For the past four years, the Alternative Press Tour, sponsored by the magazine of the same name, has been a showcase for what’s hot in the post-punk/post-hardcore scene. The magazine itself, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, has been a newsstand regular for some time now, keeping its readers hip to what passes as “happening” in the alt rock scene. Its ability to stay relevant in an underground rock world where its audience has transitioned from flannel shirts and dirty Chucks to skinny jeans and neon studded belts has been nothing short of fascinating to watch.
Seeing as how past alumni of the AP Tour range from scene heavyweights like All Time Low and Circa Survive to top pop hit-makers like 3OH!3, the choice to make Black Veil Brides the headlining band of this year’s trek seemed a bit sketchy at best. Sure, the Cincinnati, OH, glam rockers have a devoted following. In fact, the majority of the less than half-capacity crowd at Expo 5 in Louisville were face painted followers of the band. The real question is, with so many bands in the post-punk scene experiencing a near-breakout (including supporting act D.R.U.G.S), how did a band that has yet to chart an album in the top 30 land this year’s top billing?
Black Veil Brides would get their chance to state their case, but not before the night’s first four bands took the stage. The night was kicked off in convincing fashion with Conditions. The Richmond, VA, act zeroes in on a style of rock that saw its heyday earlier last decade with the likes of Saosin — fast, aggressive guitar work, high-register vocals, and powerful choruses. The thing about Conditions is, they pull of this sound of rock so much better than the majority of bands in their genre, you’d almost forget you’ve heard it somewhere before. Playing six tracks from their debut full length, Fluorescent Youth, Conditions was the best opening act you could ask for. There’s no smoke and mirrors with this band, nothing flashy, no cool haircuts. They just play rock ‘n’ roll and do it very well.
The night’s second band, VersaEmerge, managed to shake off the “Paramore sound-alike” label last year with the release of their ambitious and, at times, experimental endeavor Fixed at Zero. Frontwoman Sierra Kusterbeck needs to be heard in person to be truly appreciated. VersaEmerge’s songstress has an incredible voice and a bit of a flare for the dramatic to match. Wearing what appeared to be the tail of a fox, Kusterbeck commanded the stage and belted her way through the band’s seven song set, getting the crowd going in the process. There’s talent to be found in VersaEmerge, but with a revolving door of a lineup that’s seen eleven different members in the band’s short six-year existence, it’s easy to question whether they can keep a lineup together long enough to make a successful follow up to Fixed at Zero. Time will tell.
I See Stars is a puzzling band. Call it electornicore, crunk-core, synthcore, or whatever other absurd noun you’d like to put in front of the word “core”, their style is one that seems from the outside to be based solely on trend. That’s not to say that there aren’t talented musicians in I See Stars. The band plays well and puts on an entertaining show. The question is one of sustainability. Can a band whose token is the combination of post-hardcore screaming and sky high vocals mixed with electronic synthesizers maintain any sort of relevancy? I see only one of two options for a band such as I See Stars — they either push their craft of combining trendy sounds to the point of absurdity in order to keep the attention or eventually undergo a musical overhaul. The best part of the band’s set came when vocalist Devin Oliver gave an impassioned plea to fans to help save the failing record industry by taking the coming week to discover a new band and buy one of their albums.
Fourth on the bill was D.R.U.G.S. (Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows), a band composed of former members of Story of the Year, Underminded, Matchbook Romance, From First to Last, and is led by former Chiodos vocalist Craig Owens. Taking the stage in a Superman shirt, Owens received an overwhelming welcome from the crowd. One of the most recognizable figures in the scene, Owens is a true frontman, looking as though he is in complete control of the crowd at all times. You literally can’t take your eyes off of him. The band started off their set with one of their heavier tracks, “The Only Thing You Talk About” which found Owens unleashing a massive scream to get things kicked off. The eight song set was capped off with their new single “Sex Life” followed by the brutal “If You Think This Song is About You, It Probably is”. All things considered, D.R.U.G.S.’ set was the best of the night and hopefully serves as a sign of great things to come from the band.
Since walking from the venue to my car until this very moment, I’ve been trying to decide what should be said about Black Veil Brides. The band is a mish-mash of every metalcore riff you’ve heard 20 times over, boring, uneventful choruses, uninspired songwriting, painfully poor knockoff KISS attire and makeup, and a few screams thrown in for good measure. Sure, their live sound is almost exactly the same as their recordings (which isn’t saying much), lead singer Andy “Six” Biersack makes evil, devilish faces between lines to rile up the crowd, and the band members look like mannequins taken from leather studded section of Hot Topic, but what does any of this have to do with rock n’ roll? I struggled to find a trace of creativity within the music or performance of Black Veil Brides, but was unable to find anything worth noting. They lacked the emotion shown by D.R.U.G.S., the ambition of VersaEmerge, the creativity of Conditions, and for better or worse, the innovation of I See Stars yet still managed to become the headlining band of the tour. I find this to be a mystery.
Perhaps I’m just out of touch. Black Veil Brides’ music videos garner around five million views each on Youtube and judging from the large number of face painted fans, also known as the BVB Army, that were in attendance, maybe Alternative Press made a good business move by placing them atop the lineup. Unfortunately, for a publication that has prided itself over the years for covering bands on the rise and giving an alternative to music fans who were searching for more than what they were finding on top 40 radio or MTV, the choice seems a bit suspect. The good news is that there are a few bands out there like VersaEmerge, Conditions, and D.R.U.G.S. that are getting a chance to showcase to a new audience and hopefully gain some new listeners. Here’s hoping that the headlining spot for AP’s Fall Ball makes a bit more sense.