Starting off a massive 26-date co-headlining tour, The Used and Pierce The Veil kicked The Creative Control Tour into full gear on night 1 in Cedar Park, Texas. The 8,000-capacity HEB Center, nuzzled cozily in the armpit between Cedar Park and Austin, was buzzing. It was also entirely sold out. Considering most of the crowd looked like they were still in diapers when The Taste of Ink first dropped, I was both surprised and encouraged to see such a youthful audience. Joined by British rockers Don Broco and Los Angeles pop-trapper Deathbyromy, the four-band bill brought out the masses, and the excitement of the evening was tangible. The merch lines stretched down the arena’s corridors endlessly, and lines never got smaller. The sickening amount of fishnet and black eyeliner was only overshadowed by ripped band shirts and dirty vans. I was entirely here for it.
Deathbyromy is a 23-year-old singer-songwriter from LA. Her music is a blend of trap, dark pop, electronica, and (goth) rock, and she had a thrall of fans screaming her name the second the stage lights shone. Backed by a very solid 3-piece band, Deathbyromy powered through a 30-minute set of moody dark tracks. While the solid instrumentals did the heavy lifting of the set, Romy commanded the stage through physical prowess and theatrics. Clearly, a gifted entertainer, though this was admittedly her first tour, the potential for a huge career is there. Not a bad way to keep that magic growing than the opportunity to jump on a tour of this magnitude.
Don Broco, hailing from Bedford, England, quickly moved the evening’s energy from dark pop to fun rock. Lead singer Rob Damiani, sporting a pair of the baggiest jeans in the country, was all smiles and laughs as he and his band took the stage.
Opening the set with “Pretty,” off their 2018 LP Technology, the full band (Simon Delaney on guitar, Matt Donnelly on drums/backing vocals, and Tom Doyle on bass) made it immediately clear they were here to rip faces and have a blast. The band is tight, and their alternative blend of rock, pop, and post-hardcore is catchy and digestible. The hit single “Come Out to LA,” also off Technology, is a fan-favorite, and had the entire arena screaming along. 7 songs of unceasing energy later, the band closed their set with “T-Shirt Song,” another fan favorite off Technology.
With lights dimmed and an enormous tarp now covering the entire front of the stage, the time had come for Pierce the Veil. Founded in 2006 by brothers Mike and Vic Fuentes, the band (originally named Before Today) hails from San Diego and has remained pop punk/post-hardcore royalty since the release of its debut album A Flair for the Dramatic in 2007. Now the band finds themselves on the road in support of their fifth studio album, 2023’s critically acclaimed The Jaws of Life.
As lead singer Vic Fuentes points out, the band never expected their sound to be radio-friendly, but with the release of the new record, lead single “The Jaws of Life” has found itself in position 14 on the Billboard 200. Quite a feat for a band like this. The record, the first without drummer Mike Fuentes, and featuring Brad Hargreaves (Third Eye Blind) as a replacement, is a moodier and more thoughtful collection of songs, signaling growth and introspection. It's also super heavy and fun. The resulting album is both unexpected and completely obvious in retrospect but requires a thoughtful listen. It’s also raucous. And that’s exactly how the band performs live.
Completed by members Tony Perry on guitar, Jaime Preciado on bass, and touring drummer Loniel Robinson, the band pummeled the audience with a 60-minute set of banger after banger, playing songs across the band's 5 records. Their energy and stage presence is one of a kind, especially bassist Preciado. As is required for all my reviews, Robinson was on fire behind the kit. Solely the group's touring drummer, Robinson provides that groovy, solid backbone mixed with technical proficiency and flair, to boot. The rest of the band endlessly crisscross the stage, climbing the various rafters and stands, never missing a beat or a chance to smile back at a smitten audience. And yes, you insatiable jerks, they played King for a Day.
For as long as I’ve been a fan of this band, this was shamefully my first opportunity to see them perform live. It was worth the wait. Kicking off a tour of this scale, with a sold-out opening show in an unexpected market like Cedar Park (versus more traditional Austin), made for a surreal experience, especially as I occasionally glanced down at the press credentials hanging from my neck lanyard. I was 17 in 2004 when I first fell in love with Before Today's A Celebration of an Ending, years before I’d pick up a camera and fall in love with concert photography. What beautiful serendipity.
Though this is technically a co-headlining tour, The Used closed out the first night of the run. Formed originally in 2000 in Utah, the band dropped their self-titled album in 2002, which immediately catapulted them into the stratosphere. While the band has gone on to release a total of 9 studio albums, including this year’s Toxic Positivity, the now-iconic The Used was certified platinum in 2019 and is probably the album most hardcore fans site as the fandom jumping point. It was for me, at 16. I’m old now, but looking out across the expansive HEB Center, I saw an endless wave of young, smiling faces, clearly just as deserving of being on The Used fan train as much as any old gatekeeper (it me). It is easy for those who are music-obsessed to become very possessive of the bands they first truly loved (my love for The Used is old enough to vote, nanny nanny boo boo), but it’s also important to pass the torch. It was awesome seeing such a wide range of demographics in the audience for this amazing band. It’s also a reassuring sign that the kids are, in fact, alright.
The band (consisting of lead vocalist Bert McCracken, bassist Jeph Howard, drummer Dan Whitesides, and guitarist Joey Bradford) took the stage at 9:35p and powered through a perfectly curated 14-song set, taking the audience on a journey across time (and one’s nostalgia). Opening with “Maybe Memories” of the seminal The Used, it was immediately apparent the band had a mission to make the audience happy. Opening their set with such a memorable song brought the audience instantly to a roar, where the energy stayed for the remainder of the show. McCracken, rocking a green tye-dye The Used shirt himself, traipsed the all-floral-decorated stage with the buoyancy of a beach ball, giving attention to every corner of the arena’s screaming fans.
People were crying. People were singing, laughing. It felt cathartic and joyous, exactly what any band would strive for in their live show. And it was heavy. McCracken’s unique voice is so strong, his screams so powerful. The band of seasoned pros are effortlessly tight, and closed out their set with “Pretty Handsome Awkward,” off Lies For The Liars, bringing to conclusion a truly unforgettable experience. The sweaty crowd cheered and applauded and screamed, and the band exited.
It all made for an extraordinary performance, an extraordinary night. For two “punk” bands to have careers this expansive is such a rarity, and yet here we are: 21 years after The Used was first released, 16 years since A Flair for the Dramatic, and both are getting new music to new fans, selling out arenas. I hope the rest of the country shows as much love to this tour that Cedar Park did, but those insane merch lines are a pretty solid indication that all is well.
Photos/Words by Jake Rabin