The tale of Threat Level Midnight reads like a script straight from Hollywood…
A group of high school kids meet in a class put together at their learning center, and with some coaching from teacher Phil Nagy, become a band. As fortune would have it, they’re six incredibly talented individuals, who start catching the eyes and ears of crowds all over the state. Suddenly, Nagy is the local version of Simon Cowell.
“People keep asking me what band is going to be next,” Nagy exclaims. “I just happened to be the teacher. I didn’t teach them to play like that. I wouldn’t even know how to hold that violin! They already had the talent. I just helped guide them.”
Regardless of how they came together, as a musical unit they comprise a colossal force to be reckoned with. When I saw they were playing their last show together, I knew I had to be there. Now that their high school days are ending and with college on the horizon, it spells the end of their tenacious run. It may have been bittersweet, but it was the inevitable end of the group.
“I mean, if Fueled by Ramen or something came calling, we’d probably find a way to keep things together,” laughed Nagy. “But these kids have such great ambitions going forward. I’m so proud of them!”
Before either of the bands on the bill took the stage, the Rumba Café was buzzing with excitement and anticipation. In fact, I can’t think of a time where I have ever heard it that loud before a show began. The crowd filed in quickly and filled the small spaces with their stories and smiles. February’s Memory opened the show, giving the crowd a dose of early 2000’s pop-punk/emo flair before the sextet took their places.
The main attraction began as the five instrumentalists took to the stage, with Bryan Ream on guitar, Sarita Gara on keyboards, Mark Fullen behind the drums, Alex Mateos on bass, and Anna Wallace strapped into her Viper electric violin. All of them were wearing black and started into the opening of Days Fade Away. Vocalist Megan Woodruff emerged wearing a vibrant shade of red, with the music seeming to fall behind the power of her voice. For one last time, this group was here to blow our collective minds.
Camus was the first track played from TLM’s newest EP “Broken Hearts + Broken Strings.” The new EP sounds great, but pales in comparison to seeing the group live. Fullen was thundering through his kit on this song, providing a perfect tandem with Mateos thumping bass. Woodruff beckoned the crowd to life on Emotionless, asking everyone to “make it count” as it was their last show. The group around her picked up the tempo and Wallace shined on a beautifully melodic solo.
It was a strange thing seeing six band members on stage, especially since only one of them was playing a guitar. Nevertheless, they rocked right into Oasis On The Sun, a song from their first-ever piece of recording from two years ago. Gara and Wallace opened the song up with punctuating high notes before Mateos’ funky bass-line took everything over.
Up next, we had Porcelain Skin with a Stone Heart, the band’s contribution to the “High School Rock-Off” performance in which they finished fourth out of 54 entrants, earning the opportunity to play at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I had a hard time knowing what to keep my eyes and ears tuned to since each member was similarly fascinating and equally talented. After that, they brought up two of their friends to sing on I’m Okay, a song with a more punk feel to it that had the crowd around me bobbing and dancing.
It seemed inevitable that the band was going to throw in a violin-centered cover, and sure enough it was Lindsey Stirling’s Shatter Me that followed. It needs to be mentioned that Wallace has the talent, poise and ability to play in just about any setting, be it a classical or a rock venue. TLM’s version subtracted the frilliness of Stirling, adding their own unique rock punch from Ream and Fullen. Coincidentally, I had previously written that Woodruff had a similar flair to Lizzy Hale, who is the featured vocalist on Stirling’s song.
The band dialed things back for the emotional Purple + Pink Ribbons. Gara’s keys shone brightly, and you could feel that Woodruff was pouring herself into the song even more than usual. Gara again got to take the lead on a cover of Sunburn, originally by Muse. The original version of the song might have been solid, but Gara had her keyboard tuned to the point where it sounded like she was strumming a harp. The ambiance of the song was tremendous as it gradually built itself up to a crescendo of Wallace’s best and brightest solo. Every member of the crowd was taking notice of her uncanny ability to take her stringed monster and peel out the most beautiful of sounds.
Can’t Let Go brought the tempo and noise level back up with Mateos and Fullen really pushing the song forward. Woodruff pranced about the stage as she sang and Ream seemed to be dueling with Wallace as for who would play the loudest. You wouldn’t believe the band had already played ten songs with how much energy they still had left in the tank.
Even a casual fan of the ensemble would recognize the catchy guitar-and-key opening to Numb, a song which the band released a video for four months ago, registering over 1000 views to this point. The song’s content is as fiery as Woodruff’s attire, but it was her voice that really carried it through. Wallace was shooting sparks from her bow as she brought the house down with yet another fantastic solo.
The band slowed things back down for ProJack, a majestically melodic song consisting solely of Woodruff, Gara and Wallace until the bridge. Woodruff called upon crowd participation midway through the song, “If you’ve been with us long enough, you had better know this part,” and everyone swayed as she sang “I keep waiting for my life to change.” The harmony around me was beautiful, with one hundred voices singing in unison as the band joined in and played the song to its conclusion.
Next it was Nothing Special, a track from the aforementioned new EP that had dropped earlier that day. The EP is as good as their first, and a fitting finale showing true musical maturity and cohesion. Ream leads the song out of the dark before Mateos and Wallace take over with their prowess and power. The band closed with their most recognizable tune, Gullible, which has been featured on local rock radio stations, as well as on Spotify’s “Local Discover” playlist. It was an appropriate valediction for the group who, even after an almost two-hour set, still rocked it like it was their first of the night.
The only word I could think of after seeing their show was “wow.” I was kicking myself for not having the chance to see them before their farewell, but I was equally grateful for the opportunity to live through it. The show definitely had a special feel to it, with everyone on stage shining their brightest, leaving no one in attendance unfulfilled.
It may have been only a brief chapter in their lives, but I’m pretty sure no one in this band will ever forget their time as Threat Level Midnight. What they accomplished in such a short time shows that great music can be found in just about any situation, and can be cultivated into something special, regardless of circumstance. This humble writer is grateful to have shared in such a special evening.
Credit all images: Susan Muller / Music In Motion Columbus
- Days Fade Away
- Oasis on the Sun
- Porcelain Skin with a Stone Heart
- I’m Okay
- Shatter Me (Lindsey Stirling cover)
- Purple + Pink Ribbons*
- Sunburn (Muse Cover)
- Can’t Let Go
- Nothing Special*
*denotes songs off of Broken Hearts + Broken Strings, released August 1, 2018.
Threat Level Midnight – Numb