When Hawthorne Heights‘s Stripped Down To The Bone Tour was first announced, I was disappointed that there would not be a stop in Pittsburgh, greatly reducing my chances of catching it. After some problems with the venue at another Pennsylvania stop, the February 1st date was moved to the Smiling Moose in Pittsburgh, and I was beyond excited. However, I managed to procrastinate getting my ticket long enough to no longer be able to purchase it online. Since I was worried about missing it even though it was at a venue within my reach, I sent Hawthorne Heights’s lead vocalist, songwriter, and guitarist JT Woodruff a Facebook message voicing my concerns. I received a response rather quickly assuring me that there were a fair amount of tickets left, but should they sell out, he would find a way to get me in. This struck me as incredible for a band member to do for a fan, and further contributed to my thoughts that this was a band doing everything right, from the way they present their music and selves to their interactions with fans, such as frequent chats and my own experience. Luckily, when I got to the venue, I found that there were still tickets available. I purchased mine and walked into the concert area, which was about three quarters of the way full of audience members, ready for some great acoustic music.
Due to commitments at school and a long commute, I missed most of the first three bands scheduled for the evening, catching only the end of local act Before You‘s last song, which I was pleased to hear was acoustic. The last “acoustic” show I saw at the Smiling Moose (Craig Owens) featured several full bands rocking out before the headliner, and it seemed to take away from the vibe of the evening. It was good to have a common theme running throughout the night. The first band that I saw play a full set was from another local act, Call To Attraction, whose set consisted of five songs featuring some impressive vocal parts, with many two-part layered sections, call and responses, and three-part harmonies in places. Their pop-punk style translated well to an acoustic setting, and the vocalists were able to soar over the somewhat simple guitar parts. All in all, a good time to walk into the venue.
Next up was Will Loomis, who was with Hawthorne Heights for the whole tour, unlike the previous acts. To open his set, he said that he typically performed with a full band, but that he had recently been getting into older music and that he had written a set of songs in a similar style. Playing a twelve-string guitar, harmonica, and singing, he managed to achieve a very full sound and lived up to the “country” label on his CDs that he sold after the show. Though his songs were unlike most of the other music of the night, he brought a certain energy to the stage that kept many entertained. It was overwhelmingly clear that he truly loved what he was doing, from the expressions on his face to motions he made with his guitar to the tone of his voice. While most songs were serious, a few (“Dogs” and “My Big Woman”) brought out Will’s sense of humor and had the audience laughing along. For his final song, his girlfriend joined him on stage to sing a ballad duet cover of Willie Nelson’s “I Can Get Off On You”. All in all, though the fit of the music might not have been best fit for the rest of the evening’s acts, it was an entertaining set for sure.
Finally, Hawthorne Heights took the stage, as the audience in the small venue more than doubled. Their set consisted of a mix of some of their biggest hits and some deep cuts, ranging from opener “Ohio Is For Lovers” and “Saying Sorry” to “Decembers” and the acoustic version of “Silver Bullet” from the rerelease of The Silence In Black And White, both of which had only ever been performed live the night before in Columbus at the tour’s first stop. Though initially the band seemed a bit dissatisfied by the crowd’s participation (and rightfully so), towards the end it seemed like everyone was singing alone to “Niki FM” and “Nervous Breakdown” with the same gusto that should have been expected from the get-go. The set was full of both comical and sincere talking from the band, mostly JT. This is one of my favorite parts about Hawthorne Heights: they are (or at least do an extremely great job of appearing to be) real people. There is no image that they have to live up to, they’re just a group of guys doing something they love and sharing it with others.
At times, it seemed as though one of the guitars was a touch out of tune, and the use of reverb on the lead guitar seemed a bit much for the supposed “acoustic” setting. However, the only thing that I really wished would have been done better was the vocals. While JT did a great job of translating the songs into an acoustic form, there were very minimal harmonies and backing vocals, which take the band from being “good” to touching “great”. On the whole, it was clear that they were giving it their all, as all of the guitarists jammed out, Eron beat the drums as though it were an electric set (somehow this worked well), and Matt played both bass and piano (sometimes at once). I thought that I had read previously that they would be playing sixteen songs and one cover, though they only played twelve on this stop, with no cover. This, however, is a minor complaint as the song selection was quality. Overall, it was a great set for a fan of the band, though I’m not sure a non-fan would be wildly impressed.
The show ended at what seemed to be an early 9:30, which might be attributed to quick times between sets and a somewhat short set by Hawthorne Heights. Afterward, the band spent some time at the merchandise table talking to fans and relaxing, which is a great part of having this sort of show at an intimate smaller venue. Overall, this was a great way to spent a night and $10, and the tour is recommended to even casual fans of the band, and highly so to more devout fans. If you need any more convincing, the set list can be found below. This is an experience that will most likely never come again, so if there is a stop near you, take the opportunity to see the show. You won’t regret it.
1. Ohio Is For Lovers
2. Pens And Needles
3. Bring You Back
4. Somewhere In Between
7. Silver Bullet (Acoustic TSIBAW Rerelease Version)
8. Rescue Me
9. Four Became One
10. Saying Sorry
11. Niki FM
12. Nervous Breakdown