Casey’s Take: It is an interesting experience to a see a band play their final show ever. This is of course barring the inevitable reunion that will (hopefully) happen after an appropriate amount of time, but who knows, maybe The Bled are actually heading towards the light as we speak. It is the kind of thing that produces conflicting emotions – sadness from the knowledge that this is the last time the band will play, mixed with joy from being present for such an important moment in their history. When it came to The Bled, these feelings were amplified by my love for both the band’s music and their live shows.
This was this writer’s third time seeing The Bled live in the last 10 years. My first exposure to the band was at Chain Reaction in Ahaheim when they were touring (with Recover, and Name Taken BTW) for Pass The Flask . They were absolutely amazing. They played a set that I still remember all these years later and it made the $210 I had to pay to get my car back after it was towed from the show totally worth it. The second time I saw them was at the House of Blues, after the release of Silent Treatment, and again it was a great show by the boys from AZ. James Munõz was as hilarious as ever and he had a life-size cardboard cut-out of himself on stage for what appeared to be no reason other than its intrinsic awesomeness. This is one of the reasons I love this band, they take their music and playing seriously, but not themselves. So when I heard that The Bled were calling it quits and going on one final tour, I was bummed that I was living in the UK and couldn’t see them one last time. But the music gods shined on me and they decided to play 5 or 6 European shows after their US farewell tour, finishing with their last show ever in my current hometown of London. I couldn’t have been more excited; which is probably what led to my somewhat mixed reaction to the concert.
On the last day of my half-term break from teaching science, my friend and fellow writer Chris, plus a few others, made our way to the show in Camden – quite a haul from the west-of-London region in which we all reside. We exited the tube, grabbed some late night food at a Chinese stand and made our way into the show where Hundredth was on the stage. The first thing I noticed when we walked into the building was that Dingwalls was pretty awesome. It seems like a great place to have a final show. It totally reminds me of the clubs of my youth, places like Stage 4 Theatre in Portland, The Showcase in Corona, and the aforementioned Chain Reaction. It’s the kind of place that is small and intimate and probably allows no more than 500 people inside. I doubt that there were more than a couple hundred people there, but they were lively and they added to the intimacy of the show. This is the kind of setting that hardcore shows were meant to be seen in. Adding to the atmosphere were Hundredth and Vanna, both of which blazed through rocking sets, but hey, the night was all about The Bled. I was also reminded about something I love about shows over here in the UK. I went to the bar and ordered a pint of cider. Do you know how much it cost? £3.30. Do you know how much a cider costs in a pub here? About £3.10 to £3.60, so take note US clubs, it is not required that you triple prices just because you have a monopoly on drinks for the evening. In fact, I was so pleased that I bought two ciders that night, and yes, I’m a puss and drink cider.
When The Bled Took the stage, they did not disappoint. They let loose with ‘Spitshine Sonata’ and ‘Sound of Sulphur’ from their debut album Pass the Flask, and went immediately into ‘Shadetree Mechanics’ before they even addressed the crowd. James was his usual comic self ,making everyone smile, but one thing that was curiously missing from this brief interaction (and from nearly all future interactions) was the mention of this being the last show. The only thing he really said was, “This is the last time we’ll be playing this song in 3-D” about the encore of ‘Red Wedding’. Yes, they played fantastically and with lots of energy, but there was just something a bit off. I clued into what I think the issue was when I went on their facebook page that night. There they re-counted that the show they had played the night before, at the same venue, was “One of the best shows they have ever played.” I think that after a month of saying goodbye to their fans in the US, and then playing a crazy show the night before, they were just a tad worn out. It did not come across in their energy on stage, since they were full of it, but it came across a bit in their cadence. They just looked like a band that was emotionally exhausted and rightfully so. Maybe, after ten years you don’t want to make a big deal about it being the last show ever; maybe they just wanted to play a normal show, at a small venue, which really is a poetic ending to a strong career. It was a strong performance, it just wasn’t a fulfilment of my expectations, and that is my issue not theirs. They went through equal amounts of their back catalogue skipping over some past staples like ‘Breathing Room Barricades’ and ‘The Last American Cowboy,’ but hitting some tunes that they haven’t played in a while, like ‘Porcelain Hearts and Hammers for Teeth.’ I love quite a few of their songs, so unless they were planning on playing for 3 hours straight, I wasn’t going to hear all of the songs that would be on my dream set, so it was solid on the whole.
