There’s no joy to be had in a show where nothing works.
Roseland Theater, Portland, OR
I don’t know if a word exists for the disappointment that comes from seeing a good band play a very bad show. If there is, it’s probably in German. I’m going to be honest: Glassjaw’s show at the Roseland Theater is the worst performance I’ve seen in 2018. I’m not happy about saying it, but there’s just no way around it. I hadn’t seen Glassjaw perform for more than a few minutes before: I was able to catch their last two songs when I found myself seeing The Used in the same space late last year. As such, I believed them to be a much better live band based on what I saw. On paper, this tour makes sense; Glassjaw and fellow post-hardcore giants Quicksand co-headlining. It’s a shame, then, that there were only brief, tiny moments of quality within the show itself.
Glassjaw is one of the best post-hardcore outfits to come from the early aughts, releasing two classics: 2000’s Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence and 2002’s Worship and Tribute. While last year’s hiatus-breaker Material Control wasn’t quite up to those same heights, it was still a satisfying return to form for the band, so I was excited to get to hear how these songs feel live.
Somehow, everything here fell flat, leaving little to really speak highly of musically – and a lot of things that were flat-out bad. Then there was the band themselves. Frontman Daryl Palumbo’s stage presence didn’t help. Dressed in a way-too-long black t-shirt and what appeared to be black sweatpants whose crotch was located at roughly knee-length, his posture as he swayed back and forth seemed like the motions of someone attempting to be sexy, while achieving the antithesis of seduction. His voice was frequently flat and atonal, completely dulling the exhilaration that comes with this band’s sharpest edges. The rest of the band – guitarist Justin Beck, bassist Travis Sykes, and drummer Chad Hasty – performed lifelessly, seemingly only there to collect a paycheck by doing the least amount of showmanship required of them. Sykes and Hasty are more recent additions to the lineup and as such they can perhaps be cut minor slack for being reasonably new, but Beck is a founding member of the band. His presence on stage felt both limp and inessential, which is not a good look for someone who has been with the band for 25 years.
The band’s weak performance was made worse by the sound, which was among the worst I’ve heard in the decade I’ve spent seeing shows in that venue. Glassjaw is a loud band, but on record its loudness achieves a harmony that keeps the mix from sounding too incomprehensible. The Roseland is not a venue known for its crystalline sound in the first place, and the shoddy work here reduced each song to a dense soup. That level of noise can be great on rare occasion, but here it was enough to make the show incredibly difficult to engage with. I kept wanting songs to stand out from the mess, but the only one that retained its shape live was Material Control‘s fantastic opening track, “New White Extremity.” This song delivers torrents of guitar noise in a way that felt overwhelming but still tastefully done, and, to my delight, this song was able to cut through the clutter. It – as well as the follow-up of Material’s “Shira” – was the sole high point of the evening.
To top things off, the crowd was both nonexistent and unengaged. When we arrived, we found the floor of the Roseland had been sectioned off – one side for All Ages, the other for 21+. When asked why this was, we’re told the show didn’t sell well, and the venue’s balcony had been closed. This is an understatement; so few people turned out for this that they could have easily fit in the front third of the room, with roughly two dozen kids standing in the All Ages section. Those who were there seemed like they’d never even heard the band before, save for a spattering of people who were actually engaged with the performance. When a show is terrible, and the crowd is terrible, it’s hard to know which is to blame. Is the band putting on a mediocre performance because the crowd is both miniscule (I’d say there were 200-300 people in the 1400 capacity room) and unengaged, or is the crowd lifeless because the performance is bad? It’s hard to say, but even the worst shows can be saved by a great crowd, and I wondered how this show would have gone if the crowd had been into it.
There’s no joy to be had in a show where nothing works, and the fact that a single two-song section was the only high point makes it even worse. It can be fun to nitpick endlessly, but at the end of the day, it’s better to just get to see a good show. After being a fan of Glassjaw for quite some time, it was a let-down to see such a completely bad performance. I’m tempted to give the band the benefit of the doubt even here, because even the best bands have an off night. Based on the show I caught, though, I can’t say I’m excited to give them another shot anytime soon – no matter how good their records are.