Live: Saving Abel and Smile Empty Soul in Indy

Indianapolis rock fans had an incredible opportunity to see Saving Abel up close and personal on their recent tour stop in the city as the band took over Fountain Square’s 5th Quarter Lounge with Smile Empty Soul and The Veer Union. Indianapolis’ rock scene has been fledgling in recent years, especially after our biggest rock radio station transitioned into a Top-40 station. Although Indy still manages to get its fair share of tours the turnout is almost always far lower than it is in similar markets, and this show was a prime example of the unfortunate phenomenon. As tour packages go, this was a pretty solid one. For many years it was nearly impossible to escape Saving Abel’s breakthrough single, “Addicted,” a track that has aged quite well due to its straightforward approach. Smile Empty Soul had a fair amount of success as well with their breakthrough single “Bottom of a Bottle.” Although they haven’t remained quite as visible as Saving Abel has over the years, they’ve hammered out a steady career with consistent releases. With two strong mainstays creating half the tour package it should’ve made for a well-attended show. Unfortunately, it seems when Indy lost its rock station the ability to get the word out about shows collapsed as well. Fans simply aren’t aware of the shows that are coming to town. This is incredibly unfortunate for the bands and the fans that miss out, but as you’ll read below it can also create a once in a lifetime opportunity for the lucky fans that manage to make it out to the show. Local band After The Fallout proved that there’s still a vested interest in keeping the scene going though, as they had a ton of support in the crowd and kicked off the night with a powerhouse of a performance that set the bar high for the rest of the night. Oklahoma City band Kirra started off the tour package with an impressive showing. With menacing guitar chugs and explosive drums, the band had a sound that was all at once fresh and familiar. Jesse Williamson’s raspy vocals occasionally wandered in to Layne Staley territory, making for a nice surprise. Although many of the group’s songs seemed to blend together, with little to differentiate one song from the next, there’s no doubt this band is well on their way to carving out their own sound a niche in the rock scene. Canadian rockers The Veer Union were up next. Although the band has been around since 2004 the past few years have been a big transition for the group, with vocalist Crispin Earl being the only remaining original member. Bassist Amal Wijayanayake and guitarist Ryan Ramsdell joined in 2013, with guitarist Dan Sittler and drummer Tyler Reimer following in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Having 4/5 of a band replaced can really only ever go one of two ways: you either crash and burn and completely ruin the legacy of the group, or you suddenly spring to life, totally reinvigorated. Thankfully, for The Veer Union the latter seems to be the case. Crispin Earl and Amal have a dynamic chemistry on stage, best showcased during their cover of Faith No More’s “Epic,” which saw Wijayanayake hand off his bass to the band’s tour manager so he could grab a mic and enter into a captivating duel of sorts with Earl. The bandmates clearly fed off of one-another’s energy, making for an incredible performance. Building off the energy of “Epic” the band headed in to their recent single “Defying Gravity” off 2015’s Decade. The song has received decent rotation on Sirius’ Octane, so many in the crowd were able to sing along, adding to the power of the song. When Smile Empty Soul took to the stage the contrast between them and The Veer Union was pretty stark, as it seems the bands have polar opposite approaches. The Veer Union is all about creating a high energy show, engaging the fans as much as possible, while Smile Empty Soul is considerably more reserved and focused on hammering out their songs. After the first song vocalist Sean Danielsen decided that even the minimal stage lighting was still too bright for his liking and moved the light aside. In some respects the darker atmosphere really worked for the group. Since they do seem to be more focused on simply playing their songs for their fans in person, as opposed to putting on a flashy show, the darker room kept everything very focused- all of the energy was being poured in to the song, and many fans were singing along throughout the set. The trio The highlight of the set was undoubtedly the final three songs- “Silhouettes,” “Nowhere Kids,” and previously mentioned “Bottom of a Bottle,” which opened the band’s self-titled debut album. Although the crowd had been singing along throughout most of the set everything was kicked up a few notches for these final three songs, as people were clearly enjoying the nostalgia. At long last headlining group Saving Abel hit the stage. As I mentioned before the turnout was underwhelming, but the group didn’t let that dampen their mood whatsoever- from production (the band brought their own lighting system) to performance these guys were giving it everything they had throughout the entire hour-and-a-half set. At one point vocalist Scotty Austin told the crowd “We’ve had more people show up to our band practices than this…so congratulations, you’re all a part of Saving Abel now!” Austin spent much of the show getting as close to the crowd as possible- occasionally thrusting his mic out signaling the crowd to sing louder. By far the most poignant moment of the night was when Austin took a few minutes to thank those who served in the military, and he spoke about his brothers who are currently serving. This led in to “18 Days,” off the band’s debut album. Although Austin wasn’t a member of the band when the song was penned his personal experience with family members serving has given him the ability to sing the song with such passion and conviction. The crowd response was equally moving, and a handful of fans took the opportunity to bring out their lighters and sway back and forth like the days of old. As the group headed in to “Addicted” to close out the night they mentioned that they would be sticking around to hang out and share a few drinks with fans. Although the group always puts on a stellar performance, perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of a Saving Abel show is just how personable all of the guys are. There isn’t even the slightest hint of pretension or arrogance to be found. Early in the night guitarist Scott Bartlett could be seen hanging out by the pool tables when he could’ve just as easily been hiding away in the green room. The line between “fan” and “band” is almost impossible to detect at a Saving Abel show, as the band manages to create such a relaxed atmosphere where you realize everyone in the room is there for a single reason: their love for for rock music. As disheartening as it is to watch your city’s rock community slowly unravel, nights like that remind you that there’s still hope. The turnout was small, but the passion was palpable and invigorating. One can only hope that the combination of independent venues dedicated to bringing in quality tours and musicians willing to brave a few rough shows will help the city make it through the current slump and eventually return to a stronger state, where bands will once again have the turnout they deserve. Until then, keep your ears to the ground, Indianapolis fans. If you stay vigilant and listen close enough you might just find your way into a show such as this: a tour that will draw hundreds, if not a few thousand in stronger markets, and you’re basically getting a private performance. Enjoy it while you can, because it’s only a matter of time before the public at large catches on and the scene springs back to life. -Ashley Adcox Click here for photos of all 4 bands