Words & Images by: Nell Alk
Anberlin :: 10.29.08 :: Webster Hall :: New York, NY
Imagine a frat party populated by Jesus freaks on speed. Joking! All kidding aside, the Anberlin concert at Webster Hall was nothing to scoff at. The Florida-based band broke it down for over an hour, and more impressive than their stamina was their stage presence. Passionate and appreciative, frontman Stephen Christian repeatedly praised the audience for their unfaltering fervor. He announced, "We'd never come off tour if every night were like this!" Truly, the New York City crowd went wild for this talented quintet. Some even made their way through the sea of people, bodysurfing straight to the stage. Perhaps considered by some to be a fruitless - and juvenile - maneuver, the pride on surfers' faces (before promptly being escorted offstage by security) proved that for others it was a priceless triumph, however short-lived. With my bird's-eye view from the balcony, I counted at least a dozen daring delinquents.
The band matched the enthusiasm of fans, putting on a show worthy of Facebook fame full of "status" mentions and envious "wall" posts. All members did their part well, but Christian took the cake. Wearing a pea coat and scarf the entire time, I had difficulty not breaking a sweat myself just watching him flutter back and forth. I thought he'd definitely shed the winter gear a track or two in, do the ever popular (and predictable) lead singer strip thing, but from first song through their encore he never so much as undid a single, solitary button.
Comprised of Christian along with lead guitarist Joseph Milligan, rhythm guitarist Christian McAlhaney, bass guitarist Deon Rexroat and drummer Nathan Young, Anberlin pulled out all the stops to put on a stellar show in support of their recent release, New Surrender (released September 30 on Universal Republic). To help them make it memorable, tour guest Kyle Flynn (formerly of the now broken up band Acceptance) kicked ass on keyboard, loops, acoustic guitar and background vocals. The temporary sextet truly came through, performing numbers old and new.
Among songs plucked from the past, it was thrilling to hear "The Unwinding Cable Car" (off Cities, 2007), with its simple acoustic strumming, penetrating percussion and velvety smooth vocals. The most notable throwback, however, was "Adelaide" (also off Cities), as their delivery made this song come alive. Evidently masters of the live medium, Christian & Co. belted out the easy-to-sing-along-to chorus with extreme energy, but never at the expense of precision. Stretching the syllables over a vast vocal range, the word "Adelaide" danced delicately off the tongue, while the subsequent lyrics within the repetitive, punchy chorus maintained a steady, deliberate choppiness. Another standout track, this one off New Surrender, "The Resistance" really resonated. Previously having listened to it on my own at home, I inadvertently overlooked this song. That is to say, it simply failed to jump out at me. I must not have been paying close enough attention, but after witnessing the live version I couldn't help but be newly enthralled. The chorus "speak for yourself" absolutely wins, live or otherwise. Give it a spin.
In addition to these three, Anberlin performed, by my count, thirteen other songs plucked from across all their albums. Their selection was strategic and it's safe to say the audience appreciated the mix of new, old and older. As songs oscillated from raucous to calm (i.e. "Paperthin Hymn" off Never Take Friendship Personal, 2005, to "Inevitable," off Cities), the crowd collectively shifted disposition from moshing to standing still with cameras, cell phones and lighters held high. Anberlin lovers weren't the only ones head-banging; the musicians themselves stomped and swerved in time to the beat, too, mirroring the human ocean of admiring devotees. Most of the Anberlin boys, notably Christian and Rexroat, maintain moderately long locks, ideal for nodding their rugged cuts up and down for badass emphasis. The smoke and light effects also transformed an otherwise visually simple gig into a real rock 'n' roll show. Granted, steam machines make amateur photography difficult, but the atmospheric aesthetic more than made up for the sub-par pictures.
|Anberlin :: 10.29 :: NY|
All in all it was a stellar event, a night not soon to be forgotten. The entertainment and the environment were perfectly suited, complimenting one another seamlessly. I've encountered other acts at Webster Hall and this was by far the most cohesive combination of music and ambiance I've encountered. The guys themselves were fantastic - humble and genuine when addressing the audience, veteran professional rock stars while they performed. Considering the number of concertgoers who wormed their way onstage (only to lose a shoe and then fist pump the air in a show of victory before, as said, being led off by burly not remotely amused guards) the Anberlin men made no mention of this distracting, disrespectful behavior. Their restraint from acknowledging this flattering yet high school-like gesture demonstrates their dedication to the music and determination to uphold total composure in the face of childish, drunken shenanigans. Bottom line? Anberlin succeeded in pushing past simply giving attendees their money's worth; they put on a sterling show that proved nothing less than priceless.
Anberlin is on tour now, dates available here.
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