The Emerson Theater in Indianapolis, Indiana, is not an ideal place to spend your evening. The walls are peeling black paint, there’s almost no lighting, the acoustics are awful, the cement floor is a sharp downhill slope from the doorway to the stage, and the fans dangling from the high ceiling don’t work, making for limited airflow. The staff seems very self-aware, donning shirts with their logo on the front and “Worst Venue Ever” in giant block letters on the black. Walking through the entrance, it’s impossible to know what you’re walking into or what you’re about to encounter. Perhaps this makes The Emerson Theater the perfect place to experience Hands Like Houses for the first time.
Hailing from Canberra, Australia, the six piece experimental post-hardcore group’s members stand quietly and unassuming throughout the venue as the evening progresses through several doses of scene metalcore. The members of Hands Like Houses stand in stark contrast to the rest of the bands in appearance, looking as though they’ve just returned from a thrift shop. All but one of them is sporting a mustache. By the time the band begins setting up on the stage and giving mic checks in their thick Australian accents, any onlooker with no point of reference would have a very difficult time knowing what to expect.
Hands Like Houses has made a name for themselves in the States with their recent signing to post-hardcore hit factory Rise Records and the release of their debut album Ground Dweller. While experimental is possibly the best way to describe the sound of the album, the term doesn’t do the music justice, as these songs sound much too refined to be considered an experiment. While the expected metalcore breakdowns are available in small doses, the band relies on electronic keys and synth to drive the heart of their songs. Vocalist Trenton Smith never stoops to screaming; instead he lets his jaw-dropping range shine with soaring vocals that meander along to the music. Think the best parts of Saosin combined with the electronic sounds of Underoath and the lyrical and musical ambiguity of Circa Survive.
After a couple of hours of witnessing multiple bands re-hash exact same song structure, Hands Like Houses is a breath of fresh air to the venue. In the midst of their current six-month touring stint in the US, the band explode into their first song “This Ain’t No Place for Animals” before transitioning into their current hit “Antarctica”. Smith would tell me later in the evening that the band felt a little out of synch and that his voice was a bit scratchy after a few days off, but it was impossible to tell. The band blazed through their set with poise and purpose, appearing to be in the form of a band several years their senior. Their refusal to be pigeonholed as a typical scene band shines during back-to-back performances of the electronic and ambient “The Definition of Not Leaving” and the wild and unpredictable “Lion Skin”. This type of versatility is a welcome sound to a genre drowning in repetition.
Hands Like Houses’ stop in Indianapolis was one of a couple one-off shows before they embark on this summer’s Scream it Like You Mean it tour, where they will once again find themselves standing out from the crowd. Opening for the likes of Attack Attack!, We Came as Romans, and Woe is Me, the band will have the opportunity to not only play to a new audience, but perhaps to set an example of what a little creativity and ambition can provide to a worn-out genre. Hands Like Houses is a band full of talent that not only shines through in their explosive stage performance, but in their many after-show acoustic sets as well, translating even the most complex of songs into genuine and gentle presentations. It won’t be long before even larger crowds are taking notice.