Greenpoint's Saint Vitus Bar is famous for its devotion to metal. From the bartenders' formidably long beards to the cyclopian skull-and-crossbones banner that hangs behind the stage, it's pretty easy to guess what kind of bands the venue usually books. But this past Saturday, Saint Vitus got a healthy dose of emo and punk when it played host to Topshelf Records' CMJ Showcase.
Topshelf (founded in 2006 in Boston) made waves this year by signing a recently-reunited Braid, one of the key bands in the '90s Midwest emo scene. The band also recently announced that their first album in sixteen years will be released in 2014. On top of that, this showcase also saw another '90s band, The Jazz June, playing together for the first time since 2007. Needless to say, this show sold out very quickly.
Before the seasoned veterans took the stage, a few younger bands got the spotlight. I got there a little too late for Have Mercy's set, but arrived in time to see Caravels, a band from Las Vegas. Of all the acts that night, they were easily the heaviest. Guitarists Dillon Shines and Matt Frantom alternated between atmospheric noodling and vicious shredding, while George Foskaris' drumming got so vigorous that he removed his shirt halfway through the set. Highlights included the jagged "Having Had & Lost Some Infinite Thing" from their debut album Lacuna, released earlier this year, and anthemic shape-shifter "Dream Beaver" from their incredible self-titled 7".
Enemies, a band from Ireland that rarely plays on this side of the pond, was next. Playing a hybrid of math and post-rock, the mostly instrumental band relied on sheer musicianship to win the crowd over, and it payed off in spades.
The entire band made their songs' irregular time signatures seem like a breeze, with both guitarists staying perfectly in sync throughout many polyrhythmic twists and turns. Some songs from their recent album Embark, Embrace featured vocals from the Enemies' bassist, but they definitely took a backseat to the rest of the music. Closing with "We've Been Talking," the title track from their 2010 album, Enemies' confidence and steadfast grooves provided quite an amazing show.
The Jazz June
The crowd swelled as The Jazz June took the stage, seeming very pleased to be there. Though this was their first show in six years, the band didn't seem the least bit rusty, packing their setlist full of upbeat tracks from their beloved 2000 album They Love Those Who Make the Music. Older fans sung along, kids bounced up and down excitedly, and by the time closer "When in Rome" reached its climactic end, it became quite apparent that The Jazz June should have never stopped making music. Luckily, the band kept telling the crowd that they have new songs on the way, so we won't have to wait another six years to hear from them again.
Then, with all four members clad in tight black t-shirts, Braid showed up to remind the crowd how emo was done in the '90s before Fall Out Boy forever tarnished the genre's name.
Though not exclusively playing songs from 1998's Frame & Canvas (as they did on tour in 2011), Braid's set was filled with classic fan favorites. "Killing a Camera" was a clear highlight, as its opening notes kickstarted the largest mosh pit of the show, with fans pushing and shoving for the rare privilege of screaming lyrics directly in the face of singer/guitarist Bob Nanna.
The band spoke about writing new songs for their upcoming album, talking about the importance of a "kickass" opening song, before launching into "The New Nathans Detroit," the first track on Frame & Canvas. Though they may never live up to that album's glory (it's often cited as one of the best emo albums ever), Braid proved that they've still got what it takes to churn out energetic, engaging music.