WHAT do you get when you cross a bunch of exuberantly youthful rockers with a gleefully unpredictable post-hardcore showman and a bunch of goths that can rock your socks off?
No, not a bad joke with a hell of a punchline, but Pierce the Veil's latest EU/UK tour, which hit Belfast's Mandela Hall last Sunday night.
In the first support slot it was Southampton's Creeper, who, far from being merely “the warm up band” (as referenced by frontman Will Gould), proved to be hugely popular in their own right.
A plinky piano intro generates a scream of excitement, before they burst forth with 'VCR' and the ludicrously catchy 'Black Mass'.
They are remarkably poised for a band that have only existed for about two years, with Gould in particular showing all the signs of becoming a legendary figure as he throws himself around the stage with abandon, reminding your reviewer of the likes of Gerard Way, Meatloaf and even Elvis.
Having tasked themselves with warming the crowd up, they soon move on to startling the hell out of them by demanding – and receiving – a circle pit for 'The Honeymoon Suite', before unleashing their bombastic latest single 'Suzanne', which garners the biggest reaction of the set.
The band, in turn, are delighted with the response, with Gould enthusing that “this is our first time in Ireland, ever!” and thanking the crowd for “being such a cool audience”. They finish in gorgeously emo fashion with an emotional and heartfelt 'Misery', which sees Gould almost drowned out by the crowd in several places. This band will go far, make no mistake.
From the sublime to the utterly spontaneous, up next it's LA post-hardcore outfit letlive., who are onstage for mere seconds before a small but perfectly formed moshpit breaks out. Known for their often wild live shows, tonight also showcases their unstoppable talent as both songwriters and drum-tight musicians.
Frontman Jason Aalon Butler is at times almost a literal pocket rocket as he caromes around the stage – and indeed, the room – often singing from within the crowd, running full pelt through the mercifully empty photo pit, and in one particularly memorable moment, hanging from the lighting rig above the stage, all while bellowing passionately into his microphone (the lucky roadie in charge of untangling the cord really earns his wage tonight!).
Sonically, they combine hardcore, punk, hard rock and even splashes of soul and jazz to create their uniquely visceral sound – this is music with intent, like a coiled spring. Tracks such as opener 'Renegade 86', 'A Weak Ago' and 'The Dope Boat' strike the room – and the ecstatic crowd – like the audio equivalent of a punch in the gut.
Despite his unhinged onstage persona, Butler is also an amiable and warm host, expressing surprise that their music was so well known here (“I didn't even know motherfuckers over here cared about us!”) and joking that he was blushing when some wit lobs a bra onto the stage. He also proudly extols the band's political leanings one minute (“We do not believe in racism or bigotry...we will never support a man called Donald Trump. Fuck Donald Trump!”), then gives a rousing and rather sweary pro-women speech the next.
They wrap up with two of their best known tracks: 'Muther', which sees Creeper's Hannah Greenwood joining Butler on vocals briefly, and 'Good Mourning America', during which Butler unleashes his party trick of climbing whatever he can – in this case, he goes up the lighting rig to the side of the stage like it's a ladder, ending up amongst the lights directly above the stage. It's a suitably triumphant and symbolic moment that represents their entire astonishing set.
By the time headliners Pierce the Veil rather theatrically stride onstage following a cutesy animation intro and perfectly timed curtain drop the crowd have officially reached fever pitch, with the packed room almost throbbing with anticipation.
They begin with 'Dive In', which prompts an immediate singalong, the first of many this evening. It soon becomes obvious that, in a decidedly different way – but equally as effective – that a PTV show is as exciting and visually splendid as a letlive. one.
From confetti cannons, streamers whizzing through the air, clever light boxes and a flashy light show, it's clear that the band put as much effort into making sure their shows are interesting to watch as well as listen to.
That their bouncy, effervescent hard rock is fun and captivating is gratifying: they plainly care about writing great music, as well as putting on a great show.
“Holy shit! I think we're going to have a good time tonight” exclaims frontman Vic Fuentes, which proves to be spot on.
From choosing a visibly overwhelmed girl from the crowd to serenade onstage to bringing out Jason Aalon Butler to join Fuentes on vocals during 'Tangled In the Great Escape' they expertly hold the crowd in the palm of their collective hands for their entire seventy-five minute set.
You want the hits? You've got 'em: tonight sees the likes of 'Texas Is Forever', 'Bulls In the Bronx' and 'Circles' all fired out to an ecstatic crowd, who sing every single word with a hand on their heart and a spring in their step. And when an impressively thrown guitar (to a roadie, don't panic) signals the end of the band's set, the sadness is palpable. Briefly, of course: as if they wouldn't do an encore!
The aforementioned 'Circles', all impressively chuggy riffs and hooky chorus is first, followed by what is arguably their biggest hit 'King For a Day', which earns the loudest scream on what has been a very screamy night. “Thank you Belfast!” Fuentes hollers, and then it's all over bar the croaky throats and ringing ears.
Highly varied bills such as tonight can often fall flat, with fans only coming to watch a single band then leaving, or spending their time slating the ones their not fans of.
Happily that wasn't the case tonight, with each band being heartily (and noisily) received. It surely does make one's little black heart glad that such variation exists in the music world. More of this, please!
Review by Melanie Brehaut
Photos by Darren McVeigh