A Final Bow| Posted July 24, 2015
When Anberlin decided to play their career milestone albums Never Take Friendship Personal and Cities in their entirety back to back last fall in New York while on their farewell tour, fortunately the event was recorded. Fans have already been treated to the live recording of Never Take Friendship Personal: Live In New York City, and now Cities: Live In New York City is made available in partnership with Tooth & Nail-- the label that Anberlin was signed to for most of their career, including their final record Lowborn.
Cities, which released in early 2007, was one of those charmed moments in time when the album the band created was perfect for the atmosphere they launched it into. I was at the time among the pseudo-emo introspective Warped Tour kids for whom the album struck a nerve, sending reverberations far into my adulthood and impacting how I would approach every alt rock record following. And I'm not the only one, with Cities being widely acknowledged as one of the defining albums of its genre and its decade.
With the iconic nature of the album among its subculture and the wave of energy that pulsed behind every moment of Anberlin's farewell tour, this live recording was sure to be something special off the bat, if only for the extremely viable flood of nostalgia. From the drawn out intro to heavy rocker "Godspeed," the crowd mics pick up palpable expectation. And indeed, the crowd is a consistent presence throughout the album. This is to be expected in a live recording, but Cities: Live in New York City takes it to the next level, with frontman Stephen Christian often breaking off to let a captivated crowd scream every word in his place.
On a technical level, this album is largely successful in capturing the incredibly coherent, unflaggingly energetic performance the five piece consistently offered. The keen guitar edge honed by Christian McAlhaney and Joseph Milligan is immortalized on tracks like the searing "Whisper And A Clamor." Another track that exemplifies this is "There Is No Mathematics to Love and Loss," captured in both its first and last ever live performance.
The rhythm section is equally on point. Drummer Nate Young's beats are at once wild and flawlessly measured, carrying even the slightly pop-leaning offerings like "Adelaide." Deon Rexroat's bass tones rumble beneath tracks like "Reclusion," serving as a foundation for the soaring melody. All of this simply proves that Anberlin was as a unit both entirely united and entirely at the top of their game when they chose to step away.
Haunting "Alexithymia" illustrates the way Anberlin's lyrics have found a home in the personal narratives of listeners, with the crowds' voices soaring through the chorus "there's more to living than being alive." "Dismantle. Repair" holds a similar command of the audience's voices throughout the brooding lyrics.
Although the heavy tracks do a fair amount to represent the way the group had the entire audience captivated, the slower tracks are able to capture that dynamic in their own way as well. On tracks like "Unwinding Cable Car," the choir of fan voices makes the already spiritually pointed track all the more poignant and otherworldly as the entire room sings "this is the correlation of salvation and love. / Don't drop your arms, I've got your heart / with quiet words I'll lead you in."
The legacy of Anberlin is perhaps captured best however in "*Fin," a track which could be considered a magnum opus. The moody spiritual epic captures every area in which Anberlin excelled: Stephen Christian's relentlessly introspective lyrics and crystal clear, almost ethereal vocals, gut wrenching guitar tones, the perfect ebb and flow of musical energy and an ability to create a tangible sonic atmosphere unlike anything listeners are likely to hear again. The song wraps with Stephen and the fans singing together the haunting closing lyrics from Lowborn's "Harbinger" over the instrumentation, the phrase that has become Anberlin's legacy: "we'll live forever."
It's uncertain at this point if Anberlin has any more material in their vaults to share at some point down the road, but for now we can likely expect this to be the last we hear from them for the foreseeable future. And it's a good choice as an encore to the main body of their career, this marriage of cornerstone material and the moment of their farewell. As far as simply live recordings go, this is relatively standard fare. However, the powerful memories and the passion of band and fans working in tandem make this something more. Cities: Live In New York Cities is a must-have addition to any Anberlin die-hard's library, and a helpful retrospective for fans who never had the chance to see them perform live. For this long-time listener, it was the perfect final bow in a storied career.
Song to Download Now:
"*Fin" (Get it on iTunes here.)