In April of 2021, Soft Kill recorded and filmed at the world-renowned Crystal Ballroom in Portland. This was also part of a broadcast that was livestreamed on Bandcamp for a limited time with exclusive merch available during the day of the stream. Thankfully, this recording is now released on all our favorite music streaming platforms, and I’m glad to say that this is everything a fan who’s missing live shows could ever hope for. Soft Kill Live at Crystal Ballroom includes performances of the entirety of An Open Door and Choke, both to commemorate the 10th and 5th anniversary as a band. For fans of their later albums, there are two cuts from 2020’s Dead Kids, R.I.P. City included here. It’s not much, but considering that it’s already an hour and a half long, I’ll take what we can get.
I don’t know if it’s the historic venue, or the fact there was no audience to be heard during the recording, but the circumstances and the aesthetics of this live show fits Soft Kill’s cold-hearted music so much. For a rock sound so attuned to loneliness and melancholy, this hollow void afforded by the theatre widens up their sound in a way that cannot be replicated by any electronic reverb. Danny Deleon’s drums feel more punchy with every bone-snapping beat. There’s a spacious separation between Conrad Vollmer and Ryan Nichol’s lead lines, pulsing through the thunderous bass of Shaun Durkan. Yet by far it’s Tobias Graves that shines so much in these performances.
Through their fast-paced songs such as “Borders Comfort” and “Be Alone”, Graves provides extra grit to his vocals, coursing through with fiery anguish as he yells the hook from the former song: “It walks these halls / And I need sleep!”. The open halls makes these songs feel more expansive, and the emptiness feeds through the emotions channeled by the band. It’s as if the venue itself is sympathizing with the pain.
Unsurprisingly, there’s not a dull moment in this recording. An hour and a half passed with me barely noticing, which is partly thanks to Soft Kill’s varied approach to their compositions and perhaps the novelty of having new live music in 2021. Nevertheless some other favorites here are “I’m Beside You” – this hard hitting classic filled with beautiful riffs. “On the Inside” is filled with visceral post-punk energy while the converging synths in “Whirl” gains some bone-chilling reverb. Soft Kill’s Live at Crystal Ballroom is both a celebration and a treat for all fans. It perhaps heralds the beginning of things going back to normal. A beacon of hope for more music to come.