Hanging with the Vespies: a reflection on a pop-filled weekend
As a resident of Columbus, Ohio it has breathtaking to watch the attention twenty one pilots has driven to our city’s scene. This platform has allowed a handful of other bands to rise to prominence in the pop scene. Two bands at the forefront of this movement both headlined shows in Columbus this weekend. Friday night, that band was Graceful Closure. Saturday night, that band was Vesperteen.
One thing Tuned Up likes to do in the name of conversation is interact with music fans on social media, even if we’ve never met them in person. We tweeted out a simple question – “What is the furthest you’ve traveled for a show?” A few people responded that, to our knowledge, had never heard of Tuned Up before. That included someone who was traveling from the West Coast to be in town for the whole weekend: Graceful Closure Friday, Vesperteen Saturday, and then a themed night from Jesse Cale and Ashley Dun’s poetry brand Secret Midnight Press Sunday. This impressed me, and that feeling would continue through the weekend.
I arrived at Rumba Cafe Friday evening to a small line out the door. Walking inside, I recognized a few fans that were obviously a crew of Vesperteen followers (whom have dubbed themselves “Vespies”). Let me tell you – I’ve never seen a more enthusiastic bunch of people at what was essentially a local show. They sung along to a myriad of songs playing as house music at the top of their lungs, including Paramore’s “Hard Times”, Mutemath’s “Used To” and more! Seeing some folks in their late teens/early twenties singing fervently along to my favorite band was amazing, and gave me hope they are starting to get the attention they deserve – but that’s a topic for another article.
The opening acts for Graceful Closure were fantastic. Tourist Trap played a barnburner of a set that rested somewhere between pop punk and blues rock – a weird combo I know, but just go with it. It was definite growth from the last time I saw that band, which was at the now defunct Live at the Garden Festival. Just the band warming up got the aforementioned group of Vespies dancing, and bassist Zach Barnes would later say to me that that was one of the most fun groups they’ve ever played in front of. Also, in a weird full circle moment, Zach reminded me that they played alongside Vesperteen earlier in the year for a secret Sofar Sounds show.
Rival Summers from Michigan followed Tourist Trap and the Vespies were once more enthusiastically eating up the set with fervor. Frontman Leo Bautista would switch back and forth from electric guitar to upright piano, and when he was warming up on the former, he fooled around a bit with Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles.” Right on cue, the Vespies started singing the song at him and he looked visibly amused and pleased at the spectacle. What followed was a nice batch of pop-rock earworms. The whole set had kind of a wholesome vibe to it, and Leo’s sunny disposition certainly compounded that effect. “It’s not an accident that we’re here,” he said at one point, so many cheers.
The Orphan, The Poet followed with a short but rowdy set of tunes that mixed songs from their Terrible Things EP with their singles released prior. “Better Than This” and “Terrible Things” were the recognizable radio singles of the night, while “Wild and Young” is a personal live favorite of mine that also made an appearance. Backed by white spotlights, the band bounced around the Rumba stage with plenty of good cheer to spread around.
Now, Graceful Closure is one of those “Tuned Up bands” that we have a long history with. I think I’ve lost count of how many live performances I’ve seen from these guys. But, this night would be momentous occasion as I would see them with their new lineup for the first time. They played a mix of old favorites and new tunes, but one thing that kept crossing my mind during their set was how much polish they had. They left “local band” territory and crossed into “national act” territory with that set. Though, they’ll always be a Columbus band at heart. Creative use of transition music, Mutemath-esque percussion breakdowns, and outfit changes all were effective. Notably, “Until the Night’s Gone” is a pop monster that translated well live, to put it mildly. They also took a few minutes to enter the audience for a stripped down medley of songs that included X Ambassadors’ “Unsteady” and Twenty One Pilots’ “Ride.” It was a fun set that emphasized their new motto – “We Do this Together.”
After a long afternoon wandering the Ohio State Fair, I arrived to a long line outside of Skully’s. The small group of Vespies observed at Rumba Cafe the night prior had multiplied into a sell out crowd from several states. I think I even saw a girl carrying an Australian flag. Did someone really fly to Columbus from Australia?
