Sensitive Yet Gut-Wrenching—Coheadliners Thrice and Circa Survive Play to an Adoring Audience

Both headliners were a mix of heavy and light music and the audience was a mix of guys and girls. There was a healthy dance pit that was as sporadically aggressive as the co-headliners were.

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This was the end of the line for this tour, and it showed. The bands seemed exhausted but ready to have a final night of fun. We started with a bunch of seemingly random strangers coming onstage to take selfies with Balance and Composure.

Similarly, during Chon’s last song, there was an onstage dancing flash mob. It was hilarious to see the members of the other bands plus some backstage crew bring out a couch, long table, and folding chairs during Circa Survive’s last song, and set it up right in front of the stage, acting like they were having a board meeting, only to have it be interrupted by Circa’s frontman Anthony Green jumping up on the table screaming and repeatedly elbow dropping the table before the “meeting” devolved into a group hug/wrestling match.

Photo by Brian Pfeffer // Chon

It’s like the sound effect you hear if you collect a hundred coins all at once when Mario Camarena does his tapping bit in “Story.” The childish, feel-good vibe of Chon felt like playing Paper Mario or Yoshi’s Story as a kid.

Their video game influenced music was accented by the Yoshi backpack Camarena wore. Erick Hansel, the other guitarist, was the only one who said anything into the microphone, and he didn’t say much, instead letting the music do the talking.

Chon Live
Photo by Brian Pfeffer // Chon

When Chon took the stage, we were encapsulated by a kind warmth that really made the shy nerd-staffed instrumental group stand out. Featuring two guitarists giving their best 100 percent of the time and the give-and-take from the rhythm section (both of whom also have the last name Camarena), Chon takes the listener on a rewarding journey.

One thing that makes them a little different from other instrumental metal and shred bands like Explosions in the Sky, Animals as Leaders, Pelican, or Polyphia is their consistent clean, neat, and compressed live sound. The constantly harmonious melodies and speedy tempos alternate with moments of joyful, toybox noises coaxed from their sparingly used guitar effects.

I noticed very nice use of dissonant chords, interesting progressions, and frequent arpeggios. The five-string bass player was all over the place, often even following quick descending scale lines from the two shred guitarists. Their second-to-last song, “Bubble Dream,” included memorable natural harmonics reminding me of Jaco Pastorius.

Photo by Brian Pfeffer // Chon

The drums and bass could easily carry this group on their own and my suggestion is that the two guitar players try not to fill up every single space with notes so we can appreciate the work of the rest of the band more often. The drummer from Chon absolutely destroyed all of the other percussionists of the evening, and their bass player was exceptionally talented, as well, making the bass players from Balance and Composure and Circa Survive look like they’d just finished their first lesson.

People in the audience were quick to use the word love to explain their feelings for the band. I have seen Chon labeled as a technical death metal band, but that doesn’t make any sense to me, because their tonality is joyful and dreamlike instead of dark and abrasive. On reddit, CHONofficial said, “We play jazz fusion/hip hop influenced goob rock. Lots of fast/loud guitar playing/drumming.” Check this band out and put them on your playlist.

Photo by Brian Pfeffer // Balance and Composure

The transition from Chon to the pervasively heartbreaking sound of Circa Survive was harsh. It would have made more sense for Circa Survive to follow Balance and Composure (the first band of the night) because the singer is basically the same as Anthony Green.

He even wore the same color and style of shirt. Whereas Green’s self-absorption may have manifested as egotistical and hypersensitive, Balance and Composure’s singer had a persona that seemed downright contrived and narcissistic and the band’s musicianship was not noteworthy.

Photo by Brian Pfeffer // Circa Survive

Circa Survive’s singer Anthony Green has a high-pitched voice that turned into a sneering, snarling, barking catharsis. After the first song’s final scream-o freak-out, he said, “I’m feeling really good right now.” By the time Circa Survive got through a few songs, someone got carried out on a stretcher, and Green said, “Some of you guys are dancing a little too hard.” Also, he kept saying, “fuck yeah,” after each song.

Photo by Brian Pfeffer // Circa Survive

I think the main draw for fans is that they vicariously experience the band’s heart-on-the-sleeve attitude, including emotional and physical outbursts featuring arm windmilling and hopping about the stage like a bunny. Anthony Green acknowledges that we’re all sensitive people. Later on in the set, he said, “I think it’s exceptional that these guys [the Myth staff] are handing out water right now.

For free. It sets you apart.” He really wanted to show that he cared about the audience and appreciated that they cared about him. At the end, Green said, “Thanks for being so nice to us,” again emphasizing that he appreciated people being nice and implied that we care about people being nice to us, too. I feel like this was an emotional thing to say.

