[25 November 2007]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
The 2007 Taste of Chaos tour will go down as easily the worst musical spectacle this writer has seen this past year, or perhaps ever. This is thanks in large part to a pair of the most inept headlining acts these eyes and ears have ever been subjected to, in the form of tiresome pop punks the Used and a mind-bogglingly embarrassing set by Jared Leto’s 30 Seconds to Mars. Whether it was Bert McCracken desperately trying to appear profound during idiotic songs like “The Bird and the Worm” or “Liar Liar (Go to Hell)” or an aging Jordan Catalano prancing around the stage playing rock star while his backing band churned out generic power ballads, it made for two excruciating, interminable hours of some of the worst guitar-based rock music ever conceived.
That being said, a handful of lesser-known bands played their hearts out in the time prior to the co-headliners. Of course, by lesser-known bands, I mean bands that anyone over the age of 21 would have no idea who the hell they were, but hundreds of thousands of MySpace-ing, Facebook-ing, Oink-ing teenagers are adoring fans of. Among them was Michigan sextet Chiodos, who made full use of their half-hour time slot to elicit a reaction among the kids that McCracken and Leto could never match. While boys moshed, girls screamed, and hardcore goofballs two-stepped themselves into fits of limb-flailing ecstasy, the boys onstage tore it up with a distinct blend of emo, hardcore, and just a little hint of progressive metal.
There were churning riffs giving way to mellow piano interludes, in turn segueing into slick guitar harmonies as a skinny singer howled in a jarring falsetto. It was all as bombastic and overtly melodramatic as you’d expect from a post-hardcore band, right down to the ridiculously obtuse song titles, but at the same time, it was considerably less shallow than the majority of the similar sounding bands out there. Here was a band that appeared to have the right combination of chops and ambition, and who deserved to be headlining on this night.
While Chiodos’s 2005 debut full-length All’s Well That Ends Well exhibited plenty of hints of better things to come, the much bolder Bone Palace Ballet takes some big steps towards fully realizing that potential. In direct contrast to the no-frills, edgy sound of the previous album, the new record packs a less blunt, better-rounded punch courtesy of producer Casey Bates. The band was willing to soften the guitar tones and allow for atmospheric touches like synthesizer, strings, and horns. More post-hardcore bands are attempting such rich, bombastic accompaniment as they try to outdo each other in the pomposity department. Chiodos’s approach is more tasteful, as songs like “Lexington (Joey Pea-Pot with a Monkey Face)” and the Weimar cabaret-tinged “Is it Progression if a Cannibal Uses a Fork?” (See, what did I tell you about their song titles?) accentuate their arrangements well enough to give it a Goth-inspired, ornate touch.
Frills aside, it’s the songwriting that has improved the most, as the band sounds ready to make a similar leap to mainstream pop as My Chemical Romance pulled off two years ago. “Bulls Make Money, Bears Make Money, Pigs Get Slaughtered” combines the My Chemical Romance’s dramatic song craft with the subtle eccentricity of young prog phenoms Between the Buried and Me. The tender “Intensity in Ten Cities” has smash single written all over it, a straight-up, shameless power ballad, the band totally unafraid to embrace simple pop music as the song builds to its predictable, but (c’mon, admit it) satisfying climax. Meanwhile, the pounding “I Didn’t Say I was Powerful, I Said I Was a Wizard”, for all its peripheral accoutrements, is well-executed emocore, while the shimmering “A Letter From Janelle” just might be the band’s best moment to date, mastering the sweeping, melodic dynamics that the genre demands.
If there’s a factor that will either make or break the band with new listeners, it’s singer Craig Owens, who brays endlessly in a high-pitched voice that alternates between the tenderness of Delays vocalist Greg Gilbert and the squawking squeal of Hot Hot Heat’s Steve Bays. It’s the kind of voice that draws immediate derision from emo’s detractors, but one has to at least concede that Owens effectively conveys the emotion well, even if he does come perilously close to completely going overboard with the vocal histrionics.
Although post-hardcore has become as trite, oversaturated and image-obsessed a scene as hair metal was in 1990, it’s nice to hear the odd band that works the formula effectively while attempting to broaden its sound. In fact, this album is so impressive, that we can let slide an error as egregious as failing to acknowledge poets Charles Bukowski and Rod McKuen, who Owens quotes word for word on a pair of occasions (let alone the album title, which was a Bukowski book). It’s a good album, but Hank would have kicked your ass for doing that, Craig.