Bonelang was already wooing the crowd with an interesting hybrid of genres that reminded me of Until the Ribbon Breaks and Glass Animals. The duo was flanked on one side by a drummer and one the other by a synth/keys player. The effect was theatrical and at one point one of the vocalists performed a handstand and maintained that pose for the duration of the song. A gimmick, perhaps. But a memorable one suitable for that crowd, I think. In any case, I hope to hear more of the Chicago duo’s mesh of glitchy dream pop and hip hop very soon.
One of the questions I’ve been asking myself all summer is “How will the Vesperteen crowd handle Damn the Witch Siren?” During their set, opener “Pearls and Lace” set the tone for what would persist throughout the set. A mixture of dancing, bewilderment, and Bobbi Kitten and Z Wolf powering through their set doing what they do best. The witchy rock duo kept the throwback songs light (though I personally think “All the Kids” would have been perfect for this crowd), mixing in some new songs (including the abrasive and catchy “Your Love is Frightening”) and some singles (the aforementioned “Pearls and Lace” and “Sweetest Fruit”). The duo ended their set with the song that is still my favorite of theirs (though “Insomnia” is a close second) – “Life Like Movies.” Z would tell me after their set that he thinks they made some moms mad. While this was kind of amusing, I’m honestly not sure if the full onslaught of sexiness from the duo was entirely appropriate for this audience. But, I’m stoked to see another local act be given a platform and see people respond en masse. The Witch Siren merch table was flooded following their set and I saw post after post praising their music and the sweet, down to earth demeanor of the duo.
Of course, the main event of the evening was Vesperteen. The stage blacked out to screams after a loud version of The Clash’s “The White Rider” blasted through the PA. Intro music played and Colin Rigsby’s now iconic drum kit lit up forebodingly, stirring the crowd to a frenzy. I watched the set in awe as the room sung along to each and every song. The Vespie crowd is unique and dedicated. I’ve had the chance to see Vesperteen in several intimate settings and I never dreamed his music would take off in this exact manner. I’ve sipped mead at Brothers Drake to his set, and rocked out with a crowd of 30 at Woodlands Tavern. But I digress.
Vesperteen performs as a trio now. Colin is flanked by Jesse Cale on stage left on keys and Andrew Lee on bass stage right. I heard Cale on the radio in high school under the moniker Fantastic! (check out “The Red Thread” here) and as a solo artist (check out “America!” here). I met Andrew Lee at the first local show Tuned Up ever covered when he played bass for The Kraze (check out that article here – photos were shot by Jeremy Claudio, now of Tiger Drive fame). So a lot of nostalgia culminated in this moment. All three members showed immense growth in their stage presence, with Colin especially stepping into his own as a frontman. The drum kit served as an accessory to his charisma rather than cage limiting his stage presence. The new song “Insane” was probably my favorite of the set, just because it’s a fun hype tune.
It was also surreal watching people I had known for a couple of years get swarmed by fans after the set, especially given that I’ve followed Vesperteen from their beginning. I don’t mean to sound like a pretentious hipster, but I have to be honest! I have to give kudos to all of the guys for being absolute class acts, though. The sudden rise in popularity has to be draining mentally and emotionally, and to see Colin remain so calm, collected, and compassionate to all of his fans after the set really impressed me. I don’t know if many people could handle that task that well – I know I couldn’t! But to any Vespies reading this – remember that bands you love are your peers. Support their message and them, but don’t idolize them.
If you’ve gotten this far, thanks so much for reading! I knew I had to recap this weekend. I feel like we’re entering a new paradigm of what it means to be a music fan, with Columbus at the forefront. So stoked.
Vesperteen set list: “Inhale and Hold” / “I Never Knew How to Love You” / “Feathers So Hollow” / “Obsess Possess” / “Sweet Child O’ Mine” / “Drinking from an Empty Glass” / “Insane” / “What We Could Have Been” // New song / “Chandelier (Sia cover)” / “Shatter in the Night”