By Hali Neal
Although there was an unusual amount of rain at this year’s SunFest, Saturday saw only a few drops in the early evening. Still, it warranted a warning: “Inclement weather approaching. Take necessary precautions.”
Like most Floridians, I figured that if the next band was still going to play, I didn’t need to worry about the inclement weather warning yet. That band was West Palm Beach locals AfterMidNite. It was a surprise to see a local band, even a hometown band, have such a sizable following, especially fans who could afford the pricier tickets behind the barricade at the Tire Kingdom stage.
One of the chief complaints among the majority of local bands, at least in Miami-Dade and Broward, is getting more than your same four friends to show up.
Things started off well with lead singer/rapper Joshua “Delamore” Burrows bursting onto stage and immediately talking to the crowd and getting everyone hyped up, though the wheels came off the bus soon after.
Burrows has a good voice, especially in the lower register he tends to start songs off with, and he shone on the rapping he did on the new song (the third of the set), but the second he went higher, one of three things happened: 1) he sounded like he was straining to get to the note he needed; 2) he’d moved into shouting; or 3) he was trying to find/insert a range that didn’t fit with the song. There was also this grating vocal filler —“ooh!” — that he yelled before and sometimes during every song that could have been the product of nerves if it hadn’t gone on the entire set.
AfterMidNite also suffers from an identity problem. Burrows is clearly born for faster-paced music that’s conducive to him jumping and running up and down the stage like he was Saturday, but as of right now, the music behind AfterMidNite is way too relaxed for that.
Then there were moments where the vocals recalled Set It Off’s orchestral pop era and not only because of certain theatrical similarities in Burrows’ voice at times: any fan/concertgoer familiar with Set It Off could close his or her eyes and hear a 2011-2012 Cody Carson sound-alike, which isn’t a bad thing if that’s what you’re going for, but AfterMidNite’s Facebook page claims (twice) that “AfterMidNite Is South Florida’s Own, Self Proclaimed ‘Drop Pop’ Rock Band! With a Look, Sound & Style Like No Other.”
After MidNite also did a cover/sample of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” with an emo reminiscent line: “sometimes in my tears I drown … all my life I’ve been waiting for my people to say ‘no woman, no cry,’” which is confusing in itself, as the original song is about not wanting one particular woman not to cry. The group also has two songs where Burrows raps (the standouts of the set) and are light on the instrumentation, and then “Hollywood Blvd.,” their single, is a straightforward pop-rock song. On “Oh Emily,” he sounded a type of whiny I haven’t heard since the early 2000s. It’s enough to give anyone genre whiplash. If there was some sort of connective tissue between all the songs, it would work (a la Bring Me The Horizon’s “amo” or Issues’ “Headspace”) but there isn’t.
The closest they come to depth is on the “Cry Me a River” soundalike intro of “We Chased Our Liquor With Conversation,” which, for a song about a nasty breakup, Burrows was surprisingly upbeat when talking onstage about it and took the time to dedicate it to anyone who’d been in love before. While guitarist Brandon Buchanan and bassist Thomas Amenita are clearly talented, the music went unchanged in pace for most of the set and cemented the clash between Burrows’ pop-rock energy and their slow, indie-verging-on-jazz music.
The energy Burrows had was the only thing that was memorable in a good way, and that’s a problem.
Papa Roach and the word “joyful” don’t usually go together, but that’s exactly what happened when the band started their headlining set later that Saturday.
Lead singer Jacoby Shaddix’s joy radiated out of his every pore as he greeted and talked to the crowd; explained his choice of shirt (a bright pink shirt, or “salmon,” as he called it, since he figured, well, South Florida); and, later in the show, moved up and down the stage.
This was made even more ironic by the fact that they opened with up with dark hit single “Last Resort.” Usually this is a song that would be saved for last since it’s the quintessential Papa Roach single, so leading off with it is the ultimate “We’ve been a band for 25 years” power move. It also suggests that the band doesn’t groan and say “Ugh, fine: stick it in the encore and we’ll slave through it/get the crowd to do most of it.” There was still some crowd interaction on the chorus, appropriately, and one could tell Shaddix was enjoying performing the song. Speaking of vocals, it’s not often, if ever, that one can say that a singer was faultless, but Shaddix was as close as you could come.
Papa Roach then continued with “Help” and “Who Do You Trust,” but “Getting Away With Murder,” off 2005’s album of the same name, was the standout. There was appropriately red lighting, great crowd participation, and Shaddix, in addition to already turning in another stellar vocal performance, took the notes toward the end chorus down, which was a nice twist.
The crowd also learned some fun facts about Shaddix: he loves the B-52’s so much (they played earlier in the day) and that he might be one of the only people to say “it’s a great day to be alive” outside of country music and actually mean it.
As Papa Roach launched into “Between Angels and Insects,” off its debut smash Infest, it became clear that the band was having a night some bands wait their whole careers to have (and still don’t get, especially not at a festival): perfectly balanced sound among the entire band, flawless vocals over the entire hour-and-a-half set, enthusiastic crowd reaction/participation (and “and you’re singing back on key. I like that!” said Shaddix at one point), and being spared from fickle weather elements. The band proved that they had a little something everyone by throwing three new songs into the mix, one of which, “Not The Only One,” had a well-done instrumental break.
Next up was “Traumatic,” off 2017’s Crooked Teeth, which, again, for a dark song, had a great, energetic buildup courtesy of Shaddix: “this is for the savages in the mosh pit!” and “do not drop the last crowdsurfer!”
Papa Roach kept up that hard energy with “Hollywood Whore,” which is about “disgust for the Hollywood lifestyle”, though the lyrics, the guitars, and the vocals never hit as hard as they did Saturday, impressive for a song that came out in 2009.
One of the few times I’ve ever been excited for a cover is when Shaddix announced, after talking extensively about how they’d just gotten off a UK tour: “We don’t usually play other people’s music, but we’d like to bring some of that UK doom-and-gloom good time to you.” They launched into the instantly recognizable intro of Blur’s “Song 2,” one of the most fun songs to sing along to and from guitar to drums (both hugely important in that song) to vocals all blending together beautifully, it led to some of the most fun I’ve had listening to a cover in a long time.
Papa Roach is known for talking about mental health in their songs, and this set they did something special to honor one of their musical inspirations, Keith Flint of The Prodigy, who hanged himself in March. Before launching into a cover of the band’s “Firestarter,” Shaddix said, “You know we like to talk about what’s going on in this dome up here. So this is dedicated to anyone who’s ever lost anyone to suicide.”
Shaddix showed his versatility on “Firestarter” as the song is not only higher than he usually sings but is also partly in a scream. The band also brought it with the punch of the guitar and thundering of the drums.