Underoath Farewell Tour
20 Jan 2013: The Metro Chicago
When your favorite band goes on their farewell tour, you go. It doesn’t matter how far you have to drive; you just go. The real question lies in where you should set your expectations. For over a decade, Tampa post-hardcore band Underoath provided the soundtrack to my life. In college, I would travel to shows to jump around and scream out overwrought lyrics about girl-troubles such as “This is my panic / This is my call to arms”. As time passed, attending an Underoath show became more about reflecting on the dialogue presented in the band’s music through their stellar live production, which grew to include short films projected on a giant screen during each song. My life experiences matured just as the sound and purpose of the band itself, creating a unique and valuable bond.
The hard part about investing heavily in another’s art is the inevitability of decline. While the argument can strongly be made that there was no such decline to be found in the band’s output (2010’s Ø (Disambiguation) features some of Underoath’s best work), their relevancy had slowly dwindled from the fever pitch that the band reached in the early to mid part of the last decade. The sing-scream trend the band ignited with 2004’s They’re Only Chasing Safety served not only to bring notoriety to the band itself, but simultaneously created an avalanche of bands following in their footsteps. It wasn’t long before the band that ruled the post-hardcore roost was playing second fiddle to bands several years their junior.
Therein lies the question of expectation. Would the same fans who flocked to sold-out shows in years past make the trek to see Underoath one last time? And would the experience hold the same meaning and energy as it once did? The concert scene is a young-man’s game—I mean, Parenthood comes on at 10 and we still have to get up for work in the morning. Nevertheless, the tickets for every date on the tour sold out almost instantly. The lineup, featuring heralded veterans mewithoutYou and As Cities Burn (also playing their final shows) along with buzzworthy newcomers letlive., painted a narrative come full circle, told by the voices that lived it.
For their final tour, Underoath wisely chose mid-sized venues full of scene history, stirring memories of the band at their apex. As I watched the line wrap around the Metro in Chicago, in the midst of below-freezing temperatures, my mind raced with recollections of shows past—the anticipation of the event. Oftentimes, it’s difficult to distinguish between the cold shivers and the excited jitters. It’s safe to say that it’s been awhile since that pre-show excitement washed over me, but for so many in their 20s and 30s who grew up with this band, what once was a right of passage now serves as the closing of a chapter. At least for one night, Underoath’s farewell show is a chance to remember, a chance to re-live, and a chance to be excited again.
That’s why it doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) matter what the setlist is, or even that original drummer and clean vocalist Aaron Gillespie didn’t make the trek. In truth, the crowd belted out Gillespie’s parts with enough gusto to shake the walls. No, these nights are about the shared experience of over a decade’s worth of music. That even a fraction of that experience can be witnessed in one night is a wonder in and of itself. It’s fitting that the show kicks off with letlive., an innovative band custom made to fill the role of post-hardcore trendsetters; As Cities Burn, a band who has played alongside Underoath from early on, and gained a rather staunch following in their own right; and mewithoutYou, a band who, like Underoath, pushed the boundaries of the genre and asked more of their listeners than a passing ear. There’s no six-degrees of separation here—the history of these bands is intertwined and tightly knit.
And as lovely a precursor as these bands serve, it is clear from the moment Underoath takes the stage to the sound of Spencer Chamberlain’s cry of “I’m the desperate / And you’re the savior” that this is, and always has been, the main event. Even aside from the insane lighting display and the mammoth production that is any given Underoath set, the energy level immediately reaches a boiling point. Those of us that have long since chosen to stand stoic-ly near the back of the room, push toward the stage once again and jump and scream like we did when the music was all that mattered. Side by side are those who know the words to every song and those who just came to hear the “old stuff”, but never mind—there’s room enough for everyone.
The night brings about no major surprises, unless you count the band’s decision to end their stubborn hiatus of playing their hit “Reinventing Your Exit”. Perhaps the most jarring revelation is one that shouldn’t be astonishing at all—Underoath is still on top of their game, arguably sounding better and tighter than ever. For a band built on a model of excellence and purpose, it makes sense that they would go out in as much style. When Chamberlain pays his respects to those in attendance, his speech is genuine, and the feeling is mutual. With one last rousing performance of “Writing on the Walls”, both band and audience throw caution to the wind and celebrate the end of something special, in the way only permissible at a hardcore show. Feel free to pick up an ice pack on your way out.
Most fans are not allowed such a night as this. These days a band breakup consists of a Tumblr post and the bitter realization that you never got to say a proper goodbye. We’re lucky if we get a tip of the cap, even more so if the band is capable of calling it quits on their own terms, while still offering their fans the chance to indulge in the experience one last time. Yet this is the story of Underoath, isn’t it? A band who unapologetically forged their own path, but refused to leave their listeners behind. Instead, they encouraged them to be challenged and to step outside of their comfort zone, and in the process, created something both unique and alluring. These last nights appropriately capture this premise and remind us how fortunate we are to have been along for the ride.
As Cities Burn
As Cities Burn
// Notes from the Road
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