Monday, 15 March 2010

Underoath in Leeds

On Saturday night I went to see Underoath at Leeds Met University. I remember wanting to see these guys last time they came over to the UK two years ago, but never got round to it. Since then though I've been listening to Underoath a lot.

I first became aware of the band around the time their hit album They're Only Chasing Safety was released in 2004. I downloaded a couple of tracks and enjoyed what I heard, but never really gave them much of a chance after that. I think the next time I heard about them was during the controversy with Fat Mike at the Warped Tour in 2006. And some time after that I downloaded a great podcast where Underoath were interviewed by Alternative Press for their AP-Podcast. It was a really interesting interview, and they played a track from the band's new album at that time, Define The Great Line. I remember the exact place I was when I first heard that track ("Casting Such a Thin Shadow"), and it just blew me away. I got hold of the album, and then their next one when it came out, and they're two of the most important albums I own.

Underoath have been around for a while now, and have gone through a few line-up changes, and the music from their first few releases is much different to the music they write now, but the stuff they're coming out with these days is amazing. They also seem like really passionate, decent guys personally, and I think that carries through to their music. In the AP interview, the host talked about one of his friends who said Underoath's album was his favourite of the previous year, because it felt like the band stands for something, and you definitely feel that when you listen. I also respect them for sticking with their label Solid State, even when they've had the chance to move on to a bigger label. Suffice it to say, I didn't wanna miss this opportunity to see them live.

I travelled to the gig by coach, and as we drew nearer to Leeds I saw that the city has an impressive skyline at night. It seems to stretch on for quite a while, at least for a UK city, and looks pretty urban and contemporary, when compared to Sheffield. I turned up quite unprepared - I had no map of where I needed to go - but as the coach pulled in I remembered that I'd been to Leeds a couple of times before. Once to see MxPx at The Cockpit and then again when I came to Leeds Festival.

The town centre is quite interesting. It seems to me like everything is bunched together in the middle, surrounded by a big circular road which runs around the outside. I still had no real idea where I was going though, so I went and asked at a Co-op nearby. I was pointed in the general direction and managed to find Leeds Met Student Union after about 15 minutes of walking, trying to memorise my route so I could find my way back to the coach station.

I showed my ticket and went inside, and I've never seen so many brutal looking kids. I guess it's just been a while since I'd been to a big gig, but everyone seemed to be really dressed-up for the occasion. I'd missed the first support, but I was just in time for We Are The Ocean. I could have done without seeing them as well though, as I didn't enjoy their set one bit. They must be semi-popular these days 'cos I asked my younger brother about them, and he'd heard of them, but I thought they were boring. Also, the sound was terrible, which I wasn't happy about, and the only member of the band who seemed to have much talent was their clean vocalist, so I was glad when they finished their set. Next Underoath's techs came on stage to set up the band's equipment, and then the lights dimmed, the intro music began and Underoath appeared.

As soon as they jumped into their opener, the contrast with the last band was apparent - Underoath went crazy, and so did the crowd. And luckily, the sound was much improved. I don't think I can remember a band playing a show with so much clarity and such a rich sound. It might be something to do with the massive synth and electronics rig their keyboard player has.

The band played an even mix of songs from their last three releases, and hearing all this stuff live was amazing. Underoath create such a deep musical atmosphere on their albums, and I was glad to see this carried through to their live performances as well - everything sounded just like the record, but in a good way.

One of the striking things about Underoath is how every member has a very strong and individual stage persona. They all look very different, and all move very differently, and it's a great spectacle. They look like a team, and share a lot of musical responsibilities on stage. The drummer sings a lot, the screamed vocalist played guitar in some songs, and the keyboard player and one of the guitarists had their own drums to help out with the percussion at some points.

The band took some time to chat to the crowd, and shared their Christian faith, which was greeted with a few boos, but more cheers. I've never seen a band be so blatant about their faith on stage, but regardless of whether you're a believer or not, you've gotta respect them for being so up front about it.

I lost track of time, but they played for a long while, providing the energetic crowd with some great breakdowns. And after finishing their set, then coming on for an encore, it was over. All in all, hands down one of the best live performances I've ever seen. Even someone who had no idea about their music would have been impressed. The aforementioned passion these guys have for music just bleeds through, and it immerses and inspires you.

I headed outside, grabbing a t-shirt to commemorate the event, and made my way back to the coach station. I ended up taking the long way round, but it meant I managed to see more of the city, and I was impressed. It's not too often I get the chance to venture outside of Sheffield these days, so other big cities are always a lot of fun to explore. As I said earlier, everything looks very modern, well-lit and well-designed, and Leeds is definitely somewhere I'd return to.

I found the station and headed to the waiting room to wait for my coach, realising it was the same waiting room I'd been in when returning from my adventure at Leeds Festival in summer 2008. Even the guy at the help desk was the same.

An interesting side-note was that the whole trip reminded me a lot of Japan. One reason is that I listened to Underoath a lot while I was there. Most mornings I would fire up Lost in the Sound of Separation on my MP3 player as I boarded the Portliner to uni. And I remember riding the night bus to Kobe after just arriving in Japan, listening to Underoath as I travelled through through the country at night, wondering what was in store for me in the year ahead. And just riding coaches at night like I did on Saturday reminds me of Japan. I don't think I've written about my experiences on Japan's night buses on this blog before, but suffice it to say, I had some experiences. In fact, night buses could have been in my post on the 3 things I hate most about Japan, but that's a story for another day.

Seeing Underoath has inspired me more than just musically. These guys are my favourite heavy band right now and I'm gonna make sure I get to see them again. Even though they're a comparatively big band, they're in music for the right reasons and it shows.

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