Icon For Hire deserves a better venue. When one has the layered voice of Ariel Bloomer projecting powerful lyrics on the stage in front of them and Shawn Jump harmonizing with sweeping guitar chords and notes between the verses, when one has a rhythm that sways the stage, one hopes to at least be swept up by it. When one has all of that, one hopes to be able to hear it. However, the Icon For Hire performance was dampened by the venue, The Sovereign.
On Sunday night, Icon For Hire hit New York on their Ready for Combat Tour. Performing at a quaint outdoor venue in the depths of Brooklyn, Icon For Hire pulled a varied audience. Some for them, some for any of the three openers, and some that wandered in to simply see what all the noise was about. As strong as Bloomer’s vocals were, as much as Jump fiddled with the acoustics and amps during the performance, and as loyal and loud as the audience was with each and every lyric, the words were barely comprehensible during their performance. For every note of any instrument played that night, they were all stifled and suffocated by the setting. I honestly couldn’t tell you what the first singer even sounded like, and I was less than a foot from the stage. I couldn’t tell you more than three words of the second vocalist, and the third vocalist had to switch between microphones and pure yelling during certain times just to be audible. I know and have experienced the strength and beautiful oddity of Icon For Hire live, but that was not June 19.
On June 19, I could barely hear any of the performers. I stood still for six hours in the small venue as people crammed their way in. And I watched the odd mosh of audience come together in a mostly unpleasant sort of way. For instance, the second openers for Icon For Hire, Sumo Cyco, pulled a vastly different energy base of fans than Icon For Hire did. They were older, unabashed white men in a sea of individuals. During Sumo Cyco’s performance, they moshed their way through the younger crowd, head-banged their hair over a radius of people, and screamed in some children’s faces. And sadly, none of that was a hyperbole or an example of literary license. Right in front of me for the concert was a family: a mother and father, and what I presume her gender pronouns to be, a young girl at her first concert for her first real band obsession. She had the VIP badge proudly hanging from her neck and the current tour shirt already on display. However, other than tiring during the countless opening sets, the family was severely mauled and mangled by the aforementioned fans of the Sumo Cyco band. When one of the older men was pushing his way through, to annoyingly request a fist bump from the singer throughout her performance, the mother was trying to tap him on the shoulder to request that he observe her daughter’s personal space. Rather than listen, try to understand the mother’s hand motions, he leaned in, and screamed at the top of their lungs. Other than wonder how inappropriate that response is to the situation, I was left wondering whether that response is ever appropriate at a concert.
This was, however, an extreme example of what happens when audience types aren’t taken into consideration when bands go on tour with each other. While music styles should be somewhat similar between performers, there was energy different the other night of what would be equivalent to fans of KISS sitting through an improv session at a local jazz club. The openers didn’t build well. However, while we’re on the topic, there were also too many. You’re exhausted, dehydrated, and sore from standing in the same spot by the time the headliners of a 3 opener set comes on. Starting with such low energy levels and pure exhaustion, already set Icon For Hire up to be battling a losing performance.
The acoustics of the venue didn’t help. And the lighting situation at The Sovereign made it all the more worse; the audience experience wasn’t something considered in the creation of this location. One can barely watch the musicians they came to see, since all of the lights are directed and leveled at audience members’ eyes. More often than naught, Bloomer was looking out at a sea of peoples’ ponytails and haircuts as they turned their eyes downward, trying to regain their sight. It was a problematic venue to say the least, one I will be passionately avoiding in the future.
However, my earlier cry for a better venue for Icon For Hire stands aside from this singular experience. The last time Icon For Hire was visiting New York City, they performed at the Mercury Lounge downtown. While this venue’s acoustics are miles ahead of The Sovereign, they are more muffled than other venues. And yes, while size does play a role in the power of musical settings, there are various materials that bounce or strengthen sound. So my request for a better venue doesn’t mean bigger or grander, but better. I don’t want to miss Icon For HIre’s lyrics, but I could’ve missed this concert.