Imperfect Attempt: The Killers-Barclays Center, NY-1/9/18

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After the first two songs of The Killers’ set on their Wonderful Wonderful tour, frontman Brandon Flowers quotes Evil Knievel: “People don’t pay for the perfect landing; they pay for the attempt.”  Unlike Knievel, The Killers don’t land as much as they attempt, and their performance at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center left me wondering if I’d pay for another attempt. Continue reading

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Green Day: XFINITY Theatre (Hartford, CT 8/29/17)

Green-Day-Hartford           Even though, Green Day shows have become largely repetitive, there is still something to be said about standing in the pit at one.  Energy radiates off the stage.  Even wearing earplugs, standing close enough to hear the explosions from the pyrotechnics hurt your ears is incredible.  Despite all three core members being in their mid-40’s, they perform with the same youthful energy rivaling so many of their much younger peers. Continue reading

Gaga, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down (Citi Field, Queens, NY 8/28/17)

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I’d only ever flirted with the idea of seeing a major pop-star live.  I like Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Justin Timberlake enough to think about going to their shows.  I’ve seen Kanye on the Saint Pablo tour, but he’s a rapper.  I’ve seen Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco at major arena tours, while they’re still mostly relevant, but both are still (mostly) considered rock bands.  Lady Gaga was like my first kiss, kind of great-kind of awkward and underwhelming. Continue reading

Bowling for Cigs: Bowling for Soup at the Gramercy Theater//Diet Cig at Baby’s All Right: (New York/Brooklyn, NY) 4/7/17

bowlingforsoup      “I don’t go to Brooklyn,” Casey mutters anytime I propose a show in the King’s County borough.  “We should see a show soon,” is a phrase Casey says to me about every two weeks.  When scrolling through events on Facebook, I saw both Bowling for Soup at the Gramercy Theatre and Diet Cig at Baby’s All Right on a Friday.  Casey initially agreed to Bowling for Soup, and when I proposed catching Diet Cig’s late show for their record release of Swear I’m Good at This, she was down to do both in a night.  We managed to hit both shows and it was a hell of a shit show. Continue reading

Japandroids: Terminal 5, New York, NY 2/23/17

In 2012, I was still a baby in the world of indie-rock.  I still listened to Marilyn Manson pretty religiously.  Eminem’s Slim Shady LP was still relatively prominent on my iPod Classic, and I mostly listened to Green Day above all else.  I was a senior in high school.  The world at my fingertips, I was pretty picky about what I deemed fine for my ears.  Still, that was the year I began listening to Radiohead, Death Cab for Cutie, and Lou Reed: gateway bands.  It was also the year Celebration Rock was released.  It seemed every major music publication discussed this breakthrough Japandroids record.  Armed with one of the best band names in rock, I figured these guys couldn’t be bad.  Celebration Rock was an absolute gamechanger.  I was fascinated by how two people could make such full sounds with great lyrics.  It became a staple of my first semester of college.  Even though my friends weren’t as enthused with lines like “Give me that night you were already in bed/said ‘fuck it’ stayed up to drink with me instead,” I was enthralled.  Celebration Rock is the type of record you believe you’re living when you’re just starting college. Continue reading

XXYYXX: Live at Warsaw (Brooklyn, NY 2/15/17)

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One of my favorite songs by The Wombats is “Techno Fan” and while they were not playing, nor were involved in this show in any way, this is the song I had stuck in my head all day before the show. “Techno Fan” tells the story of a guy who goes to a techno show, without knowing the music beforehand, with a girl he’s into and how being in the right place with the right person makes him a fan. Continue reading

Mitski: Webster Hall, New York, NY 11/21/16

Walking up to Webster Hall on a cold November night, the thought of seeing Mitski at a sold out show in the 1,500 capacity Grand Ballroom is surreal.  This is a room where I’ve seen The Wonder Years and The Front Bottoms, pop-punk superstars.  I’ve been invited to see Mitski at house shows throughout the Hudson Valley.  I’ve tried to see her at the Music Hall of Williamsburg or Brooklyn’s Shea Stadium to no success.  Seeing her name posted below the venue’s name along with the words “Sold Out” filled me with the kind of excitement you only get from seeing a quality artist reach a level of success they deserve.  Mitski has placed herself as an artist that can deliver the sort of huge show that Webster Hall calls for.

Opening up the show were Canada’s Weaves, who really delivered more than the audience bargained for.  Jasmyn Burke can control the stage with a very laidback demeanor.  Weaves sound a little bit like Vampire Weekend in the way they make feel-good music that can jump from sounding punky to ska-influenced in a matter of seconds.  It’s been such a long time since an opening act had caught my attention the way Weaves had.  The end of the set was sexy with Burke and her bassist singing into the same microphone, and the music made the audience move at the very least.

The UK’s Fear of Men had the middle set, but their brand of mellow, synthy post-punk didn’t translate very well in a live setting.  The band isn’t bad, but the energy that Weaves brought into the room lost momentum once Fear of Men started playing.  The band was fine though.  I’d be willing to give them another shot at a different show.

