Contemplative Pop Punk: Neck Deep at The Salt Shed

- Alternage

by Chloe Kallberg

After four months across the pond and on the road, Neck Deep’s second American tour came to a close in Chicago on February 25. Tucked into a tiny and expensive parking spot, my friends and I emptied our pockets, flashed our tickets, and permeated the Salt Shed in a collective first. The building spent its first near-century as an operating Morton salt factory, reopening in 2022 as a venue in the loop. We appreciated the acoustics instantly, made possible by vaulted ceilings and concrete floors, flawlessly designed with standing and seating options for general admission. You can mosh up front, take a break in the stands, or leave the performance space for a can of water, which a friend confidently identified as “neato.” Well said.

All four bands that night brought a “last hurrah” to the stage, like a high school theater’s closing performance of a show rehearsed for months. They knew it was over, but they were set on going out on top. Breathlessly, between songs, each of the singers expressed exasperated gratitude for everyone involved with the tour – their families, techs, venue employees, and of course, the crowd. Every time a singer yelled out, “Chicago!” we seemed to echo him louder.

England’s Higher Power came out swinging with tight harmonies and a jovial connection between all five members. Propelling off the steam of early February’s single, “Absolute Bloom,” Higher Power provided an energetic prelude to the evening. A pit opened up just after their second song began, determining a trend of moshing early and often. The group asserts themselves as “by the freaks and for the freaks”, and the brightness that came with their set honored that claim. Guitarists meandered across the stage to visit their bandmates, jams lingered longer than their studio recording, their time on stage electric.

Bearings, from Ontario, Canada, lobbed the energy even higher with assorted pieces from their August 2023 record, The Best Part About Being Human. This band has made the most out of the 2020s, releasing two records and a smattering of singles like “Gone So Gone” and “Scenery.” This pit, still abuzz, was complete with a group effort to make way for a guy in a tie-dye Social Distortion shirt, who jumped up and down a few times in the empty circle before diving into the longest consecutive worm dance I’ve ever witnessed. I wish all the best to his hip bones. The band remained engaged with the crowd, balancing harmonies and screams with banter, closed out with a call to free Palestine.

When Drain walked out for their set, a determined hush fell over the crowd, and the energy shifted to that of a group whose roller coaster car just pulled up. Drain’s lead singer gave something of a kindness to a crowd that Drain attendees at Riot Fest did not receive: a warning: “If you were dragged here and don’t know what you’re in for, I’m gonna give you a second to get to the side of the room, because it’s about to–”

By the time he got to this descriptor, the bellows from the crowd had overtaken the PA system. The uninitiated were likely dispersed by now, leaving the brave and the ready. A guy nudged me at this point and mouthed, “He means you.” It seemed to be out of precaution; he sized up the five-foot woman standing next to him and made an assumption. Knowing I had seconds to respond before the ground shook, I assured him I could look out for myself in as few words as possible: “I’ve been in Drain pits before, thanks.”

The pit was a seismic event, glued together by sweat and yanked apart by forceful bass lines. A fair amount of fans took a break after this set, when the riser-style seating began to fill in the back. Those still kicking inched up, filling in gaps and relishing in the leftover energy.

The wait for the last band wasn’t long, but by the time I looked behind me, I couldn’t believe how many people had amassed behind our group. Some people are afraid of heights, and don’t look down while walking on a bridge. I guess I’m afraid of widths, or maybe that’s just claustrophobia.

Neck Deep owns up to a “generic pop punk” motif with their music – take a look at their merch table or website – but Ben Barlow’s introduction to the set, as well as some standout rallying cries like “Take Me with You” and “We Need More Bricks,” were proof enough that the band deserves a little more credit. Neck Deep is committed to standing up for people who are ignored by the powerful. Their emotionally charged, politically raw pop punk doesn’t pick sides, but coalesces the crowd to rally for justice. Highlighting the planet’s inhumane living conditions, in both the environmental and social climate, “Take Me With You” implores an alien life form to take us away from the planet after invasion; “We Need More Bricks” inspires people to stay revolutionary in spirit, taking multiple instances to remind us all “just because it’s not/on your own doorstep/doesn’t make it right.”

Opening a “girl pit” for “She’s A God,” my friend and I ventured from our spot about one third away from the stage to the right, and finally hit pay dirt by the end of the chorus. This front and center crowd was less concerned with windmilling, quicker to scoop someone off the ground after a jump and a fall. The band’s commitment to radical kindness is reflected in their fanbase, and with my head on a swivel I could see the crowd smiling, screaming, and sending all their appreciation back up to the band. Half expecting the band to take a curtain call after three encore songs, the evening erupted with “In Bloom” before the tour closed for good. All we can do is hope they come back soon.


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