Over the Weekend: Where's the Band? Featuring Dustin Kensrue, Matt Pryor, Chris Conley, and Anthony Raneri, House of Blues

The Hype: Featuring a solo acoustic performance from Orange County's own, Thrice front man Dustin Kensrue, plus Matt Pryor (The Get Up Kids), Chris Conley (Saves the Day) and Anthony Raneri (Bayside), the Where's the Band? tour, which stopped at Hous eof Blues, Anaheim, Saturday, might have more appropriately been referred to as Monsters of Emo. And these days, everybody has an opinion on emo music. But, given a good shake, three of the aforementioned performers would be the wheat separated from musical chaff--and the genre certainly has its fair share of chaff. I went into this one with cautious optimism. After all, I figured the evening would be chock-full of rock performers given to fits of dramatic excess. It could prove interesting, I thought, tedious, or excruciating.

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Andrew Youssef
Thrice front man Dustin Kensrue shines in solo-acoustic mode

The Show: Let's just get this out of the way--it was a good show. There were moments when performances faltered, but the highlights managed to remind the skeptics why, for many, emo remains a guilty pleasure. After a lackluster performance by Get Up Kid Matt Pryor, it took the soulful ruminations of Thrice front man Dustin Kensrue, in a standout performance, to recapture the audience's attention. Delivering the most complicated musical arraignments of the evening, at times adding a harmonica to the mix, Kensrue opened his set with "I Knew You Before," off his 2007 solo release Please Come Home. A country-hued jangler, the hook resonated with the words, "I knew you before you were beautiful back then / Before you grew up / Before you gave in." His voice had more bottom-end than the evening's previous artists, and Kensrue used it to great effect to deliver several covers from a diverse stable of artists. 

Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne", Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill" as well as a haunting performance of Tom Waits' "Down There by the Train" were smart additions to the set. Deftly interpreting the material of rock's great artists and delivering it all with genuine emotional intensity, Kensrue proved himself to be the artist and performer most capable of successfully breaking free of the constraints of the "emo" pigeonhole. The evening ended with the four musicians taking the stage together and performing covers of Jawbreaker's "Boxcar" and NOFX's "Linoleum." It was suggested by someone that they play Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA," which Pryor had raved about during his set, at which point Conley plucked the tell tale chords of the song's opening hook to uproarious hooting and hollering.  It demonstrated for those in attendance the power of life's guilty pleasures.

Pryor enjoyed the least love of the evening. There were moments during his set when one became painfully aware of the conversations going on in the room. This was possibly because he avoided Get Up Kids material in favor of his solo work. A shame. His voice and delivery were still youthful and heartfelt. What most in attendance will undoubtedly take away from Pryor's set was his declaration that Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA" is a great pop song. 

Conley's Saves the Day Material had a lovely understated quality, stripped down to its elemental form. The highlight was the power-pop tune "Certain Tragedy" from 2001's Stay What You Are. There was something oddly uplifting about watching Conley deliver this punchy, crowd pleaser with nothing but an acoustic guitar and his seemingly helium-altered voice. 

Raneri started things off. Unfortunately, acoustic Bayside material doesn't translate into anything remarkable. While he managed to croon in key, Raneri's material revolved around rote, teen-angst, woe-is-me fare. Ironically, he sang most of his songs with a wistful smile plastered on his face that belied the über severity of the lyrics. It was very off-putting. 

The Crowd: Youngish and bespectacled. Were it not for the multitudes walking around with tall cans of beer, I would have thought I was at a community college's freshman mixer. The venue was packed, but the crowd fairly sedate, or perhaps under-stimulated. While most sang along with the acts throughout the night, a look at the floor in front of the stage revealed a sea of motionless heads bathed in the colored lights streaming from the rafters.

Overheard: "Please, I came all the way from the Phillipines to hear Dustin sing," pleaded one young man as he stood outside the venue attempting to buy tickets from a group of concertgoers. 


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