After seeing countless pre-show set-ups and sound checks, and the various ways in which bands build anticipation before making their entrances, there was something jarring about watching a band go through their own sound check with their own instruments before giving the nod to the sound guy and letting the audience know that it was time to start. In theory it seems like such an underwhelming way to start a show and such an anticlimax for those who love a big entrance.
But then we’re not just talking about any band here. This is Converge — twenty year veterans of a hardcore scene of which they are rightly considered pioneers and kingpins — visiting the Echoplex in LA off the back of an album that is at least the equal of anything they have created in their long career. This is Converge, a band that knows there is no need for a build-up of anticipation when you can begin your set with “Concubine,” the opener to their legendary 2001 album Jane Doe. When you can open with “Concubine,” which had the equivalent effect of an H-bomb being dropped in the Echoplex moshpit, and then, without pause, launch straight into the astonishing riff on the more recent “Dark Horse,” there really is no need for frills.
In fact, it’s the lack of frills that makes the band so easy to admire. The do-it-yourself ethic apparently spreads to their tour routine as well, as if the band is so confident that the music can do all the talking, they need nothing more than a flag backdrop as visual stimulus. Of course they are right. The civilized crowd in front of the stage descended pretty quickly into a circle pit of chaos with Jacob Bannon, covered in nothing but tattoos and sweat, taking delight in his role as ringleader with the band going crazy behind him.
New songs were mixed with older ones to great effect. “Trespasses” sounded every bit as crushing live as it does on record, but off the new album it was “Sadness Comes Home” that launched as insane a circle pit as any I’ve ever seen. The confines of such a small area only served to increase the intensity, creating a blur of flailing limbs and heads. Converge also played “Tender Abuse” even faster than on the album, as if its ninety seconds were just a little bit long for their taste. The band mixed in some older songs to keep the diehards happy, with “Last Light” and “You Fail Me” from an album that tends to get left behind in discussions about their best work in particular showing how well they have aged.
The real star of the show is Kurt Ballou, a man who has quietly evolved into a true guitar god. His dexterity and unbelievable focus mean that the band has no need for a second guitarist, and his work on the aforementioned “Sadness Comes Home” is hypnotizing and dizzying in the best possible way. He reflects the band’s enduring appeal the best: an ordinary looking guy who has worked for years at honing an extraordinary talent, with the fans right at the forefront of their thinking.
By the time Converge had been on stage for the best part of 80 minutes, the show had inevitably become exhausting, which is always the tricky part of keeping up such a heavy level for that length of time. However, the story of Converge, especially in a live setting, is one that is very easy to enjoy: they are as hard working as any band out there, they have never let their extremely loyal following go to their heads, and they still bring it every night they play. They are the real deal in a scene of countless pretenders, and after two decades in the business, they remain a class act.
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