By Amy Hanna
Canadian pop-rockers Mariana’s Trench set out on a adventure this summer across the U.S. with the SPF 80s Tour, with the hope of bringing their long-time fans an unforgettable–and very, very sweaty–night to remember. And in the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh, North Carolina, this is exactly what they did. This was the band’s first time visiting the city, and it’s safe to say the warm (… very, very warm) welcome was mutual.
The fun started early, with a DJ bumping a medley of 80’s hits that had the crowd dancing long before the headliners hit the stage. The mood shifted when pop songstress Skylar Stecker took the stage. Armed with just a keyboard and an acoustic guitar to back her up, Stecker’s immaculate voice filled the room and captivated the crowd. The arrangements behind her were well placed yet rather sparse, but this just gave the vocalist an opportunity to showcase the breadth of her abilities.
Skylar Stecker shined through a five-song acoustic set. Her voice never once faltered in pitch or intensity, which is a rare find in a sea of pop vocalists. Her original material toed the lines between easy, uplifting anthems of confidence and brooding recounts of lost love. Her unique voice – reminiscent of Leona Lewis, but with a very fresh edge – seemed to fit best with the latter, as the power in her rich voice married beautifully with darker thematics. A set highlight was the song “Bring Me to Life”, a single Stecker released this year and one of her personal favorites that features her friends, Kailin and Myles. The song haunted and captivated, and flooded the room with a depth of feeling. Of course, Stecker also got the crowd dancing once again, with an infectious cover of DNCE’s “Cake By the Ocean”. In spite of the simplicity of the set, Skylar Stecker proved that raw talent is always the most captivating thing to see on stage.
Mariana’s Trench stepped foot onto Lincoln Theatre’s stage with something to prove, and prove they did. This band is known for their extensive orchestral suites, which have been seen across their last few albums, including their most recent, Astoria. The title track of the album is a bombastic seven-minute offering that weaves through soaring, anthemic melodies, walls of punk guitar, and sultry, shimmery synthpop breaks. Despite the intricacies of the arrangements of these suites, Mariana’s Trench managed to pack every last layer of sound into the room, making for an ever-impactful piece of performance art.
The set for the evening included a great deal of tracks from Astoria, the band’s latest feat that stands as their most revealing to date. Astoria is full of hurt and fun, in equal measures. The crowds at SPF 80s show, however, get a bit more of the latter. Frontman Josh Ramsey danced and belted through tongue-in-cheek 80’s Astoria favorites “Burning Up” and “Shut Up and Kiss Me” leaving the crowd hanging on every word. In fact, The Ramsay Effect seemed to be in full force the entire evening, the crowd laughing at his banter, echoing his energy, taking the vocal reigns on older songs like “All To Myself” and “Good To You”. All in all, this front man had his crowd under his spell, but never too much to take away from the musical prowess being displayed on stage.
Mariana’s Trench take themselves seriously; this much is clear on an album as intricately produced as Astoria. However, it is just as clear by their live show that Mariana’s Trench has an irrevocably special sense of humor, evident in every aspect of their live performance. It’s rare that an audience can laugh so heartily amidst a soundtrack quite so skilled. Immeasurable joy bubbled forth on most on their “educational” piece on music, “Pop 101”, as well as their bouncy, energetic lead single off their previous record Ever After, “Haven’t Had Enough”. This is the magic of Mariana’s Trench–that, and the stark contrast of themes and sounds while still managing to make the night feel sensical, well-rounded, whole. The set ended with as chill-inducing a flourish as it began, with the final Astoria suite, “End of an Era”. The song itself ties up all loose ends on Astoria, turning the page on an immeasurably aching chapter on Ramsay’s life. Goosebumps on arms and laughter in throats, the audience at an SPF 80s tour will get a full spectrum of feeling embedded in undeniable musical prowess. They will also get very, very sweaty, but that’s only a small price to pay for a gig so special.