More than three years ago, Underoath walked off the stage for the last time at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, their hearts overwhelmed by emotion.
Singer Spencer Chamberlain's voice cracked as he thanked the band's longtime fans. Keyboardist Chris Dudley collapsed into Chamberlain's arms, overcome by the finality of their farewell. Band members tossed gear, mementoes and even themselves into the crowd. This was a goodbye they all seemed to mean.
Three years isn't all that long, and yet it feels like a lifetime passed between that farewell show and Underoath's official live comeback on Wednesday at Jannus Live.
"We left part of ourselves on this stage 3 1/2 years ago," Chamberlain said from the stage. "We're here to pick that piece up and move forward."
Did they ever, with both feet on the pedal and engines roaring full throttle. Three days after packing tiny Crowbar for a not-so-secret secret show, the Christian metal superstars — one of the most popular bands ever to hail from Tampa Bay — crackled with vitality throughout their much-anticipated hometown show, the first of many sold-out dates on their 2016 reunion tour.
This was always going to be a special night, in front of family and friends and diehard fans on the same stage where they said goodbye, at a venue where Chamberlain, for 10 years a St. Petersburg resident, used to work.
But from the moment drummer and vocalist Aaron Gillespie walked out with arms raised high to Chamberlain's final bows and kisses to a frenetic mosh pit, it felt almost like Underoath had something to prove, thrashing, crashing and smashing their way through a savage two-hour set with almost no signs of rust whatsoever.
This is more than just a comeback tour for Underoath. It's also something of a nostalgia tour, as they're playing their two biggest albums, 2004's They're Only Chasing Safety and 2006's Define The Great Line, in full — a smart move, as we happen to be in a bull market for nostalgia tours featuring emo-leaning alternative bands from the late '90s and early 2000s (see: Weezer and Panic! At The Disco, Modest Mouse and Brand New, Dashboard Confessional and Taking Back Sunday).
Underoath was always heavier than those bands, but they're in the same phylum — especially with Chasing Safety, which has enough melodic songs (Reinventing Your Exit, I'm Content With Losing, the rarity Down, Set, Go) that fans at Jannus Live could actually sing, not just scream every word. Chamberlain's chainsaw vocal ripped through punishing tracks like It's Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door and I Don't Feel Very Receptive Today, but all too often, he was happy to let the diehards in the pit sing for him.
After a five-minute break, the band was back for Define the Great Line — their most popular album, debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, right between Nelly Furtado and the Dixie Chicks. Define is much a much heavier and more ambitious album, loaded with tumbling guitar riffs and throttling math-rock progressions. This gave guitarists Tim McTague and James Smith even more space to shine, delivering destructive riffs on In Regards to Myself, Returning Empty Handed and Moving for the Sake of Motion.
As the band built toward the Grammy-nominated Writing on the Walls, fans got even more aggressively into the set, moshing, pushing and forming chaotic little pits in the crowd. Chamberlain even joined them, stepping down to scream into his mic atop the shoulders of the most appreciative crowd Underoath might encounter all tour.
Can the band keep this level of energy up for at least 30 more shows? They were soaked in sweat by the third song, and playing as passionately on their last as they did on their first. You'd swear they'd be dying up there, if only they didn't look so alive. McTague and Dudley thrashed and danced around like madmen, and band members exchanged little grins and high fives all night. They were every bit as into the moment as the fans who'd waited years, and traveled many miles, for this show.
"Last time I was on this stage, I never in a million years thought I'd be back up here with my five best friends," Chamberlain said. "So cheers to that."
The band bowed and blew kisses to the crowd at the end, and fans chanted "One more song! One more song! One more song!" for a good five minutes after Underoath left the stage. McTague had to come out and wave them of for good with one last round of high-fives.
It was another emotional exit, but one that avoided any sense of nail-in-the-coffin finality. Yes, Chamberlain and Gillespie still have their day jobs in Sleepwave and Paramore, respectively, and Underoath hasn't announced any hometown shows beyond this one. But it's not hard to imagine another coming down the line.
"This band started here in Tampa Bay," Chamberlain said, "and I'm glad to have the first shows here in Tampa Bay."
This time around, they might not be the last.
-- Jay Cridlin