Empires and I have a very strange history. Having first encountered them after the departure of guitarist Tom Conrad from The Academy Is…, I wanted nothing to do with them. I couldn’t figure out why Tom would leave The Academy Is…, who was like, totally the coolest band ever and stuff. What was he thinking?! This was in 2007 and I was 16 years old.
Since then, I’ve gladly come to my senses and realized Empires is the shit. After finally getting the chance to catch them live at the Studio at Webster Hall, I realized that with joining Empires, Conrad made one of the best choices of his career.
Fans packed the tiny room from wall to wall, and from the first chord of the sultry opener, “Hello Lover,” and onward, they clung to each other, itching to get closer to the stage. Considering how soggy everyone was from the rainstorms and the humidity of the basement venue, this was not the most pleasant experience. Even vocalist Sean Van Vleet took note of the sweaty, damp atmosphere, saying things like, “It’s a little slippery in here. It makes it more fun.” After launching into “Keep It Steady,” an upbeat dance number off the band’s new album Garage Hymns, Van Vleet was slipping and sliding around the stage with his tambourine, almost teasing the crowd with his close contact and energy. The females up front (myself included) were eating it up.
The crowd fed off the band’s energy for the rest of the set, screaming the words back at the band, dancing and jumping about. According to Van Vleet, the crowd sounded, “fucking delicious.”
After tearing through a primarily Garage Hymns filled set, the band closed the night out with a bang, literally. “Bang” whipped the crowd into a frenzy, with even the most gigantic of men launching themselves into the air. Beers spilled all over the already soaked crowd, and I personally have never been more drenched.
Giving into the usual chants of “One more song!” the band came back out only to realize there were some issues with the bass, causing them to play a more stripped down encore. Unsure of what to play, Van Vleet asked the crowd, and was quickly met by people shouting the name of every track in their discography. He settled for “Hayley,” a sad and beautiful track off Howl, and sang it with just one guitar behind him. With a very warm reception from the crowd, Van Vleet humbly left the stage, blowing kisses and grabbing hands. Between his graceful departure and the band’s bombastic performance, I’m almost embarrassed to say that I haven’t been “Team Empires” since day one.