You know it’s gonna be a good show when the mosh pit breaks out the instant the very first song from the very first band begins. It’s hardly 7:00 pm on a Wednesday night and it’s one of those weeks that drags so badly it feels like a month. Still, that hasn’t deterred a growing mob of people from ascending on The Fillmore Charlotte in North Carolina after a long day at work. The venue, located in the middle of the city's central hub, is filled to the brim before the sun has hardly even begun to set. If you wanted to be up front, you apparently needed to have called in sick today.
The second New York hardcore punks Stray From the Path hit the stage and kick things off with their 2017 smasher ‘The House Always Wins’, it’s clear that the tiresome week has also failed to stop the Charlotte crowd from getting good and rowdy. A healthy dose of consensual violence erupts in the middle of the already packed audience and things are off to the races. The tight four-piece rip into a savagely focused 8 song set mostly comprised of their past two albums Only Death is Real and Internal Atomics; the limbs start flying and bodies start moving as frontman Drew York and the solid number of Stray fans in attendance scream out lyrics that rail against the system and tell Nazi punks to fuck off.
It’s show 26 of Underoath’s Voyeurist Tour, a lengthy North American run that began in the middle of February and will end after three more shows just as March ends. While the bands and the crews are undoubtedly exhausted by this point, the current spot of Spring weather in the Southeast seems to have livened them up a bit. There’s no loss of energy to be found at least. Each act on the bill bounces and leaps and slams their bodies around the stage like it’s Night 1 instead of 26, and the crowd responds in kind for the most part. The first crowd surfers of the night make their journey down front before Stray have even finished their set, and the pit has grown rough enough that it leads to a fight between two men - which is thankfully quickly subdued by about a dozen other moshers.
Bad Omens then switches up the vibes by bringing a much moodier aesthetic (the stage is bathed in deep crimsons for most of their set) and a genuine sex appeal to the proceedings by opening with the haunting title track to their very fresh new album The Death of Peace of Mind. As frontman Noah Sebastian saunters across the stage lamenting on missing “the way you touch”, “the way you fuck” and “the way you taste”, the shrieks and squeals of delight from certain sections of the crowd almost threaten to overpower the music itself. The album hasn’t even been out for a month but the Charlotte audience already appears to know all the words. By the time the band launch into their hit song ‘Limits’, almost everybody is up off their feet and eager to join in on singing the catchy chorus.
Despite being a relatively newer act, Spiritbox have smashed their way into the heavy music scene to become one of the most talked about bands of the past year. It’s not hard to see why as the group, led by husband and wife duo Mike Stringer and Courtney LaPlante, rip into a triple dose of filth with ‘Rule of Nines’, ‘Circle With Me’, and ‘Blessed Be’ and are met with wild enthusiasm. The infrequent and scattered crowd surfers of earlier have now turned into a steady stream. The Canadian rockers switch styles on a dime, going from brutal metal breakdowns to soothing atmospheric sections within the same breath. It’s a wonder to behold live, especially the versatile vocal performance from LaPlante, who makes it all seem effortless.
Unlike the ongoing work week, this evening has gone by far too quickly. Despite the building being packed for over two hours and plenty of sweat having already been flung around the place, it feels like everyone only just arrived. The lights go out and the sold out crowd roars in approval as Underoath prepare to take the stage. A solitary figure wearing a minimalist digital mask (a neat remnant from the band’s Digital Ghost livestream event) stands in the spotlight and instructs everyone to concentrate on their breath as they’re reminded of the miracle of all being here together for this experience. What a beautiful sentiment. “Do you hear that?” the figure asks just as things have grown eerily quiet and still. A steady, angry beat is slowly building. “Don’t panic.”
Before this tour in support of their triumphantly hard-hitting ninth album Voyeurist, it had been over 800 days since Underoath had been on the road. For a band like them that’s been living that life practically non stop since the early 2000s (even their breakup only lasted a couple of years), that’s unheard of. But whatever anxieties and trepidations the iconic Florida sextet may have had about returning to the stage likely burn away the moment they step out every night to hardcore album and set opener ‘Damn Excuses’. The song feels especially incendiary this particular night, although that may have something to do with how much literal heat is radiating inside the building. Down on the floor it's downright scorching to the point where half of the pit masters have their shirts off. It’s no longer a matter of if you’re sweating, but where you have yet to sweat from.
Frontman Spencer Chamberlain makes several comments about how hot it is but continues to dance around his equally sweaty bandmates regardless. Lead guitarist Tim McTague seems determined to jump and stomp on every possible corner of the stage, keyboardist Chris Dudley bangs his head and shakes his body around with wild abandon, bassist Grant Brandell and guitarist James Smith bounce off each other on their side, and drummer Aaron Gillepsie does that impossible thing where he sings and plays at the same time without missing a beat. The stream of crowd surfers has become a waterfall by this point with no signs of letting up. With no fancy screens or distracting gimmicks, Underoath’s production is pure unfiltered rock show. It’s just the band, the audience, and the lights, which explode in brilliant whites and oranges throughout the night’s heavier moments (‘Breathing In a New Mentality’ always hits) and shift to melancholic blues and purples during the more mellow ones.
The Voyeurist songs help tremendously in adding some dynamics to the set, offering some of the most interesting dual vocal play between Chamberlain and Gillepsie as well as the band’s most diverse range of sounds. It’s wonderful to see the confidence behind the record translate to the live setting - the new music both opens and closes the main set as well as starts the encore. ‘Hallelujah’, placed right in the middle of the show, sets the crowd off just as much as longtime staples ‘It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door’ and ‘Reinventing Your Exit’. There’s nowhere you can go in the Fillmore this evening that doesn’t have someone singing their hearts out to every word.
Chamberlain is a North Carolina native, raised in the city of Greensboro not even an hour and a half away from where he’s performing tonight. Charlotte has been a consistent stop for Underoath throughout their career and has remained a favorite band among many here. Chamberlain’s father as well as his wife and even a close friend from Tampa are all present at this show, and the frontman isn’t shy about sharing how grateful he is to have a much-needed day off tomorrow to enjoy their company. Nor is he afraid to show a little emotion while talking about the band’s tumultuous journey through fame, mistakes, breakups, reunions and pandemics that have led them to this point.
‘Writing on the Walls’ is the final song of the night. The mosh pit has now been matched in size and enthusiasm by an impromptu dance area by the bar. Security will likely be very, very sore the next couple of days as they assist the last few dozen crowd surfers. The two men who came to blows earlier can now be seen hugging and drunkenly swaying together. The last of the energy on this hot Wednesday night is spent, Underoath take a bow, and everyone disperses. Back to reality. But for those precious few hours, little else mattered besides what song might be played next. From longtime fans seeing Underoath for their fifth time to younger fans attending their first concert ever, there’s no denying the joy and excitement that was present in that room. Music escapism at its finest.
“Let’s pretend the last two or three years just never happened and just pick up where we left off.” McTague shared in a recent interview with Knotfest before hitting the road. “I think we’ve all done really creative things, and really cool things in the midst of adversity, but I don’t want to bring that adversity to a live show. I just want to go on stage, I want it to be hot, I want to sweat, I want people crowd surfing, I want to stage dive, I just want to go. Let’s just get back to rock and roll. Everything else has been a bridge and a bit of theater to a degree to kind of get us back to where we really all want to be, which is in a room and a community sharing the same experience.” Mission accomplished.
Underoath are set to play the stacked Aftershock Festival on October 9th next.
Listen to their latest album, 'Voyeurist'.