Quite often in the run up to a gig, you listen to the bands music methodically, almost like revising for an exam. However, sometimes life just gets in the way and you completely forget to do that and before you even know it, the day of the gig has arrived. This was the case for me with regards to Defeater, Break Even and Kids Insane arriving in Manchester this week. It caught me off guard and I wasn’t sure if I was ready. However, I needed an excuse to leave my mind behind for a couple of hours…
Unfortunately I missed most of the set from Israel's Kids Insane, which is a shame because they play a speedy, hefty brand of hardcore influenced punk rock with fantastic rhythm guitars and crafty little drum fills. As a reference point it truly is a melting pot of influences, containing elements reminiscent of everyone from Dillinger Four to Propagandhi to Paint It Black to Saint Catherines to Weak Teeth. Fast, snotty and pissed off. Check them out!
Break Even generally have a more restrained Post Hardcore sort of sway and pace on record, but perhaps feeling the pressure of the other two bands they played a faster, heavier style of set, and having seen them play last year with Landscapes, this version of them was definitely so much better. If this is possible, they were more impassioned than usual; truly happy, humbled and ‘in the zone’ of being on the road again. Beginning their set with a rousing upbeat version of ‘The Truth’ and wasting no time kicking things up another notch with ‘Heart Shaped House’ which had the great guitar work from the verse really ring through. They were on fantastic form, bringing us the original EP version of ‘Run For Your Life’ with a slower and lower guitar toned intro, before breaking into a faster, heavier version of the track that I had become accustomed to from rinsing their album ‘The Bright Side’. It’s such a fantastic song about feeling lost and trapped in the ‘normal’ life, knowing that you need to break out and chase something, anything else. The set continuously went from strength to strength with brilliant, defiant versions of tracks ‘Troublemaker’ and ‘Smashing Lights’. They managed to escalate the emotional impact of the set by finishing with two of the more personal, evocative tracks from the album, ‘October 27th’ and ‘November 18th’. While not necessarily heavy enough for all Hardcore/Punk fans, Break Even really are a great band, and are worthy of way more attention they perhaps receive.
Perhaps taking their cues from the somewhat quiet and apprehensive crowd that filled the Star & Garter, Defeater played a very straight forward, workman like, no frills set. With minimal dialogue or switch around between tracks, it was urgent and relentless. It was also phenomenal. “I was a good man once!” is the opening battle cry, as they smashed straight into ‘Unanswered’ from their latest album, the Epitaph released ‘Abandoned’. They are a tight knit band on record, but this is amplified tenfold in a live setting, with extra drum flurries and even more impassioned screams. With truly breakneck paced versions of tracks ‘December 1943’ and ‘Bastards’ There is a distinct immediacy to the set, everything is played with anger, energy, catharsis and bite. The whole setlist is a great example of blinding melodic hardcore, but one particular early highlight is a relentless version of ‘Hopeless Again’ with its train track rhythm drumbeats and stabbing guitar work.
Having a body of work that is all one encompassing, character driven narrative exploring guilt, love, depression and the whole gamut of human emotion, there is bound to be some more dramatic, heartfelt moments. These act as spine chilling pieces of punctuation throughout Defeater’s barrage of story telling, and come in the guise of ‘Remorse’ and ‘Empty Glass’, both of which display not only the poignant depth of Derek Archambault’s lyricism, but the fantastic skill of drummer Joe Longobardi. Being a continuous narrative also determines the pairing of some of the songs throughout the set, which may sound restrictive in some instances but when it leads to ‘Spared In Hell’ and ‘Divination’ being played together almost as one long epic eulogy, it is an electrifying display of Melodic Hardcore craftsmanship.
Much like Break Even’s set before them, Defeater’s set builds and build towards an engaging crescendo. ‘The Red, White And Blues’ is the personal highlight of the entire set; it is genuinely amazing. The final part that discusses an early morning graveyard scene is cathartic, with vocalist and crowd screaming in unison. Ending the set with ‘Cowardice’ is one last heartfelt deathblow, the venue resounding with impassioned screams of “What’s Left For Me!!” as Archambault gets off the stage into the front of the crowd for the final third of the song, just backed by the drumbeat and screaming out his lungs for the last time, surrounded by a semi-circle like mosh pit once the final torrent of music breaks back in.
Sometimes, you need to go to a gig and experience music that may be a bit emotionally evolving or cathartic in whatever way. I know it may not be the same for everyone, but for me Break Even and Defeater are two such bands that create music like that. Both lyricists have such a way with words that they can create knots in my stomach and throat, force huge bouts of introspection, and lift me up when I feel like a piece of shit. These two bands are so good at this, and I have been feeling so shitty recently that I almost didn’t go this gig. I wasn’t sure I could cope with the potential feels. However, you can’t just hide inside your own internal dialogue all the time. That is definitely a problem of mine. I got up, I went out, and I went to the gig. And I’m so glad I did. It didn't completely lift me out of my slump, but it helped. And any help is good. In two rather different ways, both Break Even & Defeater play music that demands involvement and elicits a response. And that is a rare commodity in modern music. If you know bands that have this affect on you, support them in every single way that you can. They deserve it. If you don’t know bands that have this affect on you, then you should work to seek some out. I recommend Break Even and Defeater as starting point