As Cities Burn: a history lesson in emotional discourse
Friday the 13th is a day horror film fanatics have held in their hearts for decades. But this year, it belonged to the heavy music fans of Nashville and surrounding areas: As Cities Burn had returned from the grave. And it wasn’t just any As Cities Burn– apart from a single member change, it was the As Cities Burn that put out the widely acclaimed 2005 album Son, I Loved You at Your Darkest.
But, there was a catch. When the demo from 2007’s Come Now Sleep surfaced, their original vocalist TJ Bonnette and indie-hardcore stylings were completely absent. Instead, TJ’s brother, Cody, had stepped into the shoes of lead vocalist and the band produced a more laid back indie-rock record. Fans were understandably shocked and upset, but in the end they gave their unconditional support and Come Now Sleep is a beloved record in many record collections.
In 2009, the band released what would turn out to be their final album, Hell or High Water. It built upon the indie sound of the last record, while adding a little extra rock-and-roll crunch to the mix. But after they released this record, they played a handful of shows and quietly bowed out of the scene with a small message in their MySpace bio.
Fast forward to 2011, when the band announced they would be reuniting to play the Unsilent Night Festival in Dallas, Texas. Most believed this to be a one-off reunion show, but the band continued to announce dates across the country, and even some abroad. The most recent string of shows brought them to the South– Tennessee and Louisiana, specifically. That is how this reviewer ended up at one of two sold-out shows on Friday the 13th.
The show took place at the Exit/In, a venue greeted by most with a forced grin. It’s poorly laid out, the sound is never on point, and the doormen are far from polite. However, that didn’t stop them from selling out two shows, and scheduling another the previous night across the street at The End. With whiskey and coke in hand, I settled in to watch the opening band play.
The opener was O’Brother from Atlanta, Ga. They had a great sound (not unlike something you would hear on As Cities Burn’s Come Now Sleep), and they knew their songs to the T. The drummer was especially on point, playing interesting, diverse beats throughout the set. But in the end, myself and the rest of the crowd were anxious to see the main attraction.
And when the moment finally came, it was nothing short of legendary. The band exploded into “Thus from My Lips, by Yours, My Sin Is Purged” with enough force to knock a whale unconscious. The crowd was in a frenzy, and I was screaming myself hoarse right along with the rest of them. You could cut the cloud of emotions with a knife.
Since the band was playing their first album, the crowd anticipated what was coming next. This didn’t stop them from screaming as the intro to every song started. And who could blame them, despite the aforementioned sound issues– the music was incredible. It was like listening to a louder, more intense version of their record.
The first big difference happened when they skipped over their biggest single “Bloodsucker Pt. II” and moved straight into “Terrible! How Terrible for the Great City!” I knew they would go back to it at the end of the set, so I wasn’t worried. Then, they also skipped the track “The Widow.” I found this odd, seeing as the quieter track would have been a nice touch in the middle of the aggressive set. I assumed they would play that track as an encore as well, and I settled back into my drink.
As the main set wound down, the band closed with non-album track “Gates.” This was a pleasant surprise, and the crowd reacted by reflecting the passion they were getting from the stage. The band walked offstage after this, and the crowd began to chant. The band did indeed return, sans TJ, and played the track “’84 Sheepdog” from Hell or High Water. It was great to see Cody tearing it up on the lead vocals, and TJ even returned to the stage mid song to contribute.
After this, the band returned to “Bloodsucker Pt. II,” and milked every last ounce of energy from the crowd. But then, it was over. The band was gone, and the sound guy had flipped his iPod back on over the speakers. Myself and those surrounding gave a general “hmmf” at not being able to hear “The Widow” performed live.
But as I closed out my bar tab, I knew I had nothing to be disappointed about. I had just seen a band play live that I thought to be dead and gone, and the energy and passion of the night had nearly moved me to tears.