Kevin Devine-‘Instigator’

v600_kd_instigator_1600            Kevin Devine is a phenomenal songwriter in the same way Billie Joe Armstrong is a great songwriter.  His songs can be very simple, but they’re all pretty catchy, and the lyrics and vocals are at the forefront.  He’s also most well-known for mixing both intensely personal lyrics with some political views peppered in.  Where Armstrong has gotten vague, Devine has become hyper specific, and Instigator is one of the best records of 2016.

Where songs about drinking alone, unrequited crushes and self-pity may have become old-hat, Devine’s latest is one of his best and most refreshing albums.  Instigator is mostly a record about making peace with the world you live in.  The title track and “Magic Magnet” romanticize both the good and bad in relationships.  Devine is both madly in love and wants to have arguments with you (when you need to).  The best part of these songs is the seeming glee that Devine presents them with.  The guitar tones are bright, and the tempo is up.  Both songs sound like driving down a Los Angeles highway in the summer time.  “No One Says You Have To” is about as mellow as the album gets, but the quick fingerpicking and soothing tone are equally as positive.  “Before You’re Here” is a beachy song about anticipating the birth of his daughter.

Even what appear to be Devine’s darkest personal moments have a positive twist on them.  In “Daydrunk,” Devine sings:

But daydrunk is what I used to be

No Jimmy Buffet song

No island imagery

Old men

Dying retirees

Bellies on the bar

Elbows up with me.

Despite the darker imagery depicting Devine’s alcohol and drug abuse, he sings it in a cheery, poppy little song.  The album closer, “I Was Alive Back Then,” reflects on some larger moments in his life-depression, Christmas mornings, marriage.  The song’s repeated chorus of “I was alive back then” makes it seem like Devine is beginning his midlife crisis at 36, but when he ends, he sings, “I was alive back then/Now, I am again,” singing about the birth of his daughter.  It’s the most somber, sobering moment of the album.

Following the first three upbeat numbers, Devine gives us “Freddie Gray Blues.”  It’s a haunting track that tackles not only the current issues of police brutality, but Devine addresses his own white-privilege from a very self-aware point of view.  He also offers this different point-of-view that leaves a lot of people conflicted:

When I’m talking these killer cop blues

I’m kinda talking my family to you

See, my dad was a cop

And his dad was a cop

And my uncles were cops

And my cousins were cops

I’m partly here because of cops

And I love all those cops

And I know not every cop

Is a racist, murdering cop

But this is bigger than the people I love

The system’s broken

Not breaking

It’s done

In a song like this, Devine mixes his two styles beautifully, and he’s penned a protest song as good as Bob Dylan’s “The Hurricane.”

“Both Ways” is a surf-punk jam that both satirizes and criticizes the United States.  The song is mainly calling out hypocrisy that mostly seems to be calling out right-wing conservatives.  One of Devine’s most clever lyrics is “You can’t weaponize Jesus/and be shocked when the heathens shoot back.”  At the same time, it seems Devine is praising the United States for being a nation that could allow both, or he could be understanding of where both sides come from.  He could also just be satirical.

This brings us to perhaps my favorite Kevin Devine song ever written.  “No History” is a song about the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center.  The song crams a range of emotions into three and a half minutes.  The song begins sounding like a search party.  Devine recounts the day of the attacks, his own coping, and turning to his father to try to make sense of it all.  Devine sings as his father, “I know I see it/I thought it made sense.  I don’t anymore.”  The chorus erupts into a word salad of confusion where Devine sees a destroyed city, anger at Muslims, and a mourning nation.  Before the final chorus, Devine reflects on how far we’ve come from that day.  We’re still in a world where we’ve fought a war on terror that, at times, seems to have gone nowhere.  Still, he reflects on seeing his niece as an infant, and how life does go on.  “This is the future: severe and always happening.”  It’s a song that’s powerful, to say the least.  Devine’s politics may not be for everyone, but he certainly presents himself in an honest way that demands your attention.

The Wonder Years are No Closer to Aging in New York

cvux53qxeaa7ako-jpg-largeI am 22 years old.  In terms of most things, I’m pretty young.  By pop-punk terms though, I’m pretty old.  Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly pop-punk bands that it is not out-of-place for me to enjoy.  Modern Baseball, The Front Bottoms, Japandroids, The Menzingers, and Kevin Devine are all artists that fall under the pop-punk umbrella that no one would bat and eye at.  Hell, I could get away with any band I liked from 13 to 18.  The Wonder Years are an “acceptable” pop-punk band, but the other bands on their current tour seem “juvenile.”  To be honest, seeing The Wonder Years at Webster Hall on Sunday night made me feel old, at least as I walked in.

