The line outside of Masquerade, a dilapidated mill turned concert venue situated deep in the midst of an area of the urban renaissance of Atlanta, was lively. Everyone was abuzz, the energy palpable. In just a few moments, the doors would open and the crowd would be able to make their way inside to see the acoustic stylings of Vinnie Caruana, Aaron Gillespie, and Ace Enders. I’m sure this lie somewhere in the minds of those waiting in line.
More important at that moment, though, was the Georgia and Tennessee football game. Yes, the evening was sure to provide a unique situation for an oddly intimate concert, but who can focus on that when Georgia is in the midst of blowing a 10-point halftime lead?
The line of people made their way inside, muttering at their phones and cursing with each replay. Maybe it was because of this distraction that Gillespie was able to stand at his merch table advising fans on the appropriate size of t-shirt, nearly unnoticed by those whose t-shirts adorned the bands he had played in throughout his career. More likely, it was the general laid back vibe of the venue. While preshow music played at a relatively low volume, these fans sipped their canned beer under the guise of the Halloween decoration clowns glowing ominously overhead.
This would set the tone for the evening. As far as concerts go, this would be one of the most sedate crowds I had ever seen, not so much a reflection of the quality of performance as it was a reflection of the uniqueness of this particular show. In this era of flash and showmanship over substance, a concert by these artists in an intimate venue with no noticeable stage lighting is not only rare, but it is nearly unheard of. The fans would not feel a need to dance or mosh as they would at other concerts, but rather take in the artistic merit of each song performed.
Nothing showed the stark differences more than the opening song of Ace Enders. Following a nice acoustic set by a local performer, The Early November frontman stepped up to perform their track “A Stain on the Carpet.” Midway through the first verse, Enders would be interrupted by the raucous sounds of Beware of Darkness, the heavy rock band playing across the hall. As venue workers rushed to close the doors separating the two, Enders finished the song with minimal chuckling while joking that he had hired the band to accompany him and “hopefully they would be together by the end of the set.”
Enders is no stranger to this kind of set. While he is best known for The Early November, he has also released eight albums consisting of mostly acoustic work. Despite the seemingly prolific 15-year career, Enders was left repeatedly apologizing for abbreviating his set as an Uber was waiting to take him to the airport in preparation for The Early November’s Australian tour. He would play four more songs including “Goldrush” and “Driving South” before asking the audience if there were any requests.
At this, the crowd showed the first real signs of life, bellowing titles with a moderate amount of zest. He would finish the set this way, stopping only to converse with a woman who complimented both his shoes and shirt.
“Wow. I feel good,” he remarked before breaking into “Ever So Sweet” and heading out the door.
While Enders’ songs seemed to focus more on the positive, Vinnie Caruana went a different direction. Known for his work as the vocalist for The Movielife and I Am the Avalanche, Caruana’s lyrics stood out for being darker.
“You’ll have to bury me in a shallow grave. When you need your heart, you’ll barely have to dig,” he sang before revealing that, throughout the entirety of his performance of “We Don’t Have to Die Alone,” he had been suppressing a serious nose itch.
Songs such as “Somehow the World Keeps Turning” and the Movielife track “Hey” were interrupted only by Caruana’s speaking with the audience. While he described the hells of wedding planning that he currently was enduring, he turned down advice from an audience member to elope out of concerns of his in-laws attempting to murder him. The songs were the main event, but the rapport Caruana showed with the audience through rants about Donald Trump and the “$5 iced-coffee” neighborhoods that had begun to pop up everywhere had become just as much a part of the show.
“This is just me playing with my people,” he remarked about the crowd at one point.
One of the highest points of energy came in the form of the I Am the Avalanche song “Clean Up.” As Caruana reached the final verse, bellowing out “Jesus Christ, I need you; I need you now, or anyone who feels like helping out,” the shouts rang out over the nearly silent venue. It was a sharp contrast to the rest of the show up to that point and stood out as one of the more emotional moments of the night.
The evening ended with Gillespie’s set, a near track by track performance of his latest album Out of the Badlands. While much of the album consists of songs from Gillespie’s previous offerings, his new original tracks reflect his struggles as he dealt with his divorce earlier in the year.
“I realized in the last couple of years that I can’t change everything, but I can change what I control,” Gillespie said towards the end of the evening. The songs showed the journey to this realization all the way through.
Beginning with Underoath’s “A Boy Brushed Red Living in Black and White,” Gillespie played a lightly affected electric guitar, occasionally accompanying himself with a thumping bass drum. While songs like this and a couple of tracks from The Almost’s Southern Weather were what the fans might have been expecting, his new original tracks were far from the expected.
“I got divorced a year ago, so I’ve got a lot of shit going on,” he explained before launching into “You Don’t Love Me Anymore.” With a slight, smirk, he added: “I’m good, though.”
This was felt throughout these songs, songs that were so sad he wanted to label them “party songs” to cheer them up. The stripped down picking and strumming of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and the powerful vocals of “Raspberry Layer Cake” showcase this struggle. The most powerful example, though, of the emotion that Gillespie has felt was a surprise.
Midway through the set, a request was called out for the song “Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape.” An Underoath standard for years that has always stood out as one of the most melodic and emotional songs, the spontaneous performance seemed to take on a new meaning. With the song stripped back, the feeling behind it changed with the context of Gillespie’s divorce and search for self-discovery. It easily marked a highlight of the set, one that seemed to even catch Gillespie off guard.
While most of the set seemed to be therapeutic for Gillespie, these concerts served a dual purpose. In addition to the normal benefits an artist receives while touring, Gillespie had dedicated a great deal of attention in the tour to his work with ChildFund International, a charity that helps provide children with needed safe environments. Discussing this not only marked a change in Gillespie’s tone, but also brought out a different level of passion as he implored people to take time to donate on the way out.
After several songs of self-exploration, seeing the artist turn his attention towards a greater cause brought a whole new positivity to the show. This feeling carried into the final song of the evening, Underoath’s, “Reinventing Your Exit,” ending the show on a high note.
As the final sounds of the intimate evening rang out, the crowd diligently turned and headed towards the doors, some stopping by the merch tables to pick up an album or donate towards Gillespie’s cause. The line out the door seemed to be riddled with quiet introspection, a far cry from the distressed calls of Georgia football fans at the beginning of the evening.
An evening of musical honesty can have that effect.
*Featured Image Photo Credit: Kiel Hauck