A line of ticket holders amassing outside The Troubadour in West Hollywood on a Thursday evening in December wait to tap into turn of the century emo-punk, post-hardcore nostalgia in five acts. But the stage is devoid of any amps or drums or lighting stands. Instead, a panorama of acoustic six-strings arrayed on stage makes it known that each performer on tonight’s stop of the Where’s The Band? Tour will be performing solo, acoustic renditions of their bands’ songs. Tonight’s show features a motley amalgamation of frontmen from Hot Rod Circuit, The Deer Hunter, Alkaline Trio, The Get Up Kids and Thrice.
Hot Rod Circuit frontman Andy Jackson emerges clad in a Santa suit onesie and requisite Santa hat, a harbinger not only for the evening of acoustic interpretations that is about to unfurl, but also for Christmas which is a week away to the day. The concertgoers who showed up in time to see the first act greet Jackson with assented laughter and are already entertained. The raw pop-punk sincerity that shines through in Hot Rod Circuit recordings seems more accessible and resonant when reduced to an acoustic guitar and a vocal. Somehow the energy is not spared.
The jump from Hot Rod Circuit to The Deer Hunter doesn’t appear a natural transition on paper but seems to make sense on this night. Fellow New Englander Casey Crescenzo plucks his guitar from it’s place in file and centers himself on the stage while bodies continue to file in. Crescenzo exudes a reserved confidence. While he tunes, he claims to have nothing to promote and a shortage of interesting things to say but elicits continual laughter with his mundane commentary, transforming the oratorial nature of a mic on a stage into something more conversational. A gear aficionado in the audience is even compelled to inquire about Crescenzo’s choice of guitar pick-up which he gladly obliges to explain. Between this comic banter, he skillfully wields an explosively dynamic voice to create a sonic landscape of crescendos and diminuendos.
Dan Andriano is slated next. The folky rasp of his voice is not a sound most associate with his three-piece punk band Alkaline Trio but it couldn’t be more apropos on this bill. Andriano further erodes the barrier between crowd and performer with Midwest charm, often forgoing the mic when addressing the packed room. The crowd’s participation reenforces the transcending relevance of these songs, many anthemic to a generation. With a humble wave to the crowd, Andriano retires to tag in the next frontman.
Kansas City native and lead vocalist of The Get Up Kids, Matt Pryor, has a presence that commands attention; a vocal projection that cuts through the room inescapably and a gift for comic entertainment. He seems to be the court jester of the group. He pokes fun at his tour mates and his own band in a harmless and endearing way. Pryor, unlike the others, has not fashioned a set list and periodically takes requests from a cacophony of screamed suggestions proving there is nothing contrived about the thirty-five minutes he has on stage.
The headliner, Thrice’s Dustin Kensrue, takes stage with a plastic cup cocktail as had each of his four predecessors. The crowd’s reaction shows consensus that this is the act they’ve been waiting for. After loading and adjusting an E-tuned harmonica directly below his vocal mic, he opens with a fan favorite, Pistol, from his debut solo album Please Come Home. Kensrue’s voice, whittled and weathered by years of abrasive vocal styling, has a unique, raspy quality to it; a sort of bluesy croon with a Waits-like growl. The likeness his live performance bears to his studio recordings is uncanny. The room hears an even mix of Thrice songs and his eponymous compositions with a peppering of covers written by other artists, including a Christmas tune and a song by New Zealand pop artist Lorde. In the spirit of the holiday, Kensrue plays an unreleased song titled There’s Something Dark Inside Of Me that will appear on his sophomore album due for release by summer 2015.
At the end of Kensrue’s set, he is joined by each of the night’s performers. They coalesce on a cover of the classic The Weight by The Band to culminate the show. As the room slowly clears, the humble headliner takes the time to shake hands, take photos, and entertain conversation with the departing fans. The tour continues through the Southwest U.S. and concludes at The Glass House Concert Hall in Pomona tonight.
BY ZACK GEMMELL