WASHINGTON, April 3, 2013 — As with any other artistic endeavor like film, television or writing, in music it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and believe something that’s popular and feels different is going to be a catalyst pointing the way to that art’s future direction. But that initial sensation doesn’t always prove true. When Finch released What it is to Burn in 2002, it was easy to feel like this album a glimpse into the future. Unfortunately it was just a brief glimpse into of what could have been.
This isn’t to say that the album and the band isn’t important or is lacking entirely in impact. Finch’s show at the Fillmore in Silver Spring proved that the band you hear on this specific album still holds considerable weight within the genre. But there’s a bittersweet tinge here, an abiding sense that this band could have been bigger. Still, this one album is an excellent touchstone for what the genre was in the early part of the ‘00s and the promise it once held.
The things that made What it is to Burn important in 2002 are similar to why the album still holds some cultural cache today, even though it seems more of a niche album now. When it was released, though, one of the things Finch did so well was bridge the gap between punk and hardcore in a way that very few bands were capable of doing then and even fewer have done since. At that point in time, both punk and hardcore were two subgenres that seemed much the same thing at one point, even as they eventually evolved into separate entities to different that it was hard to imagine they had ever been closely related.
One of the things initially noticeable at the recent Finch show at the Fillmore was just how much their audience hasn’t changed since the time they were at the height of their popularity. They’re all just older now. Back in the day, their fan base was essentially a mixture of pop music fans, who heard “These Letters to You” or “What it is to Burn” on the radio while looking for something a bit more aggressive than the normal fare, and those hardcore kids, who still had an affinity for Green Day and Blink 182.
Not surprisingly this crowd is still around and fired up to hear Finch play. They are still willing to lose themselves in the pop punk riffs, singing/screaming mix, and blast beats, including those who wanted to open up the pit and “dance.” This was this kind of dichotomy that made Finch an interesting band a decade ago and it’s what makes them relevant today, if for no other reason than there are not that many bands that have so effortlessly bridged that divide.
Everyone who showed up wanting to hear What it is to Burn in its entirety wasn’t disappointed. Finch put in a considerable amount of rehearsal time to get the sound on that album as synchronized as possible with audience memory. When a band plays a past album in a concert setting like this, the idea is to please fans with a seamless rendition of the album. Like any band, Finch clearly hopes to win some new fans.
But at the same time, their major goal in their recent appearance was to hit the major moments of their key album squarely, enabling people who connect with it to feel a sense of belonging and remembering.
On that front, Finch didn’t disappoint. From the opening programming notes on “New Beginning” to the famously desperate scream, to their singing at the end of “What it is to Burn,” this was about as flawless an execution as anyone could hope for from Finch.
The fans in attendance were even given the added bonus of Finch playing little-heard songs. “Waiting” and “New Kid” were off their first EP and were never songs in heavy rotation in their live set. And “Worms of the Earth” off the Underworld OST was great addition as the last remnant of Finch’s What it is to Burn era.
It’s easy to overstate Finch’s importance and have a wave of nostalgia crest over back to the days when their music felt it was more of a new thing than it is now. But when they released What it is to Burn, the album really did feel like it was a signifier of things to come.
Plenty of bands have played around with the clean/scream vocal dynamic and with incorporating pop-punk mechanics with a hardcore base. But none of those bands accomplished this with the seamlessness of Finch. Even a decade after the fact, their musical high point in What it is to Burn still feels as fresh and promising as ever.
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