The five-piece Rio Debut, from Belleville, Illinois, opened with a set of tunes that were as stylistically eclectic as they were upbeat and powerful. "Since We First Met" featured hi-hat rolls from Thomas Gallaher and a contemplative bass thrum from Jake Schlich. "We Are Not...(Witty)" concluded with a satisfying multi-singer part that sparked the quiet audience into a few hoots and hollers. "Plenty of Phones..." -- with existential "fuck you's," aggressive guitar line and pop sensibilities -- was the show's highlight.
Maps For Travelers, from Kansas City, Missouri, sounded like Taking Back Sunday smashed up with Sparta and At the Drive-In. Zach Brotherton's lyrics rang clear and full of ego as he alternated between singing and screaming the words, rendering a delightful, dangerous edge. "Sell Me Out" could become a radio smash if the band breaks through.
Medina's frenetic drumming showed the kind of care that few can muster. "Get A New Face" stood out as the band's metal ode and concerned itself with a father's "new face" and a new way of living that the band doesn't like. R.L. Brooks provided some elegant shouting and amazing guitar distortion to bed the jam. "Hindsight 20/20" displayed the band working in drop time with the worry that they might "Not make it through." But don't worry, dudes, you are going places.
Bars of Gold, from Detroit, Michigan, featured ex-members of Bear Vs. Shark as well as members of Wildcatting. When the band opened with "Hey Neighbor," Marc Paffi bounded around the stage with showstopping power, generating an unenviable sweat. By the end of the song, Paffi could be seen face down, screaming the final chorus at the back wall of the Firebird.
An eighties vibe coursed through the underbelly of Bars of Gold's show. Brandon Moss destroyed the drums as Paffi offered up more theatrics on "Doctors and Lawyers." The man's voice cut through all else to become the center of attention, conjuring dirty bars, roadkill-strewn highways and self-satisfaction. The epic "Cannibals" closed out Bars of Gold's set with a distorted guitar line that dissolved into Modest Mouse-style big-band cacophony. Positioned behind his band, Paffi again shouted the words of the song like a whisky swigging sailer too far from land: "I was born a cannibal, not like any cannibal you have seen before." Make sure to devour Bars of Gold before they devour you and the rest of the American indie-pop-punk scene.
The project known as the Company We Keep featured the striped-skirt clad Amy Brennan and Brian Southall, who has also served as Motion City Soundtrack tour manager. Lead singer Justin Pierre of Motion City Soundtrack was not on hand, because of responsibility to his main band, but his fingerprints cover the Company We Keep's sound, ethos and outlook.
"Rabbit" showcased Southall's programming abilities —- the group had a computer spilling out a tapestry of beats that filled the transitions and intros of songs with Nine Inch Nails inspired blips, clicks, heavy drum and bass. "The Company She Keeps" was belted out like the band's creed, though Brennan's jazzy vocals could have been louder and more aggressive. "11/11" began as members of Bars of Gold and Maps For Travelers brought whiskey shots to Brennan, who struggled to slam them down as the pre-programmed beat bled into the basement of the track. "Right/Wrong," which appeared on the band's 7-inch, finally revealed Brennan's pipes, perhaps thanks to the whiskey's loosening effect.
After "X-Mas," the mass of band members produced more drinks for Brennan, who moaned "Can't we just say cheers and not drink them," was nonetheless pressured to imbibe before jumping into a cover of At the Drive-In's "Pattern Against User." Southall's bass produced a bee-buzz effect that coupled with palm-muted guitar and Branden Morgan's fill-laden drums that mirrored the original song perfectly. After the set, Brennan stood like a thankful siren at the merch table and talked to fans as she signed her band's t-shirts and vinyl.