Even with a good crowd, a great venue, and a great show, something was not sitting right with me. I was glad I got to see one of my old favourite bands and hear some of the best breakdowns in hardcore that have ever been produced, but I think that my feelings about the show were tinged by my own personal feelings of getting old (maybe too old) for that scene. At 31 I’m a vestige of the past and all of the bands that were young upstarts when I went to shows every weekend a decade ago, are either ‘Legends’ to the younger kids or broken/breaking up. It’s a strange feeling to say the least and I think that seeing The Bled play for the last time elicited that emotion out of me.
Despite this, I will keep the torch burning. On the way out of the show I stopped by the merch table to buy a shirt, but they were all out of sizes except Youth Large, it being the last show and all. I bought one for the deal of £5, and as the merch dude passed it to me he gave me a look and said, “It’s really small”, since I am very obviously not a Youth Large. Luckily I still had my wits about me and quipped, “I know, I swear that this is going on my unborn child for his/her 7th birthday.” As I headed back to the tube, I felt the mild sadness from earlier lift and I was happy to think of the steady diet of great music I will play for my children, and my kid will get that shirt when they turn 7 (or 6 if they’re a little on the hefty side). You can count on it.
Chris’s Take: The first time that I saw The Bled live, they were opening for Thrice at The Docks in Toronto. I had heard good things about them but I had never actually heard any of their music before, so I didn’t know what to expect when they hit the stage. The impression was lasting. I remember being blown away by the energy of their performance and their utter immediacy. The connection they had with the crowd was profound considering that they were the opener for the opener in a city that is frequently ignored by smaller bands from the States. I don’t know how many people at that show knew who The Bled were before the show, but everybody knew them when it was over.
This was the memory that I played over and over in my mind when Casey asked me if I wanted to come along to their final show. While I am not a die-hard fan of theirs, it would have still been a very simple decision if it were not for the fact that the show was on a Sunday night. Sunday nights are not good for ventures into London because it means that my Monday at work begins with snorting lines of caffeine just to remember where my room is. After a day of revisiting The Bled on my iPhone, it was clear that I needed to see these guys before they joined so many other bands from the scene in the musical afterlife. They may not have been one of my favourite bands of all time, but they certainly deserved a hearty farewell.
I have to say that it was a good show, but not quite worth the zombification that it produced on Monday.
The venue was outstanding. I had been into Camden a few times for shows throughout the year, but I had never been to Dingwalls before. It was a solid venue with cheap beer (okay fine, I had cider too) and it was the perfect size for an intimate show. It had the feel of a local bar without any hint that what was about to take place was the final act in the career of a hardcore band from Arizona that had been demanded by a fan-base unwilling to miss an opportunity to say goodbye. Plus, I loved that it was small enough to have the merch section a few meters away from the stage. It has been a very long time since I have been to a show where the bands were selling their own merch, and it felt good to see the conversations developing between band members and fans.
The openers were strong, especially Vanna. I was completely unfamiliar with both bands going into the show, but I was very impressed with the dynamics Vanna was able to create in such a small venue. As good as both acts we caught were, it was very clear that every person in the audience was waiting for The Bled, and there was a notable change in the size and movement of the crowd once the stage was set up for the final performance.
The boys came out flying and ripped through some powerful songs, including my personal favourites – ‘Shadetree Mechanics,’ ‘Porcelain Hearts and Hammers for Teeth,’ and ‘Red Wedding.’ Every track was well selected and the boys delivered them with the raw power that they are known for, but there was definitely something lacking, something that was in abundance the first time I saw them back in Toronto. At first I thought it was a lack of precision, that things were just a little bit sloppier than they had been the first time I saw them. The thought crossed my mind that it may have just been my lack of familiarity with the band’s catalogue that was creating a muddled sound in my head. There were only five or six of their songs that I listened to with any kind of regularity, so it could easily have been my own ears deceiving me, but conversations with Casey on the tube ride home proved that there may have been more going on than just my ignorance. Maybe they were just emotionally drained, as Casey discusses above. Maybe playing the last show in a career that spans over a decade just isn’t very fun. Maybe they didn’t want to face the end any more than we did.
All in all, it was a good show. Not a great show, but certainly a good one. It was bitter-sweet to see The Bled bring it all to a close, and it looked like they felt it as much as we did.