Christian punks Underoath play up older material

Review: Underoath and others light up Westcott Theater with heavy metal, strobing lights and projected video amps of energy.

It's been six years since Underoath graced a Syracuse stage.

In 2005, inside the dusty, baby-blue walls of Club Tundra that night, they celebrated the release of their brand-new record, They're Only Chasing Safety, which many fans consider the band's most successful album.

A lineup change and four albums later, Underoath's aesthetically pulverizing set at the Westcott Theater on Friday sampled the new-look Underoath without sacrificing much of the old.

"It's been a long time Syracuse, too long ... but it's great to be back in this city."
- Spencer Chamberlain

They played a roughly hour-long set, heavy in older material, to the delight of the Syracuse crowd. Several songs off They're Only Chasing Safety were greeted by sing-a-longs and crowd surfing from the approximately 350 concertgoers. The band carefully peppered songs from new album, Disambiguation, in between old favorites like "Young and Aspiring" and "A Boy Brushed Red Living in Black and White," which the crowd immediately recognized and went crazy for.

The new material didn't quite live up to that level live. The crowd mellowed out, and only a handful of people sang along to the newer lyrics despite the album's release date nine months ago. Some at the show mourned the departure of Aaron Gillespie — the band's previous drummer, singer and eclipsing creative influence — before Underoath's set began. The Syracuse crowd responded heavily to the old material from before 2006's Define the Great Line, and with only a handful of songs played past that album, most were not disappointed with the performance.

Underoath also compiled a visceral, aesthetically stimulating complement to their music by projecting a video behind the band on the blank movie theater screen. They also used a set of strobe lights that looked like rows of pixilated Lite-Brite's piled on top of each other in flashing color patterns. For the first few songs of Underoath's set, the only light on stage came from the projected video. Drummer Dan Davison's haunting silhouette was projected onto the backdrop, highlighting his complex polyrhythmic drum patterns and silver pilot headphones.

The video served as buffer to the emotional dynamic of the songs and let the audience visualize the lyrical content. During "Emergency Broadcast: The End Is Near," the accompanying video consisted of an array of abstract shots depicting cells and the process of creating life, juxtaposed with scenes from a gunner's perspective in a military helicopter, showing the motif of distinction between life and death. The high-end stage production and visualization added an extra edge to the music.

Los Angeles-based post-hardcore punks Letlive opened up the show, though. Led by the antics of singer Jason Aalon Butler, Letlive put on an incredible live performance that shocked many of the crowd members. To kick things off, Butler limped onstage like a stray dog, lumbering around before picking up the microphone and letting out a high-pitched howl that both teased at and encapsulated the band's high-energy set.

The energetic and charismatic Butler sprinted laps onstage, jumped down into the crowd to sing and ended the set with a swan dive off an amplifier stack tucked away behind the drummer, over the drum kit and landed into a tuck-and-roll before grabbing the stage monitors and throwing them around the stage.

Butler summed up the crowd response pretty well himself.

"If you've never heard of Letlive, we're your new favorite band," he said.

A few concertgoers echoed this, or at least said that they were the most interesting band of the night, by far.

Next up was the Long Island metal quartet Stray from the Path, who had a tough act to follow. And judging by the crowd's response, they didn't live up to expectations. The guitars sounded flat by comparison and the crowd stood stationary throughout much of the band's set. Only a few people seemed interested and engaged in the rough, atonal texture of the music.

After them, and before Underoath took the stage, a few familiar faces from the metal world took the stage with a new look.

Times of Grace, featuring former Killswitch Engage members Jesse Leach and Adam Dutkiewicz, played a brand of slower, melody-driven metal with hints of Pearl Jam-influenced grunge. They provided a welcomed break from the fast pace of the other bands' sets and inspired singing from the audience.

But, Underoath was the main attraction of the night and a huge array of people that came out to see them. Everything from teenagers to metal-heads pushing 50, and T-shirts branded with artists from Iron Maiden to Billy Joel co-existed at the show to see the venerable Underoath put on a unique, visually stimulating show.

"It's been a long time Syracuse, too long," singer Spencer Chamberlain said. "And hey, maybe that's our fault. But it's great to be back in this city."

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