At the risk of making this too personal, I’d be remiss if I didn’t let you all in on the inspiration for this concert review. Music and our subjective tastes and dislikes as individuals are what bring us together as fans. My father, Steve, was the one who originally introduced me, as a child, to so many of the artists I still love today. Later in life, we continued to introduce each other to new music and enjoy concerts together. One of those bands was Bastille, who my father really took a liking to, and asked me to take him to see them the next time they were in town. My dad passed away suddenly last Fall. To say it’s been a long, difficult year, would be a vast understatement. Last night, Bastille opened their North American tour right here in Philadelphia at The Met on North Broad Street, and I went to honor my promise to my Dad, not knowing how seeing the show without him would affect me.
The show opened with indie rock band, Joywave, who hit the stage dressed in matching neon yellow shirts that glowed dimly under the lights. You probably know them from their 2013 hit with Big Data, ‘Dangerous’, which reached #1 on the U.S. Alt-Rock charts. Joywave opened with ‘Like a Kennedy’ and ‘Somebody New’ before quirky frontman Daniel Armbruster announced that the crowd was about to be the first one ever to hear their brand new tune, ‘Blank Slate’. Somewhat surprised that such a large crowd had turned out to catch their opening set, Armbruster told the crowd that they had backloaded their set to allow people more time to arrive but Philly showed up early to help them set the tour off the right way. Joywave’s last four songs were played, by design or coincidence, in chronological order starting with 2011’s ‘Travelling at the Speed of Light’, and ending with 2019’s ‘Obsession’ (with ‘Destruction’ and ‘It’s A Trip!’ in between). The crowd really responded to Joywave, who will be back in town in the near future for their own headlining tour.
Between sets, as I waited in the photo pit with nervous anticipation, I was a little nervous about the emotions that the headliners would envoke. If you’ve ever lost someone very close to you, and my dad was not only my father but became my best friend as I grew into an adult, you’ll no doubt know that for a long time afterward, you can’t really predict what will trigger your sense of loss and grief. I was looking out at the crowd that packed the beautifully restored, multi-level, Metropolitan Opera House and as the lights dimmed, the crowd cheered and Bastille took the stage, I got chills. We were all connected at that moment, not just those of us in attendance, but those who had influenced those people and their musical tastes.
Bastille is named for lead singer Dan Smith’s birthday, which falls on Bastille Day, July 14, in France. I too was born on Bastille Day and knowing that is the day my parents gave me life, connects me once again to my father and this British band. Bastille opened with ‘Quarter Past Midnight’ with Smith seated on a chair on a riser towards the back of the stage (and if you’ve never seen the video, there is a scene with Smith and his [real?] parents as he blows out candles on his birthday cake). Once he got up out of the chair (or maybe it was a charging dock for humans) the next several songs were highlighted by Smith bouncing around the stage with the spunk of the Energizer Bunny.
Dan Smith’s voice is haunting and ethereal all at once, filled with rich tones and palpable emotion. Smith was not only backed by talented bandmates and a huge digital screen filled with changing imagery that set the mood for each song but with a set that included old tube TVs, a metal staircase on wheels, and the (rotating) couch from the ‘Those Nights’ video (complete with the “Doom Days” graffiti on the back). Their set consisted of a mix of upbeat songs that had the crowd up and dancing (‘Happier’, ‘Bad Decisions’, etc) and a few slower tempo songs that draw you in and allow you to feel the shared experience of the band, the fans, and the lyrics.
Bastille has the unique ability to make uplifting songs about ordinarily depressing topics. In particular, this excerpt from ‘Flaws’ speaks to my relationship with my dad:
“All of your flaws and all of my flaws
They lie there hand in hand
Ones we’ve inherited, ones that we learned
They pass from man to man”
As a child, it’s easy to see the flaws in your parents without the context to understand them. As you get older, you realize that we are all flawed and within our flaws and our ability to overcome them, lies the beauty of the human condition. My father wasn’t perfect, and nor am I, but he never stopped striving to be a better man. His gifts, his flaws, and everything in between still lives on in me. As I sat there listening to songs like ‘Doom Days’ I could only think about my daily conversations with my dad about the state of the World and the good we could do to counteract the evil and the greed, something I’ve done my best to carry on in his absence.
The show had me running the full range of emotions from fighting back tears to smiling as I envisioned my dad’s joy at watching the concert alongside me. Fifteen songs into their set, the backing vocals for ‘Joy’ hit the speakers, and the irony is that it made me feel alone. My dad was my person to call me when I was down. He didn’t always know exactly the right thing to say, but, as the lyrics say, it was often just what I needed to save me from my own brain when it wasn’t thinking in my own best interest. At that moment it hit me that his name would never again “light up my screen”. There will be no more calls from Dad, no more face-to-face chats, no more words of wisdom. And while I could feel my father with me at that moment; I could also feel the bottomless void of his loss in my soul. It was time to head home.
While I didn’t hear their final three songs (‘Laura Palmer’, ‘Of The Night’, and an encore performance of ‘Pompeii’) I left the show feeling as if I had fulfilled a promise to my dad. Pop, I know you would have loved every second of watching that show with me in person and I know you would have enjoyed it as much as the rest of the energetic crowd that packed The Met on a Monday night. I highly suggest that you catch the tour when it rolls into your city. I will continue to be an avid fan of Bastille and bask in the knowledge that music can still connect us between two worlds. I love you, Dad.
[Photos by D. Jacob Miller]
[Article by David Miller]
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