There is a lot wrong with the current state of hardcore. I could write a whole ‘nother piece on what is shitty about the hardcore scene these days, but it really just boils down to unnecessary violence and lack of creativity. At shows, too many innocent bystanders are getting punched in the face during the same tired, “brutal” breakdown. It’s enough to turn people away from shows in the genre, and perhaps even the genre altogether. But luckily, there are still bands that represent what was wonderful about hardcore from the beginning, and on Friday night I had the chance to see three of those bands play this new wave of creative, emotional hardcore live.
I got to Altar Bar in Pittsburgh’s Strip District just in time to catch the opening act, Former Thieves. I was actually trying to miss them, as I had never heard them or of them, but no shows start on time anymore apparently. They played your standard brand of heavy, oppressive hardcore., i.e. Botch or Norma Jean if you took out some creativity Their sound was very expansive for just having one guitarist, but nothing overly impressive. Each song seemed to blend together, and lacked heart and energy. They gave off a bit of a tough guy hardcore vibe, but without the chugging breakdowns that send the kids into hardcore dancing, face-punching frenzies. A good stage presence could have made up for their bland music, but sadly they barely moved an inch. Good time to get a drink.
Next up was Native. This was a band I heard a lot on Pandora, and about a week prior to the show I decided to pick up their newest album, Wrestling Moves, and quickly I fell in love. They play a much more progressive brand of hardcore, mixing sounds of bands like Minus the Bear and in some parts, The Appleseed Cast, with yells and screams reminiscent of Steve Snere of These Arms Are Snakes. With a sounds like that, I figured there was no way they could go wrong live, and they didn’t. Native began their set with swelling feedback looped on a guitar pedal before exploding into their first song, “Ponyboy”, one of the highlight tracks from Wrestling Moves. From there, they proceeded to blaze through a set filled with epic, intricate hardcore, before ending (a bit prematurely in my opinion) the way they came out, in a sea of looped guitar feedback. The most impressive thing about Native is their guitarists, who transitioned seamlessly from beautifully glistening, delay drenched clean parts to furiously tapped, driving lead lines. They could benefit from a bit better stage presence, but I’m sure it’s hard to move when you’re playing such technical music. Native were obviously not very well known by the crowd, who barely moved during their performance, but I’d like to believe everyone else in the room was just too blown away to move, and judging by the activity between sets at their merch table, they definitely won over a few new fans.
Bridge Nine Records artist Defeater, hailing from Boston, MA, was up next. I was especially pumped for them, as I have had their phenomenal new record, Empty Days and Sleepless Nights on repeat for about three weeks now. I expected them to come out guns blazing and fire up the crowd, who up to this point lacked energy for a hardcore show. However, Defeater surprised me, and it seemed everyone else in the room, by opening their set with the acoustic “I Don’t Mind.” It was beautiful, it was emotional, and it got the crowd engaged, singing to every chorus with singer Derek Archambault. After the final chord was strummed, the crowd was even more ready than they were before, and Archambault said a few words before announcing, “This song is called The Red, White, And Blues.” From there I witnessed something special that I haven’t seen since Have Heart’s final show at Club Lido, true connection. The band and crowd seemed to be one throughout the whole set. Sing alongs, fists in the air, pile-ons, and plenty of stage diving occurred throughout the 40 minute plus performance, in which the band played a tremendous set list full of fan favorites. Some highlights included the song “Empty Glass” where Archambault front flipped into the crowd and just held the mic to his side as the whole room screamed “Tell me about the old days,” and the closer, “Cowardice,” in which Archambault lead the crowd into a rather unexpected twist, as he began to scream the closing lines of “Honest Sleep” by fellow emotional hardcore band Touche Amore. It was a great way to polish off a phenomenal set. Do yourself a favor and see this band live as soon as possible.
La Dispute was the last band I had come to see (Cave In was headlining, but they have never been anything special to me). They have been one of my favorite bands for a year or so now, and seeing them live had always been a goal of mine. Honestly, I wasn’t too sure what to expect, as their emotional, dynamic sound could be a more “watch and listen” type of experience, but obviously the crowd at Altar Bar had something else in mind. Opening with “New Storms for Old Lovers,” the crowd burst back into where Defeater left them, climbing on top of each other and screaming every word along with singer Jordan Dreyer as he hopped back and forth across the stage. One thing is for sure, La Dispute do not lack energy. Dreyer and company rarely stayed still, and that energy was reciprocated enthusiastically by the crowd. They played a set full of great songs from their incredible full length, Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair, including the crowd favorite “The Castle Builders,” in which, to the fans delight, they considerably slowed down the ending sing-along. They also played both songs from their split with Touche Amore, which translated into incredible live songs and were certainly favorites of the crowd. La Dispute even tried out one new song, but sadly, it fell a bit flat as it was a slower track and killed the energy a bit in the room. After about 40 minutes, they announced they would be playing one final song, and I had my fingers crossed for the epic “The Last Lost Continent,” but was a bit let down when I heard the opening bass line to “Said the King to the River.” But as the song got going, I became less and less disappointed, as it is actually a lot better live then when played through my car speakers. After they ended, I almost expected to hear chants of “One more song,” but as there was a headliner still to play in Cave In, I figured this would not be the case.
Overall, I came into this show with ridiculously high expectations, and they were exceeded. These bands are the future of hardcore. They are the shimmering light in a scene full of muscular bro-dudes punching each other in the face to palm-muted drop C chords. Do yourself a favor and check out these bands. Buy their merch. Support them. And most importantly, if they come to your city, go see them live.