I don't think I'm the only person who's tired of five-band hardcore shows where every band sounds like the last, so it's a real treat that the Knocked Loose-headlined five-band package tour making its way around North America right now isn't that at all. They're joined by Pure Noise lablemates SeeYouSpaceCowboy, Rotting Out, Stick To Your Guns, and recent Relapse signees Candy, and as we witnessed at NYC's Webster Hall last night (11/3), every band brought their own distinct flavor to the show. Some bands were new and on the rise, and others just about qualify as veterans. And despite (or because of?) the different subgenres and different generations of bands, each band fit the bill perfectly and the crowd went off for every set. (Update: It was actually a six-band bill. I didn't realize Combust was added at the last minute, and they played before I got there.)
First of five at 7 PM was San Diego's SeeYouSpaceCowboy, fresh off releasing their debut album The Correlation Between Entrance And Exit Wounds, which followed three years of EPs/splits/demos (and a compilation), and it was clear that a lot of people made sure to get there early for them. The place was already packed, and the floor opened up into a massive pit that lasted for the entirety of SYSC's set. It seemed obvious that this band won't be taking the opening slot for long, and assuming they do continue to rise, they already deserve it. They performed like total pros who seem like they've been doing it a lot longer than they have, and their razor-sharp performance was matched by an arsenal of great songs. SYSC have been leaders of the sass revival, and the sass element was very prominent at their live show, which could bring you right back to the heyday of The Blood Brothers. But SYSC are also more than just revival. They're equal parts danceable flamboyance, post-rock majesty, and tough metalcore breakdowns, and they blend those things in a way that we haven't really heard then or now. To paraphrase something I wrote in my review of their new album, nostalgia is a big part of SeeYouSpaceCowboy's appeal, but they feel like the future, and that came across at their show last night as much as it does on their new record.
Next up were Richmond's Candy, who veer a little more closely to traditional hardcore, but who are also clearly breaking the mold in interesting ways. Zak Quiram is a classic (and adept) hardcore frontman (who at one point did a front flip onto the crowd), but the rest of the band branch out from the typical fast-paced power chords and incorporate metal riffs in a way that sounds more like "metal meets hardcore" than "metalcore." As heard on their new single for Relapse, "Super-Stare," Candy can be as good a sludge metal band as a hardcore band, and maybe 40% of their set on Sunday night was sludge. One particular highlight came when one of their guitarists ripped a solo that came right out of '70s guitar heroism. It's not easy to embrace classic rock flashiness while still coming off like a modest, true-to-your-roots hardcore band, but Candy pull it off.
Candy were followed by San Pedro's Rotting Out, who recently returned from hiatus and put out their first new single in four years, "Reaper." They played that, along with plenty of fan faves from their initial run as a band, and if they had any post-hiatus rust to polish off, that must have all been figured out months ago. Much more so than Candy, Rotting Out were the night's traditional hardcore band, with a set of songs that paid clear homage to the genre's '80s era but were written from Rotting Out's own unique perspective. Frontman Walter Delgado talked about growing up in the projects and experiencing racism that still exists today, and when he paused one of his speeches to say "fuck the police, fuck homeland security, fuck ICE, fuck Trump," he was met by some of the biggest applause of the night.
Orange County's Stick To Your Guns were up next in the penultimate slot, and if Knocked Loose weren't having such a massive breakout year, STYG might've been headlining. They've been at it (and popular) the longest, and it's no surprise that their pop punk/alt-metal-informed melodic hardcore has gained them a large following. And there were probably as many fans in the house for STYG as there were for Knocked Loose -- the band owned the stage as if they were the headliners, and the crowd was shouting along all night. It wasn't a "co-headlining" thing though. STYG were added to the bill two months after the tour was announced, and frontman Jesse Barnett said on stage that he just loves Knocked Loose and he begged to be added to the tour. (He also brought out members of Knocked Loose for guest vocals during their set.) They also didn't have any new music to support -- they were supposed to put out a new song for the Pure Noise split earlier this year, but things didn't go as planned and they released a demo instead, and Jesse has been busy this year with new albums from his indie rock side project Trade Wind and his Bon Iver-ish solo project Wish You Were Here -- but they just stuck to a career-spanning set and the crowd ate up every second of it.
Finally, Knocked Loose. The Oldham County, Kentucky band's pre-set house music was entirely country music, and while every previous band had a banner that clearly displayed their band name, they had one with the title of their new album, A Different Shade of Blue, with "BLUE" in gigantic letters. Just before they hit the stage, the room went black, the stage was lit up by blue fog, and then Knocked Loose emerged and wasted no time making sure the whole place was going apeshit both on and off stage. A Different Shade of Blue has been a huge breakthrough for Knocked Loose, and its success is the reason they can now headline and pack a place the size of Webster Hall, and Knocked Loose are clearly ready for the fame, but still humble about it. Bryan Garris talked about how they went from headlining the small basement venue of the pre-renovations Webster Hall (The Studio) to the slightly larger mid-level venue (Marlin Room) to now the main ballroom, and he said on stage they were something like just 20 tickets short of selling out the place in advance. He expressed more than once how grateful he and the rest of the band were to be reaching this many people, and the crowd was clearly very happy to be along for the ride.
It seemed like a lot of people in the house were longtime fans, and though A Different Shade of Blue has been such a breakthrough, it's still settling in and the older songs tended to get the biggest singalongs. (Except lead A Different Shade of Blue single "Mistakes Like Fractures," which was probably the rowdiest song of the night.) A Different Shade of Blue is a great record, and it deserves all the crossover success it's been getting, but Knocked Loose also remain a band who must be seen live. They're impossibly tight, and had the crowd in the palms of their hands all night. And though hardcore shows are so often about the relationship between the vocalist and the fans, Knocked Loose stand out from the pack because the atmosphere the instrumentalists create is as crucial to the experience as the back-and-forth between Bryan Garris' high-pitched shout and Isaac Hale's backing growls. They've got some of your typical metalcore breakdowns, but they've also got Slayer riffs and eerie, mood-setting pieces worked in that make the whole show go much deeper than cheap thrills. Sometimes when a band from an underground style of music like hardcore starts gaining success outside of their usual niche, people ask: why this band? With Knocked Loose, it's easy to see why.