Title Fight, Balance and Composure, Cruel Hand, Slingshot Dakota
Nile Theater, Mesa
Monday, September 23
I hesitate to use the word "emo" because of its semantics. For a lot of people, it means a specific time and place -- D.C. in the '80s, the Midwest in the '90s -- and use of the label outside of that context is illegitimate. So it probably will bother people that I am using it more loosely to describe a kind of liminal space in which punk and hardcore fans can express emotions that aren't derived from outright rage at authority figures, fakes, and oppressive systems, but still aren't ridiculously melodramatic either.
I got the feeling I was in an emo space when I saw Title Fight and Balance and Composure last night. A lot of this had to do with the context of coming to the show late and missing the opening band, the keyboard and drum duo Slingshot Dakota, and thus starting the night with the heaviest band on the bill, Cruel Hand.
Cruel Hand is not emo. Cruel Hand is chuggy hardcore tightly played by people who probably love the Cro-Mags, Metallica, and Crown of Thornz equally. People were moshing hard to this band, windmilling and spin-kicking in the kind of pit that always makes me surprised when no one comes out with a broken nose or a concussion. Everything was as expected and it made me think that Cruel Hand is in the top tier of the "Ignorant Mosh" subgenre of hardcore along with bands like Trapped Under Ice and Reign Supreme.
However, even with all the ignorant moshing going on, Cruel Hand had an emo moment. Singer Chris Linkovich thanked everyone for having an "open mind," acknowledging that they were kind of the odd band out on the tour. He also conceded to liking Tegan and Sara and the Eagles as a way of letting people know that the band had a softer side in spite of its hardcore heritage. It set the tone for the night, because, after Cruel Hand, things got moderately softer while still maintaining the kind of intense energy one might find at a hardcore show.
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Following Cruel Hand was Balance and Composure. My initial reaction was that the band sounded a lot like Brand New or at least a band made up of people who like Brand New a lot. I don't like Brand New a lot and have a hard time understanding their lasting influence on contemporary punk and hardcore music, because I always thought they just sounded like 30 Seconds to Mars. (Do people who like Brand New like that band, too?)
Fortunately, Balance and Composure didn't sound like 30 Seconds to Mars for the most part and had this kind of gruff, Hot Water Music-influenced tinge to their music that made it bearable to me. The crowd, on the other hand, more than tolerated it. They were probably going more crazy than people were to Cruel Hand, albeit in a more reserved way with people passionately throwing their hands up in the air singing along, as well as plenty of people crowd surfing and stage diving. People were getting in touch with their feelings with a band composed of five people who seem to be in touch with their feelings.
I felt excluded from that big ball of empathy because of my jadedness to modern "post-hardcore" or whatever Brand New-like bands are called, but I was stoked on the enthusiasm.
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Whatever the transcendent and revelatory moment that happened during Balance and Composure's set, it was only a lead-up to the full-blown catharsis experienced during Title Fight. People went crazy to the point of bouncers giving up on policing stage divers and instead just letting things unfold naturally.
There's a line that Title Fight either straddles or crosses leisurely between being a hardcore band and being an alt-rock band. Their song "Shed" is as good an anti-sellout/poser/phony anthem as any similar work from the hardcore canon, and people rage hard to it, but they can just as easily play a shoegaze jam like "Head in a Ceiling Fan" and compel people to slo-mo, back-first stagedive in a way that, before last night, I only thought happened in movies.
Whether they are righteously angry or contemplating their feelings, the band has an easy-going, slacker demeanor when they play. It's not as if they are sloppy, they just seem very relaxed and approachable and I think people connect with them partly because of this aspect.
Last night's show attracted a pretty good cross-section of every punk and hardcore subculture stereotype you could think of into a space where those kinds of petty identity politics don't matter. It was like a vacation from everyone's respective scenes. It probably doesn't fit anyone's textbook definition, but I feel like that kind of environment, in which everyone is united on a sentimental level, is pretty emo, and given that hundreds of people were present, I think that it has a pretty broad appeal.