“This is another new one,” Story of the Year frontman Dan Marsala announced halfway through his band’s set at the Continental Airlines Arena. “Keep it moving.” Marsala was addressing his mosh-pit minions—a motley crew that counted plenty of Jersey meatheads, as well as a skinny kid in a Winnie the Pooh costume—but he could’ve been describing the tenor of the emo-metal scene the Taste of Chaos tour has packaged for the past two years. Spectacle is in. Substance, not so much.
Nothing wrong with spectacle, of course; in pop, that’s often where the thrills come from. Yet even if recent mainstream breakthroughs by screamo groups such as My Chemical Romance mean that now this music is pop, at TOC an emphasis on showbiz slickness stifled the music’s vitality. Like the more established (but demographically similar) Warped Tour, or a random sampling of nightly Fuse programming, the show moved quickly; as soon as one main-stage band wrapped up its tightly scripted set, a side-stage act launched into its own to keep the kiddies entertained.
Stage antics often did the trick: During a drum break in one of their muscle-riffed jock jams, Story of the Year’s two guitarists did backflips. Orange County metalcore biggies Atreyu nodded to Spinal Tap with a Great Wall of amplifiers and an absurdly high drum riser. Headliners Deftones came onstage to the sweetly ironic sounds of 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love.” The fans responded to the stimuli, yet didn’t fall for everything, appearing indifferent to the night’s purest spectacle, the Street Drum Corps, a funky sort of gutter-punk Stomp.
SoCal post-hardcore stalwarts Thrice, powerful and complicated if no fun at all, paid the price for their peers’ displays. Churning through tunes from last year’s dark, textured Vheissu, they played as though they figured the music would speak for itself; for their trouble they got a pit full of bored faces screaming for old stuff. Somehow, Deftones (metal’s most unlikely success story) avoided that fate. Tellingly, frontman Chino Moreno said he detected the puffing of blunts.