An early show at Manhattan’s Highline Ballroom — a 700-person capacity venue positioned near the Hudson River — featured a solid duo of proven veterans, Anberlin and Story of the Year, alongside up-and-coming Terrible Things. The Thursday evening date in New York City was part of a brief tour that serves as a warm-up run for headliners Anberlin, who are set to release their fifth full-length album, Dark is the Way, Light is a Place, on September 21 through Universal Republic Records.
On their first tour, Terrible Things began at 6:30, and the four-piece sounded remarkably tight through their half-hour set. This comes as little surprise given the musical experiences of the band’s members: guitarists Fred Mascherino and Andy Jackson were a part of Taking Back Sunday and Hot Rod Circuit, respectively, and drummer Josh Eppard was a part of Coheed and Cambria. Rounding out the band’s live lineup is former Gainer bassist Jason Barker. Mascherino provided lead vocals for most of the set, beginning with new versions of songs from his prior projects including the The Color Fred’s “Terrible Things” and Breaking Pangaea’s “Lullaby”. Jackson did take lead vocals on “Up at Night”, contributing some lyrics from his days in Hot Rod Circuit, but Mascherino seemed to front the band and was the primary vessel for the band’s interaction with the crowd.
Despite their technical prowess and live setting know-how, Terrible Things certainly didn’t break any new ground at the Highline Ballroom, especially rehashing cuts from old bands. Their debut album is finished and waiting to be released this August; hopefully there’s some substance behind the songs. It would be a shame to waste the collective talents of these individuals who have, in the past, proven that they can excel under the right circumstances.
Terrible Things (The Color Fred cover)
Lullaby (Breaking Pangaea cover)
The Hills of Birmingham
Up at Night
Story of the Year began with the racing “And the Hero Will Drown” and didn’t let off the gas once during their eight-song setlist. Though the band let their best song go first, Story of the Year still packed a walloping punch for the rest of the evening, with songs like “The Antidote” and “Our Time is Now”, the latter dedicated to “big ugly dudes” who enjoy heavy-handed hard rock. The St. Louis five-piece sounded as strong as ever, and the band tweaked their already-solid stage presence with tightly choreographed spins and jumps. Frontman Dan Marsala was passable, but guitarist Phil Sneed’s backing vocals were fantastic and added extra power and quality to the band’s songs.
Story of the Year excels when embracing their post-hardcore roots (like the penultimate “In the Shadows”) but flounders when juggling alternative rock with radio-friendly choruses (“Anthem of Our Dying Day”, “Until the Day I Die”). As the band’s biggest MTV hits, though, those songs are fan-favorites and the crowd embraces these lackluster cuts. Thankfully, Story of the Year’s energy and solid musicianship transform the songs into enjoyable three-and-a-half-minute live romps. Stripped of their excessive studio production, Story of the Year not only holds up — they sound even better.
And the Hero Will Drown
Our Time is Now
The Ghost of You and I
Anthem of Our Dying Day
The Dream is Over
In the Shadows
Until the Day I Die
Headliner Anberlin performed a one hour set with mixed results. On paper, the band’s fourteen songs look strong, covering half of their excellent 2007 effort, Cities. Execution, however, tells a different story. Normally a standout vocalist, frontman Stephen Christian sounded subpar through the whole evening, missing vocal queues and struggling to hit the notes that make Anberlin such a solid band in the studio. This lead to harmony problems, as well, and Anberlin surprisingly sounded like a struggling local act — not a major label backed powerhouse.
Highlights from the set included “Impossible” and the debut of “We Owe This to Ourselves”, two brand new songs from Anberlin’s upcoming Dark is the Way, Light is a Place; the songs sounded great and should excite longtime Anberlin fans who enjoy the band’s very accessible blend of alternative rock and “emo”. A New Order cover seemed oddly out of place — especially during such a brief set — and it was difficult to judge how the band handled it with Christian’s distracting vocals. An energetic take on “Feel Good Drag”, the band’s biggest hit to date, seemed to indicate that the set was over; Anberlin fired back with one more, though, Never Take Friendship Personal‘s excellent “A Day Late”, before the house lights came on just before 9:45.
A Whisper and a Clamor
We Owe This To Ourselves (new song / first time)
The Unwinding Cable Car
True Faith (New Order cover)
Feel Good Drag
A Day Late
Story of the Year played for just forty minutes yet managed to outclass headliners Anberlin, a strange feat that should leave Anberlin embarrassed of their weak performance. The band will undoubtedly return to New York City in support of their upcoming full-length, and one can only hope that they work out the glaring flaws in their live exhibition. Conversely, Story of the Year returns to the Big Apple on August 9, looking to expand their already-solid live set into a powerful headlining outing at the Blender Theater.