Prior to Sunday Evening, I’d seen The Wonder Years four times, and this was the most “Defend Pop Punk” bill.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s always been ultra-“DPP” bands on each bill[*], but there’s always been at least one “more serious” band[†] on each bill.  At this show, Seaway, Moose Blood, Knuckle Puck, and Real Friends opened.  None of those bands are ones I would go out of my way to see on a headlining bill where the rest of the crowd seemed to eat each band up.  I wasn’t excited to sit through four openers that I didn’t really care about, but each band brought something exciting to the table.

Seaway’s opening was probably for the best.  They had the least number of familiar songs, but most were easy to catch onto.  Seaway’s brand of punky pop-rock is reminiscent of bands like The Click Five.  Impressive isn’t the best word to describe them, but each song of theirs was catchy enough to at least pick up on the chorus.  They weren’t anything to write home about, but they were still cool, man.

Moose Blood was the opener that I was most excited about on this bill.  Their debut album, I’ll Keep You In Mind From Time to Time, is a very underrated pop-punk album, and it was great to see the band open with “Bukowski.”  The rest of the set was relatively light on their sophomore album Blush, which may have been for the better.  The UK group were easily the least “DPP” band on this bill, but guaranteed Warped Tour favorites for years to come.

The cynic in me couldn’t help but notice how Knuckle Puck’s backdrop logo seemed like a rip-off of Cheap Trick’s logo.  Following their recent allegations against Jarrod Alonge, I couldn’t help but notice.  I did see a girl wearing a “Kanookla Pook” shirt, and I appreciated it.  Even though that debacle continues to unfold, the band didn’t speak about it onstage.  Amongst an audience that ate up every word from vocalist Joe Taylor’s lips, I wasn’t really into it.  They’re a band that I mostly don’t enjoy, but when the band played “Untitled,” it couldn’t be denied that they were a good band.  Knuckle Puck are competent songwriters when they need to be.  “Untitled” hasn’t been a regular setlist staple on this tour, and it certainly should be.  It takes Knuckle Puck from an okay band that’s constantly in the news to a pretty damn good band.

I tend to rip on Real Friends.  I’ve made jokes about “Sleepy Eyes and Bony Knees.”  I don’t tend to go out of my way to listen to them.  One friend that I spoke to before the show said “I can’t believe you’re going to see Real Friends.  You’re gonna hate it.”  After opening with “Mess,” the band played their best cut off 2013’s Maybe this Place is the Same, And We’re Just Changing, “Cover You Up.”  While the highlights of the evening came from hearing the hits “Home For Fall,” “Late Nights in My Car,” and “I’ve Given Up on You,” the new songs fit just as well, and may be some of Real Friends’ most promising work yet.  Bassist Kyle Fasel has improved as a lyricist, and he commands attention like the second coming of Pete Wentz.  The Home Inside My Head has some of the easiest lyrics to sing along to, and it’s much more focused as a pop-punk record.

The biggest downfall in the evening wasn’t even a song, it was when Dan Lambton ended Real Friends’ set by giving a speech about the importance of voting.  His rallying cries were actually important, but it seemed like he just mentioned generic things that would get the crowd to clap.  I did agree with his political stances, but they just lacked that right level of excitement.  It did get the crowd riled up before “Late Nights in my Car,” which saved the set.

The Wonder Years have grown from being just the best band in pop-punk to genuine rockstars within the past-year.  Their stage setup didn’t even have a proper banner-just a gray backdrop, tons of lights and smoke machines.  The band did two acoustic songs, which, prior to this tour, is unheard of at standard Wonder Years shows.  They even opened with “No Closer to Heaven,” which was a nice calm before the eruption of “Local Man Ruins Everything.”  While the show lacked songs from The Upsides, except “Washington Square Park,” it did hit all the standard Wonder Years beats like “The Devil in My Bloodstream” and “Don’t Let Me Cave In.”  The dueling drum kits in “Cigarettes & Saints” is now a welcome standard.  Large balloons bouncing from the rafters during “Passing Through A Screen Door” was also a welcome new addition.  While Dan Campbell and company carry the same posture they always have, they’re still getting bigger and bigger.  While bigger rooms are sure to come, we can always count on “Came Out Swinging” to speak to the audience, young and old.

[*] Hell, Fireworks opened for them three of those times.

[†] The Sixties, Koji, The Progress, Modern Baseball, You Blew It!, and Motion City Soundtrack are those bands.

