About six years ago, Dan Smith of Bastille wrote a little song about looking for optimism in a disaster. Now, he and his bandmates are playing songs about simply surviving one.
On the road in support of third album Doom Days, the English band has structured its show into three acts intended to tell the story of a protagonist having a rough night. Visually, it’s tracked by a clock projected onto a screen, with the story beginning at midnight and taking the audience through to daybreak.
While most of the songs were personal in nature, they intersected frequently with the much bigger picture. As Smith explained near the end of the first act, titled “Still Avoiding Midnight,” Doom Days was at first intended to be an escapist album, providing listeners a reprieve. But Bastille didn’t escape itself as it was making it.
“We wanted to make an album about … for one night, trying to avoid everything; Brexit and Trump and … addiction and climate change deniers, and all the stuff in your own life that you’d rather not think about for a minute,” Smith said. “But being us, this ended up being incredibly depressing, and it lingers on all the things we were trying to avoid in the first place.”
The band’s electro-pop tunes, which included those from 2013’s Bad Blood and 2016’s Wild World, found a way to turn every complaint and worry into a danceable jam, starting with “Quarter Past Midnight” and “Send Them Off!” It was not until the third song, “Things We Lost in the Fire,” that the message came into focus. The LED screen behind Bastille, which had begun by projecting a window overlooking a lit-up city at night flipped over to clips of nature, wildlife and farms—wholesome things—and then to images of polluted bodies of water, overpopulation, crumbling glaciers, atomic bomb blasts and war.
The downer mood continued with “The Waves” and “Two Evils.” On the latter, Smith climbed a ladder to sing in his upper register while backed by only one reverb-laden guitar. Behind him, on the screen, the city’s lights sparkled in the window, and a giant red moon appeared. It was downright bluesy. That was followed by the band’s collaboration with Marshmello, “Happier,” which got the louder fan reaction of the night with the crowd clapping along. “I want you to be happier, if only for a minute,” Smith sang, projecting more a wish than actual happiness. Daniel Armbruster of opening band Joywave then joined Bastille to sing on new single “Bad Decisions,” and Smith went for a stroll through the densely packed standing room section while singing “Flaws.”
With the “clock” now showing 4 a.m., Bastille began the next segment of the show, titled “Those Nights,” with the song of the same name. Smith sang while lounging on a couch that was quickly rotating on a platform at the back of the stage. An old television flickered on next to the platform. The intent was clear: The antihero of this story couldn’t sleep. That was followed by “4AM,” and “Bad Blood,” the title track of the 2016 album, which got fans chanting along to the chorus.
Smith felt the need to warn fans before the band played “Doom Days.”
“When I said this was going to get depressing; this is the worst part,” he said. “When we wrote about escapism, we thought we should write about what it is we’re escaping from.”
The song, which was actually a sonic highlight thanks to the synth that sounded like a plucked violin just under the main melody, was a list of things wrong in the world today.
“I’m live-streaming the final days of Rome,” Smith sang with exasperation on his voice
The show took a turn for the positive with the third segment, titled, “The Morning Doesn’t Reach Us.” It was the “hope” segment, starting with “Joy” and including “Another Place,” “Good Grief,” and yes, “Pompeii.” The band also led the crowd in a “Happy Birthday” sing-along for drummer Chris Wood’s wife, who was in attendance. More surprisingly, Bastille threw in a fun cover of 1992 Snap! jock jam “Rhythm is a Dancer.”
Joywave played an 11-song set to a crowd that largely wasn’t familiar with the Rochester, New York band to open the show. Armbruster and co., wearing matching neon yellow crossing guard attire, opened with the somber, “Like a Kennedy,” the video for which has garnered some controversy for its purposeful use of triggering, implied violence.
Following the off-kilter “Somebody New” and mid-tempo new tune “Blank Slate,” Joywave picked up the pace with poppy tune “Now.”
“We did it. We made it through the blackouts,” Armbruster said, shedding some light that the show came close to being postponed at the last minute because of the PG&E blackouts. “There was no power here at one o’clock.”
Armbruster was in fine form with his signature low-key humor. He threw in a Gladiator reference that went right over most people’s heads about getting a thumbs down and being executed right on the Greek’s stage, and briefly had fans convinced that they should boo Bastille because “they are terrible people.”
Joywave closed with its most popular tunes: the energetic “Tongues,” “Destruction” and “Obsession,” as well as the hypnotic “It’s a Trip.”