Senses Fail Brings Intense Live Show to Boston
The Out With The In Crowd Tour
October 23rd, 2010
I was in high school when Senses Fail hit it big. Following the underground success of their debut EP, they released Let in Enfold You in 2004, and immediately rose to the top of the much maligned emo/screemo scene. In six years since, a lot has changed. Few bands remain from the scene that Senses Fail once ruled, and even fewer will ever be able to sell the 300,000+ units that Let It Enfold You did.
Much like the industry itself, Senses Fail has evolved, and this has allowed them to retain a strong fan base. The band’s biggest evolution cannot be heard on their newest record or in their numerous line-up changes, but in the immense improvement they have made to their live show. I hadn’t seen the band in four years, and while they’re still a mess at times, the difference is remarkable.
The night began…. early. While Royale has quickly become one of Boston’s trendiest music venues, it also doubles as one of it’s trendiest night clubs. This means that Friday and Saturday night shows start and end early to make way for well-dressed club-goers and their disposable incomes. For this reason, I missed opening acts Title Fight and Balance and Composure.
The first band I did catch was Bayside. This was my sixth time seeing them as a full band, and I wasn’t all that excited for their set. While they are a very solid live band, it seems like they’ve been playing the same songs for at least the past three years. This includes largely ignoring their most recent record Shudder, which very well may be their best work.
It could have been my low expectations, but I came away with a renewed appreciation for the band. While they did cover all of the familiar tracks in their hour long set, they also threw in a few pleasant surprises and displayed a sense of energy I hadn’t seen from them in quite awhile.
Among the surprises were “Just Enough To Love You” from their 2001 Split EP with Name Taken, and “Alcohol and Alter Boys” from 2004’s “Sirens and Condolences.” The band continued to avoid tracks from Shudder, but the one they did include on the setlist was a great one, that being “I Think I’ll Be Ok.”
While the New York city quintet moved quickly in order to pack in as many songs as possible, they did fit in a few well-placed jabs at the Red Sox that had the Boston faithful at least slightly riled up. The joke, however, would be on the band, for their beloved Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs by the Texas Rangers later that night.
In addition to the national pastime, Bayside focused on sounding as good as I’ve ever heard them. The highlights of the set for me were “Landing Feet First,” a mid-tempo track off The Walking Wounded, as well as fan favorite “Montauk.” Throughout the set the crowd sang along with fists in the air, showing that they may not have been the headliner, but Bayside certainly helped sell a fair amount of tickets to the sold-out event.
The band also debuted two new songs from their forthcoming album, both of which were punchy and upbeat, but not terribly memorable upon first listen. Their cover of Weezer’s “My Name is Jonas,” on the other hand, was quite memorable. If I hadn’t been staring at the stage, I would have believed anyone who told me Weezer had just made a special appearance. While some fans would rather see a band put their own special twist on a cover song, I subscribe to the “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” school of though. And “My Name is Jonas” certainly doesn’t need fixing.
The band would close the set like they always do, with a spirited version of “Devotion and Desire” that got the crowd moving more so than any of the previous tracks. They had played for a full hour, not bad considering they weren’t headlining the show.
After a short wait (I’m guessing there was an early curfew), Senses Fail took the stage and opened with “Shark Attack.” My first impression was “I think my ears are going to explode.” The entire set was an aural assault, with the band seemingly out to ruin the hearing of everyone in attendance. Mission accomplished.
That isn’t to say that the band sounded bad. They did stray into some sloppy territory at times, but overall they handled even their most technical tracks with ease. Guitarist Zach Roach, who recently replaced Heath Saraceno, not only shreds, but also lends solid backing vocals, often allowing lead singer Buddy Neilsen to catch his breath after a round of guttural screaming.
Neilsen’s vocals were the most surprising, and impressive aspect of the entire show. When I saw Senses Fail four years ago, they did not sound good. Neilsen’s started the show strong, but quickly faded to the point where he sounded nothing like he did on any of their recordings. What a difference a few years makes. On this night, the charismatic frontman deftly switched from his much-improved singing voice to the type of screaming that threatened to blow out every single speaker hanging above the stage.
While Neilsen provided an admirable vocal performance, it is the crowd that really deserves a pat on the back. From the second the band stepped on stage until the final notes of “187”, the fans went absolutely nuts. They pushed, shoved, flailed, and crowd surfed throughout the set, and Senses Fail seemed to feed off their energy. Neilsen paced around the stage like a caged animal and did his best in fighting the urge to dive headfirst into the crowd.
The band’s set lasted just under an hour and featured a mix of songs from their four full-length albums, including three tracks from The Fire. “Bite to Break Skin” from Let it Enfold You” received the biggest reaction from the crowd, although pretty much every song inspired at least some degree of chaos at the front of the venue.
The band would close the show abruptly, saying “we have one more left, and we don’t do encores, so this is it.” Once again, I think this may have been to accommodate a curfew the club had instituted. Either way, Senses Fail closed their set in the same way they’ve closed every other show throughout their career, with “187.” While it is a crowd favorite, it seems dated at this point, and I wish they would try something different. Based on their reaction, however, I don’t think many in the crowd would agree with me.
Overall, the show highlighted two bands that have survived seismic shifts in the music industry without reinventing their sound, but by cultivating a dedicated fan base. While Bayside is always a decent live band, their performance was certainly the best I had seen from them. With a new record arriving in February, they seem primed to continue to grow that fan base. Senses Fail, on the other hand, has never had a reputation as a good live band, but shows like this will go a long way towards changing that. Their performance was an hour of pure intensity that would impress even the most cynical music fans.
(Same as previous show in Hartford)