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Hardcore in Chicago: Every Time I Die, Turnstile, Angel Du$t, and Vein (Live Report)

Every Time I Die. Photo credit: Joe Naranjo
Every Time I Die. Photo credit: Joe Naranjo

Hardcore hasn’t ever really been my thing. I’ve dabbled here and there, maybe like many other metalheads, but few bands or albums ended up sticking (the ones that did were more metal than hardcore anyway). Despite this, one of the few rules I impose on myself always applies: see it live to let it jive. It doesn’t always work out, of course, but when it does (like when I saw Explosions in the Sky last year), the results can be spectacular. Having your expectations violated positively makes all the difference, really. And it’s not like I went into the first stop of Every Time I Die‘s latest tour on Monday in Chicago with low expectations, as that would be unfair given my newness to the genre. I trusted (and still do) the instincts of others who listen to much more hardcore than I, and they all sung the New York legend’s praise. Now, after an incredible show, it all makes sense.

Figuring out why a particular band is so lauded can be a challenging task, especially when you have few musical reference points in a particular genre. Nevertheless, there’s some perspective courtesy of the night’s other three acts — Vein, Angel Du$t, and Turnstile — all of which suitably established the venue’s ambiance, energy, and intensity with their own distinct flavor of hardcore (Every Time I Die banked on this build-up, but couldn’t have pulled off their incredible feat without their own guts and grit, of course). Vein laid swaths of experimental hardcore to the stage, Angel Du$t brought pure fun and sheer style, and Turnstile infused the air with dense, punky fumes. The show had been sold out, of course, and the venue was packed super-early, especially for an otherwise tame Monday night. This was hardcore, and people wasted no time already having an absolute fucking blast.

I’m one of those showgoers who stands, absorbs, and gets lost. That hasn’t always been the case, though: it’s been years since I’ve moshed, but Monday night got me as close as I’ve ever been since. Metal slouches virtually none when it comes to intensity and impact, but that doesn’t mean hardcore is second-tier by any measure. To wit, the crowd Monday night was absolutely bonkers, supremely high-energy — not the anxious type of uncertain anticipation, but the boiled-over glee and joy from knowing that extreme pleasure and delight were in store. From bodies flying into the photo pit (where our intrepid photographer Joe Naranjo was working his magic) to the entire crowd screaming along to songs louder than the music itself, these four bands churned a mid-sized venue into a hot, lucid whirlpool. The energy was so high that even the set changes felt instantaneous; certainly, for what it’s worth, I’ve been to numerous less feverous (but still enjoyable) metal shows this year. Again, it comes down to how you enjoy it; now, writing this, I wish I would’ve jumped straight into the pit.

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Every Time I Die opened with “Romeo A-Go Go,” the first track from their second album Hot Damn! — immediately, I was brought back to my childhood bedroom where I’d first heard that song. It was unusual being in both places — lost in my memories but viscerally present in the moment — but the music immediately had a guiding force. Ditto: the crowd’s unbridled and near-nuclear energy. The lyrics were even coming back to me, but not quickly enough to scream them out like nearly everyone else. Frontman Keith Buckley, dressed very ordinarily, was extraordinarily powerful up-front — wooing the immediate attention of anyone who his frantic gaze happened across, he exhibited such complete and total command of the music’s intensity, almost as if he was manifesting it himself. Indeed, his staunch confidence on stage is all part of hardcore and the positive attitude it breeds. Deep down, it made me feel good, too.

Backlit by their giant logo, Every Time I Die’s stage presence was impeccably dramatic. Not only did the crowd’s energy foam over the moment “Romeo A-Go Go” hit, it continued foaming like a mad science experiment throughout the entire set, completely unabated. “Ebolarama,” too, caused huge uproar, and was my favorite of the night. I couldn’t help but be impressed by this level of dedication from fan to artist; as for myself, I was witnessing the execution of what is obviously a fine (and fine-tuned) craft, despite how chaotic or sometimes straightforward it may seem. And, perhaps having been weighed down mentally by all the super-depressing and admittedly convoluted music I consume, it was undeniably refreshing to actually embody some of Every Time I Die’s blood-pumping vibe. It was almost enough just being present among those who felt it even stronger; the music threw it over the top and had me grinning maniacally.

Its brilliant vibrancy aside, Monday night’s jam-packed show was ear-opening for me. I don’t claim to now be “in love” with hardcore, but I’m picking up on how it works and what to listen for, specifically. These observations help me appreciate a different (but in some ways similar, of course) style of music, which then leads to interest, which then leads ultimately to pleasure. Everyone works differently, but had I not followed my rule, I’d be worse off for it, which is why I try hard to follow it. And to be honest, it’s not always an easy rule to follow (conjoined with the fact that I don’t get out enough anymore): demons like boredom and distraction can ruin a night even in small amounts. Thankfully, at least for one night, those demons were kept strongly at bay.

Photos by Joe Naranjo (website, Instagram).

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