I like listening to Anthony Green. He has great pipes, but I suspect he might have thrown out his voice a bit because it was the end of the tour and a lot of his high notes that are clean on the recording became screams. Show me someone whose voice can stand up to twenty shows in a month’s time without any strain and I will guarantee that they are either a cyborg or a member of an advanced alien race. Those of us who enjoyed the show most were the ones who were singing along with our hands in the air.

Photo by Brian Pfeffer // Circa Survive

While Anthony Green had an impressive stage presence, the drummer and bassist didn’t have much of a voice in this band, instead being overshadowed by ambient guitar textures and a stage-dominating singer.

Making good rock music is not all about being the best guitar player in the world, and Circa Survive’s problem is that there are two guitar players who both are often using heavy reverb and delay effects at the same time. I suspect they’re doing this to avoid being cliché, but the result was unfocused. So what sounds multilayered and ethereal on the record sounds like an undefined wall of sound live.

Also, the smooshy and slinky bass from their album The Amulet didn’t translate to a live setting: It had basically no attack and merely blended in with the kick drum on all but a few parts of their performance. Although I will continue to listen to Circa Survive’s recordings, I see no reason to watch them perform live again. I would have preferred the band did something different with their arrangements, such as simply playing their chords without constantly saturating the air with digital cover-ups.

Photo by Brian Pfeffer // Circa Survive

The band did have some nice Muse-style heavy riffage that I enjoyed, but the guitar players are really being blown away by the singer. If we look at the Mars Volta or Converge, for example, we have excellent guitar players, drummers, and bassists who are able to keep up with their respective high-caliber vocalists.

So if you’re looking for an excellent all-around band, look elsewhere. Listen to Circa Survive’s recordings, but don’t bother seeing them live. Keep an eye on Anthony Green, though. He’s a great singer, so check out his solo work and other projects.

Photo by Brian Pfeffer

Thrice, on the other hand, sometimes sounds obnoxiously straightforward on their newest record, succumbing to simple catchy power chord choruses. But live, they sound powerful, especially their bass- and baritone-driven heavy lines. For example, the part in “The Window” when the music stops and the singer says “There’s nowhere to hide, be terrified. It’s all inside your head” was a goose bumps moment for me.

Singer Dustin Kensrue announced a “small suite of Alchemy Index songs” was heading our way, then we got spacey, swirling Twilight Zone light projections. In this part of the performance, guitarist Teppei Teranishi switched to providing mind-piercing keyboard accompaniment that stuck in the air after it was done.

Photo by Brian Pfeffer // Thrice

“The Artist in the Ambulance” had everyone singing along, but it’s an old song from a less mature Thrice and didn’t really fit in with the band’s pummeling hard rock style. Their history seems to be the reason why they’re touring with a band like Circa Survive. The music industry depends on this typecasting—otherwise, how would they sell their music to audiences?

There’s a lot of genre crossing going on in today’s music world—for example, Thrice can put out a song like “Artist in the Ambulance” and then go on instrumental binges as low tuned as Deftones. Song number four was “Hurricane,” my personal favorite on the new album To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere.

During this song, lots of people were jumping around in the middle of the audience, not only throwing their bodies but also actually singing and dancing. In the second verse, Dustin Kensrue really let himself be extremely vulnerable, dropping his voice a register below what it is on the recording and revealing his haggard, tired-out “I’ve been on tour” face.

Song number five was “Blood on the Sand,” one of those songs with a catchy chorus. Teranishi gave some excellent melodic lead lines on the guitar, and Kensrue was channeling “everyone’s favorite” Dave Grohl at the end.

Photo by Brian Pfeffer // Thrice

Another cool visual effect was when white strips of light slowly traveled and faded out of the middle while Kensrue hopelessly sang, “Are we fools and cowards, all?” We got a contrast of light and heavy riffage held down by a powerful bass player who brings the heavy metal to the table.

We were treated to a rolling bass line, tasteful lead guitar tapping with delay, notable ride cymbal work, which makes me think this band should be as popular as hair metal bands were in the eighties. Thrice plays heavy, straightforward arena rock.

Photo by Brian Pfeffer // Thrice

“I was hoping for more off Vheissu, their most artistic album,” said my friend Spike, and I agreed. They’ve branched out in a radio-friendly direction they’re definitely qualified to cover on their newest release, To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere. And I agree with what I heard another fellow fan saying: “They have like six albums I would just listen to all day long.” I wish they had played longer.

Written by Anna Paulson


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