Review: Awolnation Surprises Metro with Special Guest and Haunting New Single

Awolnation’s sixth show of the Falling Forward Tour, originally booked at the Riviera Theatre, came to Metro on Thursday, October 13. The tour was announced in May this year, sparking fans’ excitement, and rightfully so. A lot was riding on this for both fans and critics alike, given that they hadn’t toured since 2019, a year before the release of their newest all-original, full-length album in 2020: Angel Miners & The Lightning Riders. During worldwide Covid 19 lock-down, Awolnation did their best to connect with their listeners by releasing a live version of the album. It hit home for a lot of fans, as it is lyrically inspired by tragedy and hope. The album’s writing followed a mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, California and the Woolsey Fire of 2018 that destroyed many homes, including front-man Aaron Bruno’s in Malibu, California. Needless to say, Awolnation were long overdue for these shows across the United States to connect one-on-one with their fans who are stoked for their return to the stage.

To add to the excitement, Awolnation invited special guests Badflower and The Mysterines along to all 30 cities of the tour. The Mysterines, a group of four hailing from Liverpool, England, were first to hit the stage. From front woman and guitarist’s Lia Metcalfe’s chest came a powerful, driving voice that I wasn’t expecting. They played hits from their debut album Reeling, which for me, and seemingly many others in the crowd, was a first-time introduction to the band. Although I do think they could have brought more energy to their set, it’s partially the fault of the very small allowance of space. All three acts of the night had production and gear that lived on stage for the full show, making for a very crowded, slightly distracting stage layout for the first set. The silver lining to this spatial issue was the drum set positioned front-and-center stage. A drummer is often overshadowed and literally out-of-sight, but not Paul Krilly at Metro! This band’s sound is reminiscent of Sonic Youth and Hole – dark, moody, and grungy with a kick-ass front woman.

Badflower began their set around 8:30pm, and Metro lit up at their entrance. It is now apparent to me that just because I didn’t know of this band, didn’t mean that they were incredibly popular. Their presence on stage was full of energy albeit angsty, edgy, and loud. In my opinion, the most memorable part of Badflower’s set was the massive belch that front man Josh Katz projected directly into the, presumably shared, microphone. Another part of their set that elicited an uncomfortable feeling was the song “Stalker”. The satirical song is written from the perspective of, you guessed it, a stalker. I didn’t do my homework on this band before the show– so, when I was affronted by the lyrics, I had to google the song to make sure I wasn’t going crazy. I will let Third Coast Review’s readers google that song for themselves. While the lyrical content of Badflower’s songs may not be for everyone as it can come off as immature, or like they’re trying too hard to be edgy, others find comfort in the painfully straightforward lyrics touching on controversial concepts like suicide, war, sexual assault, and mental health.  

Set to start around 9:30pm, Awolnation let the anticipation grow and graced the stage at around 10pm. I’ve never seen them live prior to this, but I knew what Aaron Bruno looked like based on their music videos over the years – shaggy blonde hair and usually a beard or facial hair of some kind. He hit the stage dancing, the light design accentuated any white features on stage like a blacklight, making his teeth, the whites of his eyes, and the super-blonde and possibly slightly graying parts of his hair glow ominously. His clean-shaven face and short hair are not the Aaron Bruno I remembered, but he is aging gracefully and making a polished, stylish comeback on the Falling Forward Tour. The entire band brought an amazing energy to the stage, especially Zach Irons on lead guitar. He has been known to do some insanely high jumps live, which I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing this time around. Bassist Marc Walloch’s pants deserve their own article, but photos of him in a serious power-stance will have to fill that void.

The ominous, low-lit stage was perfectly set for the first song of Awolnation’s set “Freaking Me Out”. Their latest single release, which came out in late September, has a haunting chant “you give me the heebie-jeebies” serving as the chorus. The opening song was very Goosebumps with a hint of the two-minute intro from “Knights of Cydonia” by Muse. Aaron Bruno’s dramatic dance moves included an ode to Frankenstein; a classically slow and menacing knee-locked stroll along the edge of the stage with arms jutting straight out in front of him raised the spook level to 13. Throughout their set, Awolnation played hit songs off Angel Miners & The Lightning Riders, Here Come the Runts, Run, Megalithic Symphony and two songs off their full-length 2022 release of My Echo, My Shadow, My Covers, & Me: a collection of cover songs with features by some iconic artists.

The first song off the cover album is “Beds Are Burning (featuring Tim McIlrath)”, which also happened to be the second-to-last song of the night and included a VERY special guest. The fans who recognized him went wild for Tim McIlrath of Rise Against as he joined the band on stage. The cover of 1987 classic by the Australian rock band, Midnight Oil, was even better live than Awolnation's recent recording. This surprise performance makes me curious about the potential guest artists planned for other dates on this tour. As expected, they ended their set with the undeniably amazing song “Sail”, which was performed energetically without skipping a beat. With their first week of tour over, I hope Awolnation is feeling at home on the road again and that the Falling Forward Tour continues to bring as much energy and excitement to every upcoming city as they did to Chicago!

All photos by Shaela Johnston

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Shaela Johnston

Shaela is a West-Coast born freelance photographer and writer, relatively new to Chicago as of 2021. Specializing in live music photography, Shaela can be found attending concerts several times a week when she isn't traveling or working on her Bachelor's degree. In her free time she listens to metal, hardcore, hip-hop, and likes to chill at home with her hairless cat named Soup and wife Courtney.