Photo of At My Worst by Erica Vining. See more of Erica’s shots in the photo galleries below!
Pop’s first local showcase of the year featured five local metal bands, most of which had played at Pop’s previously. It was an impressive turnout for a local show, owing in part to the passionate local following these bands have developed.
All bands play on Pop’s main stage for local showcases, which is located on the left side of the venue. The rest of the venue remains open, as do its patios, leaving ample room for people to relax and socialize, or enjoy a drink in solitude.
Whereas the lower turnout for local shows is sometimes noticeable at other venues, at Pop’s you never get the impression that this is any “less” of a show than when a nationally or internationally touring band is playing. This is best demonstrated by Pop’s top-notch sound and light team, who give local artists the same deference they would give any other band. Many of the local bands I’ve spoken to consider Pop’s the best venue in the area, and it’s not hard to see why.
Nowhere but Down described their sound to us as “if Melvins, Tool, Nirvana and Helmet had a love child.” With his Mohawk and baggy JNCO-style jeans, bassist Jaysin Wood certainly looks the part. Their grungy, sludgy music was a terrific kick off to the evening. Living in a region saturated with metalcore and deathcore, it was refreshing to see a band paying tribute to the bands that made alternative rock and metal what it is today.
The band closed their set with a chaotic and noisy cover of Nirvana’s “Something in the Way,” which segued into that most cherished of alt rock indulgences, the minutes-long feedback solo.
On an unrelated note, Nowhere but Down inspired me to do some research on Lollapalooza 1992, which was held at the Riverport Amphitheater (now Hollywood Casino Amphitheater), and featured Soundgarden, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Pearl Jam, Ministry, and more. Meanwhile, Pointfest continues its unrivaled streak of being the most underwhelming concert festival in the entire Midwest. Hey, at least the Rizz Show is dying the slow and embarrassing death it deserves.
Before seeing Ending Orion, I consistently heard them praised by other local musicians as one of St. Louis’ best active metal bands. After seeing them live, I can say the hype was justified. This band’s easygoing chemistry and charm belies the virtuosity of lead guitar shredder Mike Kettlehake and drummer Ian Wanstall. I cannot remember the last time I saw a metal band that was actually having fun, and their enthusiasm was contagious.
Members of the crowd we spoke with consistently mentioned how impressed they were with the band’s charisma, especially the interplay between its two vocalists, Taylor Bisping and Tylor Nye. Bisping is guitarist Kettlehake’s daughter, and Nye is his stepson, making Ending Orion something like the death metal version of the Partridge Family.
“I love how deep [Taylor’s] voice was, she was really getting into it too,” said October “Tobii” Willhoft of Ballwin, MO. Bisping is rather petite, which makes the contrast between her clean and harsh vocals all the more impressive.
Later on during the show I spoke with Arrienne Wanstall, who is drummer Ian Wanstall’s sister-in-law. She told us that she has been very impressed with Nye and Bisping’s development as vocalists. Kettlehake originally handled the band’s vocals himself; it seems clear that Bisping and Nye bring a level of personality to the band that would be otherwise missing.
My colleague Erica Vining previously covered At My Worst’s show at Red Flag on January 6th, where she gave them a glowing review. She told me At My Worst vocalist Devin Hayes’s energy reminded her of a spider monkey, a compliment I will echo as well. Tall and lanky, Hayes used every inch of Pop’s stage during his performance. The band’s popularity is such that people in the crowd had memorized their lyrics in advance and were singing along, a rarity for local musicians.
Although Hayes is naturally front-and-center during the band’s performance, I was also extremely impressed with the tight and controlling riffing of guitarist Jared Boyer and the very game rhythm section of Darren Pinson and Eric Johnson. The band has clearly worked hard to develop a loyal following in St. Louis, and I am sure that will translate to even greater successes down the road.
I last saw Sacrifice the Sacred perform at the Conservatory in Alton, IL, in fall 2022—since then, they have undergone a few lineup changes, adding guitarists Joey Ramsey and Esteban Daniel to the band. This band gets better every time I see them; as an admitted metalcore skeptic, I am consistently impressed with the ambitiousness and quality of Sacrifice the Sacred’s music. Any fans of nationally famous metalcore acts like The Devil Wears Prada and Norma Jean should make seeing this band live a priority.
“I’d only listened to them online before, but man, they fucking killed it live,” said Camden Ryan of Collinsville, IL. “They’re one of those bands that brings the energy live that, listening to the album, you just can’t capture.” Ryan is the bassist for Waiting at a Stoplight, an indie rock band based in Troy, IL, which Sacrifice the Sacred guitarist Joey Ramsey also plays in.
Much like Devin Hayes of At My Worst, people in the crowd were greatly impressed with the charisma of vocalist Kurtis Mraz, who even joined the mosh pit during the band’s set.
“Hell of a way to get people moving—just get down there and move with them,” said Ryan.
The last band to perform on Friday, The Doubted, hit the stage around 10:30 PM. Fortunately for them, several new people joined the crowd around then, injecting some needed energy into the final set of the night. Erica and I wondered whether these were personal friends of the band from Cape Girardeau, or people impatiently waiting for Pop’s to transform back into a nightclub once the bands packed up. Either way, they seemed to be big fans of The Doubted, if not fans of wearing a shirt in public.
Both in listening to their album Surfacing and seeing them live, I was greatly impressed with the technicality of The Doubted, whose music combines elements of metalcore, alternative metal, and djent. Guitarist George Kester tossed off pinch harmonics with flawless precision; his beautiful and melodic soloing was one of the major highlights of the evening for me.
People who attend local showcases and Pop’s and other venues in the city are often surprised to learn that St. Louis is home to such talented musicians. This was a sentiment I heard echoed many times on Friday, by people who were often seeing these bands for the first time.
“It’s very inspiring: this is here, I can come see them any time I want to,” said Tobbii Willhoft, whose last trip to Pop’s was to see California metalcore band Of Mice & Men at age 16. She expressed an interest in returning for future local showcases, as did many others in the crowd. | David Von Nordheim
At My Worst and The Doubted will next play Park Hills Underground in Park Hills, MO, on Friday, February 10th. At My Worst will also play Shamrock Pub in St. Louis the next day. Ending Orion and Sacrifice the Sacred will next play Red Flag on Friday, March 10th with Abadonnia, White Rose, and Blood Oath. Nowhere but Down will next play Thursday, February 9th, at Heavy Anchor with Cloud Machine and Videotape, followed by the Sinkhole on Friday, March 17th, with Mongoose, and Red Flag on Saturday, March 25th, with Lights Over Arcadia.