“Empires” by Dylan Fisher
Unlike many bands playing at Gardner, who are off-put and sour about the small student turnout, the energy and passion of Empires seemed to be propelled by pleasing those few (about fifteen students loosely spread about the floor, jumping in the air, dancing wildly to the music) who came to the show. Lead singer, Sean Van Vleet, even dedicated the final song to some new friends at the front of the small crowd. His vocals, often unintelligible behind thick waves of guitar and drums, carried with them a sense of longing, of recklessness, of desperation. I have the feeling, that the lyrics, perhaps hidden almost purposefully, were about love and heartbreak at their most sensational. He sung reaching out towards the crowd, begging us to realize, to understand his emotional tumult. And, we, the crowd, responded, becoming more rowdy and untamed as Van Vleet himself became louder and more impassioned. During their final song, Van Vleet ran passionately back and forth across the stage, his hands flinging about room. Ultimately he ended, breathless, falling to his knees, head to the heavens.
Much of Empires concert was performance driven. All of this was a form of acting, Van Vleet acting for the crowd, showing us that desperate and inconsolable quality that we wanted to both hear and see. Often, I find this type of performance annoying and disconcerting. It is easy for a band to lose the meaning and truth in their music to the symbolic quality of their almost artificial actions. Empires certainly treaded this line in finding and creating meaning in the show (many I’m sure would argue that they sacrificed the complex for the emblematic), but beyond Van Vleet’s stage drama and acting, I heard a sound, a voice—uneven, sad, barely holding it all together— still untainted by that symbolic performance. As much as Van Vleet and his band tried to hide it, to cover it up behind dramatic action, they were conveying to the audience a brief instance of emotional truth. Before long, the crowd caught on and it held on, cheering for encores late into the night. For anyone can fall to their knees and sing and scream to the heavens, but few can transcend that hollow symbolic act, to find meaning worth trying to hide.