clean, tempo never wavering from full-bore.
On "In Regards To Me," the band brought out additional percussion to carry the load on a song that seemed almost a love note to bands like Converge and Botch. And this is Underoath at its very best: deftly managing to be of the moment while interweaving very obvious nods to their predecessors -- direct and otherwise -- all the while injecting their own sincere take.
A band containing no members from its first two recordings and that has lost two key vocalists in its existence does have to tiptoe around its discography a bit, and key songs from Define the Great Line, featuring departed drummer Aaron Gillespie on vocals, were noticeably absent.
More to the point, during one rare lull in the action, an audience member cried out "Walking Away" -- a track off the band's second EP. "We aren't gonna play that, I'm sorry man," replied Chamberlain, seemingly genuine in his apology. "You know how it is."
As the crowd and the band seemed to contemplate this, Chamberlain turned his gaze downward. "You look just like Chris Dudley," he said to someone in the crowd, just on the other side of the barricade -- speaking about the band's longtime keyboardist. "You should come up here and trade places."
Sure enough, up he came -- who wouldn't given the invitation -- and shook hands with band members before being offered a spot to the side of the stage. "You don't have to stay there if you get bored. You can't hear anything back there man, believe me."
On that note, House of Blues solidified its claim as one of the best venues in Houston in regards to sound production. Bands like Underoath are never easy to make shine: bass can sound muddy and indistinct yet still manage to overwhelm the rest of the band. Even off axis, standing at the main doors, the band sounded excellent, something not many mid-size -- and certainly few large arenas -- can claim.
As the band took the stage for their three-song encore, you could see people crush in from the usually busy smoking patio, the audience abuzz to take in the last few moments of what has been Underoath.
If Underoath finally evolved past their "Taking Back Sunday on steroids" cloak on Define the Great Line, they were happy to carry on one token in the form of the ever-pressing and heartfelt lyrical tone in songs like "Writing on the Walls." In this moment, Spencer Chamberlain's vocals were hardly necessary as the entire crowd seemed to chant every line along from start to finish, this time far louder than they had before, certainly sensing the urgency.
Appropriately Chamberlain and Company saved "A Boy Painted Red Living in Black and White" for these last moments. Bellowing along with the crowd "Tonight's your last chance to do exactly what you want to, and this could be my night, this is what makes me feel alive..." Self-awareness is nothing if not a musician's greatest weapon.
In this moment -- and throughout the night -- Underoath seemed to happily embrace their demise, fully aware of the dignity in going out on their own terms. Knowing full well their music has always been meant for these long, slow but necessary goodbyes -- a musical ode to overcoming that torturous high school break up, cathartic in its pain.
The mood at House of Blues seemed to follow the band, this group of people, happy to have the chance to say a bittersweet goodbye to something so seminal in their lives. Happy to holler along one last time to these songs that had such profound effects on them long before tonight.
Personal Bias: I've probably unfairly judged Underoath ever since I downloaded The Changing of Times in college because someone said they sounded like Converge. That person was a damn dirty liar.
The Crowd: As mixed as metal shows get: Beards here, scene kids there, very high female count. You get the distinct feeling many in attendance have "outgrown" Underoath musically but came to show reverence to their first crush.
Overheard In the Crowd: "I missed this whole scene. I just figured I would could come check them out since it's their last show. I can always just go get a drink across the street" (at Dirt Bar)
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Random Notebook Dump: It's hard not to get chills when a band cuts sound and lights and the whole crowd begins softly chanting "Drowning in my sleep, I'm drowning in my sleep..."