WASHINGTON, October 28, 2013 — People unfamiliar with hardcore and screamo would probably be lost if they walked into the live show of a band like Touché Amoré. Likewise, it’s virtually certain that none of these bewildered travelers would never have heard one of this band’s albums either. Even within modern punk, the musical ideals of Touché Amoré seem decisively out sync, never really lining up with what’s expected of a band opening for pop/punk stalwarts like AFI—a scenario that unfolded here recently at the 9:30 Club.
For all intents and purposes, Touché Amoré is a niche band. This is true of any contemporary screamo band. And that’s a step up from their musical forefathers who arguably couldn’t even claim niche status. Here Touché Amoré performed before a sold out 9:30 Club audience that might never “get” what this band is all about. But they operate in a genre burdened with some confusing preconceived notions to begin with.
Touché Amoré is actually somewhat atypical when it comes to being a screamo band, although their very oddness is a trait that’s been gaining ground within the genre lately. They draw as much from indie rock and post-hardcore as they do from straight hardcore and punk influences, putting all the above into their own patented blender to create a uniquely quick, hard driving, screaming package. Touché Amoré is a burst of immediate and urgent fresh air. Even among their contemporaries, they seem even uniquely unique.
Musically, the band lives in an odd place. On one hand, they’re starting to garner more and more positive press. But on the other, they don’t necessarily fit in with bands they would generally be associated with. They’re a little too light-textured and melodic to peacefully co-exist with hardcore and metalcore. But they’re a little too jagged and rough to fit in with the multitude of punk bands. It’s quirky territory indeed for a band like Touché Amoré, although it’s not really a bad place to be. But one notable drawback for the band is a lack of synergy with the bands they generally tour with.
This is what distinguished their show at the 9:30 Club overall, with their appearance marking a sharp change of pace from the rest of the evening’s bill. Paradoxically, there’s nothing dramatically different about Touché Amoré’s sound. They’re not exactly reinventing the wheel to the point where their set becomes jarring experience for the audience. All the components of their set are easily recognizable, yet they deliver their selections with such brevity shaded with a vague sense of oddness that their output can easily take much of the audience off balance.
Touché Amoré’s different kind of space begins with Jeremy Bolm’s vocals. His screaming isn’t quite as abrasive as his scream contemporaries. It might come across as more of a holler if he wasn’t clearly pulling from the back of his throat to infuse extra energy into each song. What really sets his vocals apart though is his idiosyncratic delivery. Bolm approaches the lyrics almost as if he’s screaming spoken dialogue rather than singing lyrics – or whatever the approximation of singing happens to be in screamo.
Additionally, he delivers the lyrics in the manner of free verse poetry, distinguished as it generally is by a total disregard for rhyme schemes or harmony. His approach certainly takes some getting used to. But about halfway through the set, it develops its own lyrical rhythm.
Bolm’s approach to lyricism is backed up by the rest of the band’s odd structure, which avoids most hooks. For the most part, nothing in their songs is repeated. Ditto most elements associated with punk or hardcore. It’s jarring, because they blast through each of their songs. The guitar playing in particular is angular and jagged, but never pushes to overwhelm the audience. At the outset, there’s nothing traditional to hold on. But after a selection or two, everything seems comfortably in step.
The audience got plenty of time to adjust to Touché Amoré during their performance here. Even though their set was only about 45 minutes in duration, it felt a good bit longer than that. In that 45-minute frame, they pushed through a total of 21 songs, which, all things considered, might actually be a little slow for them.
The reaction to Touché Amoré was a mixed, but that’s to be expected. It’s not a matter of comprehending what the band is about. They’re an inherently abrasive band, something no one can fail to miss. But this is the life of a niche band in a niche field. For those that Touché Amoré does reach, they embody a rewarding release of aggression.
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