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What You Missed: Beartooth at The Sylvee

Rock band Beartooth has hit Wisconsin stages before; they've laid down records for over a decade; but these days, they feel brand new.

Lead man, Caleb Shomo, walks out shirtless with sunglasses into an intense spotlight. It's so bright that he's pale skin glows, and it's impossible to look anywhere else. Some people in the audience even put on their own sunglasses to match. He hasn't started the song yet, but he's egging on the crowd, trying to get them louder than the already ear-shattering screams they're projecting. He's trying to act unimpressed, but he can't help grinning at the roaring pit. To open the show, they launch, "Sunshine!" which contrasts hardcore verses with an acoustic chorus that matches the back-and-forth lyrics of the song. It's a kind of thesis statement for Caleb's new headspace.

As much as Beartooth is a five-man band (Caleb Shomo, Oshie Bichar, Zach Huston, Will Deely, Connor Denis), it's obvious that Caleb is the ringleader. He's the only one who talks throughout the night, and he's been the heart behind the project since it's genesis in 2012. They're categorized as a rock band, although they pull influences from pop punk, hardcore and metal. Caleb's vocals climb through the different genres, swapping from the 2000s pop punk singing into textured metallic screams.

And if there's any question if Beartooth is still a hardcore band, just take a lot at the four-band bill for the night. Sleep Theory, Invent Animate and The Plot in You all get their time on the stage, making the show nearly four hours long from top to bottom. While it's not uncommon for hardcore bands to stack huge bills, I'd imagine it's one of the very few times where The Sylvee has had to open their doors at 5:30pm. All three of their openers lean a bit more metal and hardcore than Beartooth, but none of them feel misaligned for their fans. The Plot in You sticks out as the hardest sounding band of the night, with notable tracks like "Forgotten" or "FEEL NOTHING."

The Plot in You

A brief browse in Beartooth's catalog can help you get a glimpse of Caleb's struggle with mental health throughout the years--with album titles like Disgusting, Disease, Aggressive and Below, it's clear that it hasn't been an easy ride for him. But their 2023 album, The Surface, hints at the light, with songs like, "I Was Alive" and "Might Love Myself." Throughout the show, he's reminding everyone to use his songs and this space to let everything out. It's like an elevated therapy session with puffs of yellow confetti.

The setlist carries a narrative, pulling in some of their older, darker songs where they lament, "Who knew you'd be hated for being who you are," but going back into the light, daring, "Think I might love myself." Every time the story gets stormy, they remind us of the sun to come after. While balancing a playlist that finds balance in energy and popularity, they're also creating the story of the one-step-back-two-steps-forward nature of healing. Even when they pull out a mid-set cover of "Mr. Brightside" by the Killers, it feels fitting for their storyline.

At one point during the show, Caleb explains that the last four records have been about "the pain of life," but this latest record is a new mindset where he's constantly reminding himself of the hope he feels now, even if every day isn't perfect. We near the end of the set where "I Was Alive," their current rock radio hit, approaches, and Caleb lovingly dedicates the song to his late grandfather. He sings, "Not gonna be on my deathbed/Knowing I'll be buried in regret."

The production for this show is pretty tremendous--the band is backed by large LED screens, which usually project colors and texture, but doesn't do too much to distract the audience from Caleb. There's two or three songs where they use cyro cannons, which loudly fill the air with cool air and vapor, also likely cooling down the front rows of the pit. There's EDM-style lasers that point between main floor and the upper balcony. They use their pyro sparingly, but when it does come, it shoots in tall, hot patterns behind them. There's a yellow confetti burst for the first song, and there's a green streamer burst for the last, most of which gets stuck on the ceiling and twinkles overhead.

To close, Caleb tells the crowd, "If you have a voice when you walk out of those doors, you didn't sing loud enough." Their 2014 hit, "In Between" begins, and The Sylvee's staff shuffle to keep up with the crowdsurfing. Handfuls of concert-goers float towards the front of the stage--occasionally getting dropped--as Beartooth sings, "It's easy to lose yourself, I know."

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