A sign hangs on the window outside the entrance to the Roseland Theater delivering a message to all who enter: “NO MOSHING OR AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR.”
AWOLNATION didn’t seem to get the memo.
In preparation for the experience that is AWOLNATION live, I was told by many what to expect: The craziest show you’ve ever experienced. You’ll have bruises tomorrow. Crowdsurfing. Moshing. Hold on to the barricade and never let go. Elbows out. I heard it all.
I read the sign and entered both excited and frightened for my well-being. I still had some time to prepare.
For this, the Run Tour, AWOLNATION brought along two openers. The first was Irontom, a Malibu rock band that took everyone by surprise. As soon as these gentlemen jumped onstage, the vigor of their punk rock energy never slipped.
Each member brought a certain element to the whole spectacle: Lead vocalist Harry Hayes delivered every line with wide, wild eyes and screaming passion; Zach Irons and his guitar couldn’t stop moving and jumping and spinning; bassist Dane Sandborg laid back a bit, while both keyboardist Daniel Saslow and drummer Dyl Williams heavily beat upon their instruments keeping the rhythm and movement alive. By the end of the set, both band and crowd were covered in sweat and ready to keep the buzz going.
Family of the Year followed with a much less energetic, but no less entertaining set of indie folk. The last time I saw Family of the Year was opening for Australia’s Atlas Genius in November 2013. Since then, the band have been rather quiet, haven’t visited Portland since, and haven’t released any new music since 2012’s Loma Vista. For their set, Family of the Year treated us to a plateful of new material to be released on an upcoming third album, and they ended with “Hero” (watch below), which received a huge crowd response and resulted in a massive sing-along.
While all of this was happening, there was still only one thing on my mind: Was I prepared? I had picked a spot right up front, but to the side, hoping that I would be mostly on the sidelines of the general commotion. But as the night wore on, I slowly slipped closer and closer to the center. I just prayed I wasn’t too close to the middle of the warzone.
As soon as Aaron Bruno and the rest of AWOLNATION took the stage, the whole of the Roseland became one ever-moving and shifting mass. Luckily enough though, it seemed I was just on the edge of it all, hanging onto the barricade, hoping I’d be able to enjoy the show with minimal injuries.
AWOLNATION started off with the first track on the new album, the title track “Run.” This is hands down the best opening to a setlist there could be. “Run” swells with adrenaline, tensing up from the beginning until all hell breaks loose when the guitar crashes in.
The band played a fairly even set with half coming from their first album, Megalithic Symphony, and the rest from their recent sophomore release. From “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)” (watch below) to “Jump on My Shoulders,” “KOOKSEVERYWHERE!!!” to “Kill Your Heroes,” AWOLNATION kept ‘em coming, feeding the hungry beast that was the crowd.
As much as I tried to enjoy the energetic and visually stunning stage presence of the band themselves, it was hard to focus when there was so much happening on the floor. Not slowing down once, the core of the theater became one megalithic mosh pit (pun intended), pushing, shoving and jumping their way through every track the band laid down.
It came to a climax during the encore, though. During “Sail,” the band's most well-known track, I listened as I watched the crowd respond. Bodies began to rise from bodies, hands rising to hold up the flailing flesh sent to the front of the procession before being carried away in the arms of the bouncers trying to keep it all under control. I kept count and by the time the last note of the song struck, 15 people had been lifted into the air and crowd-surfed to their heart’s content. Fifteen.
As I left the theater, I looked again at the sign that hung outside the entrance. AWOLNATION left me in shock, both because of their unstoppable performance and because I lived to tell the tale without a single bruise.