10 Years of ‘The Black Parade’


July 20th, in the year of our Lord 2016, an instrumental version of the intro to “Welcome to the Black Parade” was played in a video shared over a quarter of a million times on Facebook.  Three years before, many of us mourned the loss of My Chemical Romance.  The breakup message had been cold and unexpected, but when that simple video of a flag surfaced, our hope was restored.  The next day, all faith was shattered, as the video only announced the release of a special tenth anniversary edition of MCR’s The Black Parade, which brings us here today.  One month ago, the Living With Ghosts version of The Black Parade was officially released.  And it has caused a lot of reflection on My Chemical Romance in the past month.

The story of My Chemical Romance’s formation is to Killjoys what the birth of Jesus is to Christians.  Following the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, Gerard Way and Matt Pelissier began to view life differently and formed one of the great rock bands of the 21st Century.  The band released the hardcore-emo I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love in 2002, but they didn’t see mainstream success until 2004’s Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, which featured scene-kid anthems “Helena” and “I’m Not Okay.”


On August 31st, 2006, the band officially welcomed us all to The Black Parade at the VMAs.  The song showed a new classic-rock influence, and the presentation showed the world that MCR was ready for a fully-theatrical new album.  The band would embark on a world tour akin to The Who’s Tommy tour where they played the album in full.  Gerard Way would assume the role of “The Patient” every night, while taking the audience through the story and emotional cycle of the album.  Since the album is really a reflection of life events seen in death, it was easy for pre-teens and teenagers to project themselves onto Way’s macabre ruminations on death.

Being a seventh grader during The Black Parade’s release, I obviously had a lot of feelings about it.  The most shocking is probably: when the album first came out, I hated it.  You see, I was a metal kid, and seeing guys dressed as a marching band in make-up couldn’t top the likes of Metallica.  At worst, My Chemical Romance were the biggest abomination to music with their mediocre musicianship and dumb lyrics.  At best, they were just a cheap Marilyn Manson rip-off.  It wasn’t until I heard the song “Teenagers” in ninth grade that I began to reconsider my negative disposition of MCR.  I was mesmerized by I Brought You My Bullets.  Gerard Way’s scream in “House of Wolves” was incredibly heavy.  At that point, I understood how great this band was.


The Black Parade has a song for every mood a weird teenager has.  “I Don’t Love You” is the perfect song for when you find out your crush doesn’t like you back.  “The Sharpest Lives” was the song I’d put on as I was getting ready to go out with my friends.  It’s the cool kind of song that feels right to throw on a blazer as Way sings “Give me a shot to remember.”  While I’ve grown more interested in Chuck Klosterman’s interpretation of “Teenagers,” it is the type of celebratory jam for when you feel like the biggest fucking loser in your school.  “Famous Last Words” is easily a pre-cursor to a lot of the positive pop-punk that I would go on to love through college.

Reflecting on the album now, there’s only one clunker on it.  “Sleep” is a lackluster track that even the b-sides trump.  The title track is easily the most memorable, but “Cancer” is probably the most emotional.  There are few closers as anthemic as “Famous Last Words,” and even the hidden-track “Blood” is incredibly fitting.  While Danger Days served as the band’s swansong, The Black Parade’s legacy is most important to the band.  It’s as close to a perfect album as the band ever had, from the power ballads of “I Don’t Love You” to the shredding on “Dead!”

Living with Ghosts has been out for a month, and it’s been a fun listen.  The demoes are interesting, but they don’t really bring anything new to the beautiful Black Parade.  “Not that Kind of Girl” sounds more like a blink-182 song.  “All the Angels” is a skeleton of a song that could have worked within a larger work.  If anything, this is more of a downer since it’s not something anyone really asked for.  That being said, The Black Parade is this generation’s The Wall.  Maybe in 30 years, we’ll get a massive Black Parade reunion tour.  For now, we’ll carry on.

Jesu/Sun Kil Moon spill “The Greatest Conversation Ever In the History of the Universe” for ’30 Days, 30 Songs’

Another great piece from 30 Days, 30 Songs.  I don’t normally read what the musicians have to say, but Mark Kozolek’s entry was pretty cool:

“I wrote the words to this one in the early morning hours of August 2nd in a New York hotel room, a few nights after I played a Lou Reed tribute concert at The Lincoln Center. A lot of things were happening at once. I remember turning on the TV and seeing that two 12 year old girls were being tried as adults for something to do with a video game, and I had a dinner with friends where the subject of Pokemon came up. Trump wasn’t just all over USA television at the time. I’d spent June and July in Europe and his face was on news stands all across Europe (not Hillary’s). I don’t like Trump, but it’s my opinion that we all have to look inward and ask ourselves how we got here in the first place. We’re all in this together, we all took part in the platform he’s been given, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then YOU’RE FIRED!”