American Football + Pure Bathing Culture | Union Transfer | 5.21

Matteo Petrera

American Football, the group who has defined the midwest-emo genre since their debut release in 1999, played to a packed crowd at Union Transfer this past Tuesday evening. The Urbana, Illinois collective is well known for their unconventional continual self titling of their albums, an extremely spaced out album timeline, and their development of a cult following over their 20 year history. Their debut, American Football (LP1), was originally released in 1999 and was the first to feature the now infamous ‘American Football House’ on the cover. The house, which has become a cultural landmark to diehard fans, was actually never home to any of the band members. Chris Strong, the band’s unofficial photographer at the time, lived in the home and captured the photo after an impromptu shoot. He went on to shoot the covers for both subsequent albums. American Football LP2 (2016) features a photo looking down the entrance hallway of the house while American Football LP3 (2019) deviated away from the house and instead featured an evocative, fog filled landscape image of Savoy, Illinois. Although it was never meant to convey any exact emotion or meaning, the house has become a striking representation of Midwest emo. In both images, light tries to slip past the edges of the house’s roof and through the cracks of its darkened inner workings, evoking a mood that suits the moody, math-rock origins of American Football in a way that has only cemented their history as emo legends.

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The group’s history has been an interesting one, with them never getting to truly experience the success of their 1999 LP as it gained popularity throughout the 2000’s and early 2010’s. Almost immediately after recording the LP, the band immediately broke up. As guitarist Steve Holmes said in a 2016 Noisey interview, “We finished the whole thing in a week…Like a lot of punk and indie records, it was a document of a band that no longer existed. The three of us never planned on playing again.” The group felt that they would never achieve the perfection they had attained when recording the album and felt that it would be better off as a relic, a window into that time and place of their life that would not be reopened. However, that all changed with the 2014 remaster of their first LP. Their growth had been a progressive slow burn over the 15 years since its original release, and the remastered version brought about a surge of popularity that resulted in the band’s return to touring with a show in Urbana on September 28th, 2014. Since then, the band has ‘officially’ been back together. Their most recent LP3, released in March of this year, finds the band almost hurdled through time into their middle ages, brought back together after three year hiatus with a new and more experienced perspective on their classic emo sound.

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After an excellent opening act by Pure Bathing Culture, packed deep with some of their most well known jams including ‘Pendulum’ and ‘Scotty,’ the 5 touring members of American Football slowly took the stage amidst hazy blue spotlights and an eerie incandescent lightbulb setup. Starting off with two dreamy pieces from LP3, ‘Silhouettes’ and ‘Every Wave to Ever Rise,’ with ‘Every Wave’ featuring Sarah Versprille of Pure Bathing Culture on vocals, the group set the mood for an evening of nostalgia that could have transported any listener back to their first bedroom listening session of LP1. Immediately after this set, the group moved into their hits from LP2, playing a beautiful rendition of ‘My Instincts are the Enemy’ and ‘Give me the Gun.’ The impeccable timing that ‘My Instincts’ has long been known for was recreated exceptionally, reinforcing the group’s capabilities to perform up to the standards of their math-rock origins. From here, the band played a quick set composed of some pieces off of LP3 along with their two greatest hits off of LP1, ‘Honestly’ and ‘Never Meant.’ The crowd went nuts after each of these, and once again American Football lived up to their own standard of perfection through each live rendition. Closing off with an encore composed of two pieces from LP3 along with ‘Stay Home’ from LP1, American Football showed that even with the passage of time, their ability to put together impeccable and emotive music still stands strong. By opening a window they once vowed to keep shut, American Football has brought new life to their classic emo sound, and the quality and production value of LP3 is a testimony that their music is still worthy of its legendary cult following.

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Setlist:

  • Silhouettes
  • Every Wave to Ever Rise
  • My Instincts are the Enemy
  • Give me the Gun
  • Honestly?
  • The Summer Ends
  • Life Support
  • Uncomfortably Numb
  • Never Meant
  • I Can’t Feel You
  • Heir Apparent
  • Stay Home

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