I'm a far cry from a August Burns Red fanatic. I guess you could say I'm familiar by association, having heard them blaring from my roommate's speakers in either his room or his car for years. Now, don't misunderstand me, I think they're fantastic! They do a great job blending the recipes for pummeling brutality, high speed aggression, and melodic guitaristry (you can try making it yourself, but it's difficult to fit a sledgehammer, muscle car, and guitar into a single blender). They seem to understand that a song's heaviness is relative to how quiet it can be from one moment to the next, and cleverly craft them such that they don't blow out their listener's eardrums before they can marvel at its gravity. But I'm much more likely to be found listening to Queen than a metalcore band when in my natural habitat, so I'm rather picky about the growling style that many metalcore bands adopt. ABR (August Burns Red, for those wondering) is one of those esteemed bands whose singer doesn't grate my senses. Jake Luhrs' voice and, as I found out, bassist Dustin Davidson's voice (who shares growling duties live), are just right in that they are still comprehensible and don't reach the stages of "nails on the chalkboard".
ABR recently played a show last Friday at the Norva in Norfolk, VA. While that's about a four hour car ride from where I live, I decided it'd be a fun start to my weekend to drive there and hang out with some great friends at the same time. They had several openers scheduled, including The Color Morale, and Of Mice and Men. I must admit, while I had heard of both of them, I had never taken time to listen to their music. As it happens, this evening wouldn't change that! Famished from the ride to the show, my group stopped to eat upon arriving in town. The venue doors had just opened, and we were only concerned with seeing Of Mice and Men and August Burns Red. Considering there were two bands before those were to go on, it didn't seem like a problem. So, around 9:30 we were walking into the venue, and to our utter surprise, ABR were already playing! That may be some of the quickest band set changes I've (n)ever heard of.
I really have to hand it to August Burns Red, because they put on a great stage show! The energy the band possesses, and the amount that it pulls from the audience, is remarkable. Every chorus to every song was sung by the sweaty masses of gathered fans, rivaling the PA system itself, and two-thirds of the audience seemed to consist of a constant circle pit. Except, of course, when the vocalist, Jake Luhrs, would jump onto the monitors at the front of the stage and throw his hands in the air. His presence demanded attention, and people would stop long enough to receive their next set of instructions, such as whipping out their lighters and cellphones, clapping in time with the stunning drumming of Matt Greiner, or, as often was the case, just forming more circle pits. At one point, however, all the music stopped and he went into a speech, telling the audience that "Everyone one of you has dreams, goals, self-control, and a purpose. Your dreams are not meant for when you're sleeping, but are meant to be lived out. Your time is now!" That moment, which seemed unusual to me in this setting, was somehow fitting all the same. It reminded me that despite the aggressive nature of the music, the lyrics sung by this band are often empowering and not to be overlooked.
I was worried that something would be lost with the transition from the albums to the live show. I was impressed by the fact that they were able to translate not only the brutality of the albums, with guitarists JB Brubaker and Brent Rambler chugging along at breakneck speeds, but were able to slow it down and capture that mellowness that complements it without losing the crowds' energy. Despite me probably only being able to rattle off the names of a handful of songs they played that night, I don't feel the need to. The music, even the songs I was less familiar with, was played with such passion that I couldn't help but enjoy the atmosphere (minus the occasional stray mosher who crashed into us). I mean, I think having your bass player kick the drummer off his kit and then challenging him to a beat battle is enough to make any concert-goer smile to himself.
Despite the fact that we arrived later than we expected, we had a fantastic time. August Burns Red does an excellent job as entertainers, in addition to their mandatory role as musicians. I wish we would have had time to stick around and thank them for everything they gave to the crowd that night, but I'll just have to trust that the more die-hard fans conveyed that for me. As one such fan, Brian Baker told me after the show, "When I listen to August Burns Red, I connect their music to what's going on in my life. After a show like this, it just makes me feel even more connected to it. They make it mean that much more."
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