If you want the best that metalcore has to offer, do yourself a favor and stick with the bands that broke the scene in the first place. Case in point: Norma Jean. Whatever the merits of their own sound, the band will probably always be plagued by those who say "they're just trying to sound like Botch", which I don't think is completely fair to the band. And whatever the quality of their subsequent releases, there will be many who continue to say "I'll always like Bless the Martyr, Kiss the Child, the most". I am among the guilty in this case, but I was still excited to see them play, regardless of what the set-list turned out to be.
When I arrived at the Gramercy Theater, I was just in time to see the opening acts: Of Legends and Impending Doom. Seeing as the main event was what attracted me to the show, I wasn't all that interested in these two bands. I opted for a seat in the section behind the ground floor. My attitude during these openers could be summarized best in this way. To be fair, both bands put on a decent show and did their part to get the crowd pumped up. Although Impending Doom had a pretty solid death metal base and a charismatic frontman, they anchor their sound so heavily on breakdowns that they come off as very generic and pedestrian. (That and being told how much Jesus loves me while attending a concert left me more than a little puzzled) The last opener was California's Stick to Your Guns. I saw them for the first time at the Thrash and Burn tour back in 2008. Back then they played like a respectable hardcore band who could put on a good show. For some reason, their performance last weekend seemed to lack something, which made it harder to enjoy than the last time. Anyway, these performances went by quickly and soon enough, Norma Jean took to the stage.
Norma Jean put on a fantastic performance: tight, energetic, and very aggressive. Cory Brandan did an excellent job both with his crushing vocal delivery, and his ability to get the crowed hyped up for each song. Some of his little speeches were a little awkward and long-winded, but overall I felt very pleased with him and the rest of the band. The set-list included songs from all 5 albums and was reasonably balanced. I was happy to hear The Anthem of the Angry Brides, which has always been my favorite song on Meridional. They even slowed down the heavy riffs, which gave the song an added element of intensity. Other highlights for me included ferocious renditions of Bastardizer, A Grand Scene for a Color Film, and the encore performance of Vipers, Snakes, and Actors.
But of course, what I really wanted to hear was the old stuff. Alas, I did not get to hear personal favorites like The Shotgun Message or Bayonetwork, but the band did deliver a couple of classics. To see Murderotica and Face:Face played live was a blast, but my favorite moment came with the obligatory performance of Memphis Will be Laid to Waste. Like other gems from metalcore's original burst, the song's attitude and structure has been turned into a formula (fast part, quiet part, breakdown, faster part, breakdown, ect ect), that has been recycled year after year, by band after indistinguishable band. Such is the nature of music trends. The song blew me away when I heard it back in high school and it was fun to relive that excitement, especially during the sing-along to "Now you're doing the waltz…" and you know the rest. More than just plain nostalgia, the rendition was awesome on its own merits.
As for the crowd, there was a very weird mix of stereotypes and age groups. You had some obvious teenagers and plenty of people in their early-mid 20's, along with a few random older people scattered about. Some people still sported the army hats and gauges, some with the flat brimmed caps, and of course those ridiculous sideways haircuts. While I stood near the front watching Stick to Your Guns, there was a spectacularly ugly couple, dressed in hot-topic clothing (and who must of been in their 40's), positioned right next to me…grinding. Oh, great. Another strange thing was the music the venue chose to play between bands: Pearl Jam's Ten. Being the fan that I am, this obviously didn't bother me, but it did seem rather peculiar. As expected, there was that one drunk guy with his shirt off, randomly flailing through the pit and starting fights with whoever hit him by accident. Security eventually took notice and dragged him out, the man visibly confused: "I didn't do anything!!!"
Anyway, I'm glad I finally went to see Norma Jean live.
Norma Jean is currently on the road, see their full itinerary on their MySpace page.