Words by Andrew Humphrey. Photo by Jesse DiFlorio
Some artists crumble under pressure while others thrive. Streetlight Manifesto clearly falls in the latter of the two categories as was demonstrated by a last-minute acoustic performance at the Masquerade in Atlanta, Georgia, July 14, 2017.
Due to a family emergency involving Chris Thatcher, the band’s drummer, combined with weather-related flight delays, it became impossible for the band to perform their usual full-rock band set on time. They were given the option to either cancel the show or to push it back late. The decision was made, under what I assume to be extreme distress, to not only wait it out and play the show for the enthusiastic and fully packed crowd, but also to make up for the delays by playing a sans-drummer acoustic set beforehand. The band released a Facebook statement just minutes before doors were scheduled to open outlining the plan, which you can read here.
If you’re scratching your head, wondering how one could possibly convert an eight-piece punk and ska band into an acoustic show, you’re not alone. I have a feeling the band did too during the roughly five-hour scramble period they had to put it all together for the first time ever.
And simply put, it ruled.
First and foremost, the interplay between guitarist and lead singer Tomas Kalnoky and bassist Pete McCullough became much more of a focal point. There’s such a tremendous amount of rhythm between these two guys alone that, even in the absence of a drummer, you could still feel a force and drive comparable to anything in Streetlight’s recorded catalogue. In this way, the structure of the band’s songs often seemed more rooted in bluegrass or folk than it did in punk, reggae, or other genres most often associated with ska. Thatcher obviously crushes behind the kit, but Streetlight demonstrated how rhythm can and should be felt by more than just a drum kit to move an audience.
The horn section also rose to the challenge. Sure, they had to adjust their playing a bit due to the acoustic format, taking a pianissimo approach to their usually face-blasting leads, but it came out beautifully. There’s really nothing more genuinely “ska” than hearing hundreds of fans non-lyrically singing and shouting along with their favorite instrumental brass leads. It was nerdy, humbling, and gnarly all at the same time.
There were so many touching moments throughout the acoustic set that I had to double check my watch to believe that 45 minutes had truly gone by. Notable moments included performances of select Catch-22 classics that old-school fans were thrilled to hear again such the infamous title track “Keasbey Nights” and “Sick and Sad.”
For me personally, the most endearing song of the night was their acoustic rendering of “Toe to Toe” from their The Hands That Thieve album. Mike Brown’s mid-song baritone sax solo was one of the most tear-jerking moments of the night. The interaction with the audience also provided a demonstrable testament to Kalnoky’s lyrical and melodic gifts; fans not only sang each and every word with perfection, but could also be heard choosing different vocal harmonies prominent through the song. Maybe it was the song’s lyrical references to David and Goliath, but it was as if everyone in the building had transformed into the raddest church choir I had ever heard.
In the end, Thatcher arrived safely. He gracefully entered the stage around 1:15AM to a thunderous roar of applause, and the band quickly started their regular set thereafter. The crowd had not lost steam despite the late hour. The rest of the evening just felt like a giant party as the band played through all of the tunes from their now 10-year old Somewhere in Between album.
Other acknowledgements are also owed for the unforgettable night. Cheers to the Masquerade staff that unexpectedly had to work well past 3 am to accommodate the band and die-hard audience. I could also write an entire article about how emotionally moving the opening acoustic set by Kevin Seconds, co-founder of the influential hardcore band 7 Seconds, had been. Be sure to catch his solo set if you are ever given the opportunity and pick up one of his D.I.Y. released albums. Shout out as well to local openers CrabHammer, the most metalcore ska band you’re likely ever going to hear.
Streetlight Manifesto continues their tour with select dates throughout the summer. Check their website for upcoming dates that may be near you.