When I was a teenager finally able to attend Warped Tour, there were a wide range of bands that people said I “had to see.” One of these, who year after year seemed to always come up was Anberlin. This band seemed to elude me, as I was able to only catch a few songs of their sets as I scurried to another stage. I had seen them, but I was never able to experience them. Fast forward to 2013 and they make their return to San Diego. The hype for the past 10 years left lots of room for disappointment.
Disappointed, I was not.
Anberlin is well versed with what it takes to put on a great show. Formed in 2002 (though some members formed in 1998) they quickly gained attention with their debut album Blueprints for the Black Market. Since then they have released 5 more studio albums, signed to a major label, appeared time and time again on the Billboard charts and sold thousands of albums. Through this success and near constant touring, Stephen Christian (vocals), Joseph Milligan (guitar), Christian McAlhaney (guitar), Deon Rexcoat (bass) and Nathan Young (drums) have honed their craft to bring such an incredible show. I was also fortunate enough to speak with Milligan about their tour, upcoming album, and people they’ve worked with through the years.
Coming on stage, the boys were left with the incredible task of keeping the energy going that the crowd had been left by The Maine. Stephen does this easily as he slinks around the stage, constantly in motion. His vocals are as beautiful as the albums lead one to believe, powerful and chalk full of emotion. One thing I honestly wasn’t expecting from this band was the craftsmanship and pure talent that each of them brings to the table. Each member was super precise while still exploring their space. Milligan on lead guitar was most impressive with lick after lick perfectly executed.
The set list offered something for fans young and old. When asked what fans could expect from their shows this tour, Milligan stated that “Yeah we’ve almost changed up the set nightly. We’ve been throwing in a lot of older songs we haven’t played in a really long time. Just trying to keep it interesting for us and the fans.” The set opened with one of their singles Paperthin Hymn, and continued with the energy throughout the entire set only to slow the tempo just a bit for a couple songs like “The Unwinding Cable Car.” Fans were treated with some of their most popular songs like “Feel Good Drag” and “Dismantle. Repair” and even “A Day Late,” which Stephen claimed that they hadn’t played live in a years.
Just starting their US run, the boys are also fresh out of their tour through Southeast Asia and Australia. Milligan noted a difference between many of the international audiences. “There’s a lot of differences just on a respect level. It’s kind of crazy. In Japan, Philippines, China, and places like that they’ll clap really loud when you start a song and clap really loud when you end a song but then they’re completely silent until you go into your next song because its them respecting you and letting you continue with your show. Some places get a little more rowdy than others.”
(I’m looking at you Australia)
With all their constant touring, is surprising to see that they are able to constantly keep up writing, with their latest album, Vital, out this time last year and a special edition album, Devotion, coming out in less than a week. “Its crazy, we’re always writing.” Milligan adds, “Devotion is actually special edition of Vital that we released. If you get the super deluxe edition, you get the entire album remixed by a lot of different artists, including myself, and an entire live acoustic performance by us, 3 unreleased songs from the record and 2 brand new songs we just recorded and a lot of other stuff that goes into all that.”
The band has established themselves and their sound through the past ten years, while still going through subtle changes in an evolution that comes with time, new technologies and even the producers. I spoke with some of the fans before the show and some were interested in the band’s favorite producer and how it had shaped this evolution through the years. “Aaron [Sprinkles] is definitely the one we’re most comfortable with. We did Blueprints, Friendship, Cities and Vital with him. But I’ve liked every producer we’ve worked with for different reasons. We did a record with Neil Avron and I loved what he did. He was very methodical and mathematical with everything but still allowed us to back up and keep it a little loose at parts and be a rock band as opposed to having to polish every single thing. With Brendon [O’Brien], it was cool to go in and do things old school. We’d work out the songs all together. With Aaron its more comfortable. There’s a deep friendship there. He knows where we come from and knows how to get us where we want.”
With the evolution the band through the years, so has the viewing experience evolved. With the accessibility of small cameras and iPods (I even saw someone with an iPad) being at a show has gone from a live experience to a live experience viewed through a screen. Milligan comments that it’s a normal part of life now. Not seemingly with just shows, but everything. “If you’re at the Grand Canyon or at a rock show, or watching your baby take their first steps. You’re disconnected in a sense because you are watching it on this small screen and that’s the way you’re ever going to see it. You just missed it.”
With Anberlin just beginning their tour, its definitely one that YOU are going to not want to miss.