Mississippi Studios, Portland, OR

Monday nights are difficult for all of us, especially late ones. Seeing shows based on the band rather than the time of day means it’s easy to lose sight of why people don’t want to go out at the beginning of the traditional work week—you need a special band to pull you out. As a fan of music, you always hope that great bands will override this, and people will show up to see them play no matter what time you need to be up the next morning. Sadly, this wasn’t the case for Kansas’ Appleseed Cast, who played Mississippi Studios in support of their newest album, The Fleeting Light of Impermanence.

Maybe that was the problem: the room seemed half full. Sure, it was half full of people who seemed like they genuinely wanted to be there, cheering as each song started and doing the classic emo kid “stand in one place, but kinda thrash your head a bit” move that we love doing so much to this music, but their ticket sales didn’t count for more because they were more into it. Halfway through the performance, frontperson Chris Crisci asked that anybody who might be able to give them a place to stay for the night to come by the merch booth after the show. The band has been going for over 20 years, minus between-album breaks, and we always mentally associate longevity with success; why would a band keep going if they were struggling with it? As fans, we’re often able to separate ourselves from that potential reality—we’ve definitely all seen bands worried about where they’d stay, even if they didn’t announce it—but it hurts more to know that the headliner you love and came to see is struggling with the practical impacts of creating their art.

And it’s a shame that the rest of the room wasn’t full, because what Appleseed Cast do on stage feels somehow closer to alchemy than anything. Most twinkly, wandering emo bands perform some version of this on stages across the globe, but these guys had a hand in perfecting this game when it was in a primordial state—watching pioneers at work is always thrilling. The music that they make often feels somewhat not human, which they owe to their abilities as post-rockers able to create soundscapes that sometimes sound tectonic, or at least grandiose enough that you can lose sight of the fact that people made it. Seeing that music come out of four bearded middle-aged men on a tastefully lit stage almost robbed the music of its mystique. Who cares, though? It’s more fun to watch human beings intricately layer all of their sounds together, even when they’re at the whims of their technology; at one point, the band cut a song because a looping device wasn’t working, which is among the least mystical things that could happen at a show.

Helped along in the demystifying process is the fact that their vocals are entirely different. The words, their delivery, and the fact that they’re coming out of Crisci’s mouth are the same, but there’s one crucial difference: you can hear them. And yes, you can hear them on, say, Low Level Owl, but they’re constantly submerged in reverb, his voice 100 feet from the mic. Live, though, this vanishes, and you can clearly make out his words and lyrics. It transforms these songs, making them terrestrial, allowing his words to hit home more effectively. Not only that, but those distant vocals mask the fact that Crisci’s voice is fucking awesome for the kind of emo that would follow them, that of the Get Up Kids and the Promise Ring: a little nasally, a lot of punch. Songs like “Blind Man’s Arrow” and even a couple songs from The Fleeting Light of Impermanence—in some moments, even “Time the Destroyer,” the most fun song to watch the band create live—sounded like they could be bona fide pop-punk hits with a different vocal mix.

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