Concert review: The Academy Is, Rocket Summer, Sherwood

Fresh off their opening stint for Fall Out Boy during this summer’s Honda Civic Tour, The Academy Is… is now in the midst of the first headlining tour in support of their second album, Santi. Boasting three very good opening bands, all of which were solid live, last Friday night’s stop of the Sleeping With Giants Tour at Anaheim’s House of Blues is likely to be one of the best shows this fall.

Starting the night off was San Luis Obispo’s own Sherwood, who turned in a 30-minute set of seven delectable pop-rock songs. “Never Ready to Leave” got things going right off the bat, led by the dual vocal exchange of lead singer/bassist Nate Henry and singer/guitarist Dan Koch.

For the rest of the time, they drew almost exclusively from their latest release A Different Light (the only old song was “Learn To Sing”), with highlights including “The Best in Me,” “Song in My Head” and the stirring closer “For the Longest Time,” which showed off Henry’s vocal range. My only complaints were the similarity between this set list and those from their last two tours because it would have been nice to see an extended one. Nevertheless, it was another impressive display.

After Sherwood was The Rocket Summer, who stole the show with a 30-minute set simply bursting forth with energy. From the first song “Break it Out,” they had the whole place moving, and it never let up from there. Whether it was oldies “Around the Clock” and “Brat Pack” or new stuff like “Do You Feel” and “So Much Love,” it was all fantastically done, easily turning into the highlight of the evening.

Lead singer Bryce Avary is one of the most energetic frontmen I’ve seen, constantly moving around and giving his all, while never missing a note in the process. Switching off from guitar to piano almost every other song, he showcased his extraordinary musical talents, even playing the drums during one transition. The only disappointment was once again how short his set was. The release of this summer’s Do You Feel and a live show that can’t be missed, should ensure it won’t stay that way for much longer.

Armor for Sleep was given the difficult task of following up The Rocket Summer. While they weren’t able to match their effort, they still put together a solid nine-song, 40-minute outing. Kicking things off in high fashion was “The Truth About Heaven,” which displayed a harder rock sound than the rest of bands on the bill. They went on to play several favorites off of their last release What to do When You Are Dead, with obvious standouts being “Remember to Feel Real,” “Stay on the Ground,” and “Car Underwater.”

The New Jersey outfit also showcased a handful of new tunes off of next month’s Smile for Them, indicating a heavier direction on tracks such as “Williamsburg” and “Smile for the Camera.” Throughout the set, singer/guitarist Ben Jorgensen delivered consistent vocals, and the other band members sounded tight musically. Even though it was the weakest performance of the night, it was by no means a bad one, and proved why they have now achieved major label status.

Closing the night was The Academy Is…, who put on an entertaining show over the course of their 75-minute set. The Chicago quintet started things off in style with “Same Blood” before transitioning to older songs “Attention” and “Slow Down.” This proved to be a trademark of the night as the band split 18 songs evenly between their two albums, which was a welcome difference from the other bands. All of their best songs were included too, from the old (“The Phrase That Pays,” “Black Mamba,” “Down and Out,”) to the new (“We’ve Got a Big Mess on Our Hands,” “Bulls In Brooklyn,” “Neighbors,” “Seed”).

They closed with “Checkmarks,” one of their finest songs to date, before coming out to encore with the b-side “40 Steps” and an impassioned performance of “Almost Here,” which ended things perfectly.

Frontman William Beckett’s full on rock persona was also on full display the entire night, which was quite amusing. Whether strutting around on stage or posing atop the risers, he demonstrated a remarkable stage presence, and it seemed he was able to work the crowd into a frenzy with the simple twist of his hand. Despite the antics, he never came across as arrogant or ungrateful, and his vocals were spot on for almost every song. The rest of the band, while not nearly as fun to watch, performed well in his shadow.

It baffles me how The Academy Is… has not received more mainstream attention, especially considering how they are among Fall Out Boy’s inner circle and Beckett can actually sing and perform live (unlike Panic!’s Brendon Urie). With their set, they not only showed off the musical diversity of Santi but played almost everything off of their debut as well, which was more than enough to please both old and new fans alike. Coupled with three other great up-and-coming bands, including an amazing showing from The Rocket Summer, it turned out to be quite the night for music.

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