all images by Susan Muller – MIMC
As live shows continue to return to the local landscape, there was one show announced a few months ago that I knew I needed to cover. After all, I had done feature interviews on all three bands on the bill, and let’s face it – we’re all itching for things to go back to the way they were back in 2019.
It didn’t hurt that the show just happened to be the live debut of Columbus pop-punkers A Tiger Made of Lightning. Along for the ride were teenage rockers Forever Unknown and shoegaze quintet Meryl Creep, who themselves were only playing their 2nd show as well. All 3 bands had expressed joy in playing with each other, as they each had formed bonds during the pandemic that showed with all three staying the entirety of the evening.
The show was scheduled at Woodlands Tavern, which was close enough to campus to be packed with scarlet and gray jerseys as well as the concert goers. There were people waiting at the door immediately when the curtain was drawn back, and by the time Meryl Creep took the stage, the venue was already half full.
As Forever Unknown finished their energetic set, a decent portion of the crowd filtered out but were quickly replaced. The veritable cast of local stars that singer/guitarist Mike O’Leary had assembled for his live debut meant that the crowd would be equal parts diverse and ready to go berserk at a moments notice. From left to right on stage, the band featured guitarists Landen Gruszewski and Colin Cavanaugh, drummer Steve Hatmaker in the back and bassist Alex Kessis standing to the right of O’Leary.
There was a jolt of energy felt throughout the crowd as the lights dropped and O’Leary leaned into his mic and simply uttered “Hi”. You could tell he had been waiting for this moment for a long time, as his energy level immediately outshined the other four members of the band during their instrumental intro. After the show he told me that it was the first time he had played on stage since last February.
“That moment was transcendent,” he explained. “I felt like I was lifted to a higher plane of existence. I saw God and she said ‘you are fucking killing it, my dude! Now get back down there!’”
O’Leary told the crowd he wanted to see some movement, and the bodies around me happily obliged as the quintet blasted right into You Are Who You Choose to Be, the opening track to their recently released debut EP, It’s Chaos, Be Kind. Gruszewski vaulted up onto his monitor, which had me wondering if his tall frame would smack into the low ceiling at Woodlands.
The song only lasted for a minute or so and the band jumped right into Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose, which had the crowd chanting along with O’Leary as he worked them into a frenzy. The venue was incredibly loud as it always is, but the frontman later told me that he was genuinely pleased with how the mix came through. With the reaction of the people around me at the end of the song, I could tell they were equally impressed.
In between songs O’Leary picked his guitar back up and introduced the band’s popular single Little Birds, announcing that he would be everyone’s “emo dad” if they needed one and talking a little bit about his daughters and wife. The song was heavier than the previous three and you could tell that O’Leary was feeding from the pulsating crowd energy in front of him as he, Kessis and Gruszewski all bounced up and down in sync during the song.
Ever the charismatic individual, O’Leary announced that the next song wasn’t an ATMoL original, but it was one that he had written so he was going to “play it anyways”. The four men holding strings slowed things down for I Guess It Comes Down To A Simple Choice/Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying while Hatmaker ripped into his kit, flashing his signature smile as his hair flew around him. I know I stated previously that Woodlands was a historically loud venue, but on this song it was as if the band ripped the volume knob straight off of their amplifiers.
O’Leary sat his guitar down and asked the crowd if they wanted to hear a cover next. Immediately his axemen started the unmistakable opening riff to Green Day’s Brain Stew before O’Leary announced that they were just kidding and yelled “follow your dreams, bitches!” The band then started playing their heaviest offering of the night, a cover of A Day To Remember’s Right Back At It Again. O’Leary told me later that he was initially going to choose a different song but that this one just felt right for his first show. There was also a moment where O’Leary held his mic to the crowd and a gentleman grabbed it and jumped on stage to sing the chorus.
“Oh, that was our buddy Chris Canfield,” O’Leary explained after the show. “I just wanted him to yell into the microphone, but he jumped right up. It was totally unscripted – just pure punk rock.”
“Plus, it gave me a chance for a water break, so I just went along with it.”
After that, Gruszewski and Cavanaugh strummed out the distinctive opening chords to the Foo Fighters magnum opus Everlong. The song garnered the loudest applause of the evening so far, and O’Leary dedicated it to their first opening act, whose shirt he was sporting.
“The interesting thing about that song is that we totally landed on it randomly,” O’Leary informed me. “Colin started playing the riff at a practice and Steve jumped right in, and the rest of us just joined and nailed it note for note without even practicing before.”
“We all just kinda looked at each other and were like… I guess we’re covering that now, right?”
The other four members of the band exited to the green room as O’Leary called up Forever Unknown singer Micah SD for the title track off of ATMoL’s debut EP, which they had recorded together. The song opens as an acoustic ballad, and the duo sang their verses as members of the crowd raised their lighters and cell phone flashlights. As the song reached its midway point, the rest of the group rejoined the singers on stage, and Cavanaugh’s screaming guitar announced their re-arrival as the group punctuated the electric and electrifying final chorus of the song.
I was honestly unsure what the band could do to top everything they had achieved so far on the night, and O’Leary spent the next few minutes praising the men on stage around him. Hatmaker made the crowd promise they’d mosh on the next song, and of course the fans around me accepted his offer on My Friends, You Bow to No One. O’Leary also beckoned the crowd to chant along with the song’s motto, “you deserve love, you deserve happiness”.
“That was one of the highlights of the night,” he beamed to me later that night “Everyone was going hard and screaming along on the bridge of My Friends. That was amazing!”
Anyone who knew anything about the group knew that there was only one song left for the night, and that was the group’s debut single Exhausted. The energy and crowd participation level around me reached its apex as voices around me screamed “I’m fucking exhausted!” and the mosh-pit opened back up with O’Leary joining briefly as well. The applause at the end of the song was so loud that you could feel the sonic weight in the room, and each member bowed themselves off as the lights came back on.
After the show, you could see the joy on the faces of all 5 members as they hugged, high-fived and gave fist bumps with everyone who engaged them. I personally was extremely pleased that was band was able to translate their excellent EP into an even better live experience.
“I’m really proud of the music we’ve made so far,” O’Leary offered to me “and I’m really looking forward to where things go from here.”
After all, you only ever get to play your first show once, and what a titanic way to officially kick off their live career together.
- You Are Who You Choose To Be
- Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose
- Little Birds
- I Guess It Comes Down To A Simple Choice/Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying
- Right Back At It Again (A Day To Remember cover)
- Everlong (Foo Fighters cover)
- It’s Chaos Be Kind (ft Micah SD)
- My Friends, You Bow to No One