Mitski’s popularity has soared to the point that her stepping on stage to setup her gear elicited cheers.  Her past two albums have shown that she can make classic songs that are equal parts catchy and emotional.  From the opening of “Dan the Dancer” to “Class of 2013,” Mitski showed just what has made her an indie-superstar.  The louder numbers drew larger reactions from the audience as you could hear everyone singing along to the choruses of “Townie” and “Your Best American Girl,” but Webster Hall was dead silent during the softer songs.  Mitski is equally powerful for both, whether she’s singing “Fuck you and your money” or “Please don’t say you love me.”  The classical training she’s received has always shined through in her intricate instrumentals and wide range of vocals, but it was shocking to hear how soft-spoken Mitski is between songs.  When she made note that this was a safe-space for everyone, it was much more reserved sounding than any other declaration I’ve heard at a show.  Her reserved demeanor only makes the powerhouse vocals on a song like “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars” all the better.

Mitski followed Monday’s show with a much smaller scale at Brooklyn’s Villian.  While it seems Mitski may never leave the DIY realm entirely, her headlining gig at Webster Hall only seems to be the start of a much bigger stage of her career.

 

James Crowley is on Twitter.

Burger A Day is on Instagram and Facebook.

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.

The Devil and God are Raging Inside Wallingford

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A ten-year anniversary tour seems like exactly the type of thing that Brand New would be against.  While the band has more or less played the same setlist for the past few years, playing The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me front to back on their current tour seems like something they’d probably skip.  While we still don’t have a new album, this tour was set to be a treat from the start as Modern Baseball and The Front Bottoms were set as openers.  Brand New tours are always special affairs, but having two of the biggest pop-punk and emo bands today open the tour makes it all the more important.

The first thing I noticed about the Oakdale Theatre is that it appears to be a renovated barn or, at least, added to one.  The venue’s lobby is beautiful with four bars and merch located front and center as you walk in.  As we entered the venue, the line for merch was already huge.  Once in the actual theatre, it was impossible not to notice how good everything sounded.  The way that distortion carried in the high-ceilinged venue is ideal for listening.

Modern Baseball’s set leaned heavily on their recent Holy Ghost, but the crowd was most receptive to “Tears Over Beers” and “Your Graduation.”  The Philly-Quartet even treated us to the Sports single “The Weekend” dedicating it to “our friend from Property of Zack.”  While it’s more typical to see MoBo headlining these days, the band still seems humbled by the reaction they stir in crowds.  Brendan Lukens let the crowd sing the first chorus of “Your Graduation” simply letting out a “you all rock.”  While it would be easy for Modern Baseball to just play the hits, playing mostly Holy Ghost songs seemed right especially as Lukens started to get emotional during “Just Another Face.”  It’s not often an opening band elicits a “One More Song” chant from an audience, but Modern Baseball did it.  Anytime seeing them is a reminder to what a special little band they are.

The Front Bottoms’ stage setup was decorated with lamps, a couch, a small tv, a case of PBR, and two seemingly random people sitting on that couch.  While The Front Bottoms are now a pop-punk staple, their stage show was reminiscent of the type of college party you probably first heard The Front Bottoms at.  Even opening with “The Plan (Fuck Jobs)” served as a reminder that they’re a band for college parties.

The Front Bottoms’ music was incredibly catchy and fun, as always.  The band danced around stage with as much excitement playing tracks from their first album as the ones from Back On Top.  The band can still surprise by throwing in a funky breakdown into outro of “Swimming Pool” or telling jokey stories about growing your hair out.  Brian Sella’s lyrics are always front and center when they play.  Sella is incredible lyricist for writing the type of lines that don’t make any sense, but you can completely understand the emotion.  There’s certain lines that inevitably stick out that only Genius can dissect.  That line tonight was:

I can tell that he’s asking her yes or no questions

By the way she’s shaking her head

From left to right, then up and down

Then left to right again

during “Skeleton.”  The audience lit up the same way they had for “Your Graduation” during “Twin Size Mattress” at the end of the set, before Sella mentioned “We’re a band called The Front Bottoms.  Tell all your friends about us.”

Every time Brand New plays now, it is truly something special.  As the band have all but confirmed that their break up in 2018 is inevitable, fans flock to see the Long Island band wherever they play.  I drove an hour for this show.  I had friends from Long Island who traveled three.  I even spotted a Virginia license plate in the parking lot, which is odd since the band plays Fairfax near the end of the tour.  Once the band announced that they would play The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me in full, this tour became all the more interesting.  If Brand New is the Led Zeppelin of emo, then Devil and God is Zeppelin IV.  “Jesus” is one of the best known rock songs of the past fifteen years.  “Limousine” may be the best song Brand New has ever composed.  Devil and God if often cited as Brand New’s best album by fans, and seeing the album performed straight through is always an occasion to be cherished.  I should preface the rest of this by mentioning that this is the second time I’ve seen Brand New in four months, having caught them at Madison Square Garden with Modest Mouse.  The MSG gig was my first time seeing Brand New, and since the breakup is imminent, I’m now making up for lost time.

The switch from the somewhat silly and upbeat Modern Baseball and Front Bottoms to the deathly serious Brand New was truly strange.  While these bands all play the same genre of rock, the posture with which it is presented is starkly different.  Jesse Lacey is not a chatty frontman.  There aren’t any laughs to be had during a Brand New set, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  Brand New are nothing like any other pop-punk or emo band.  They’re a force to be reckoned with and as serious as a heart attack in an oft-mocked genre.  Their set in Wallingford only further reaffirmed this.

Brand New played two songs that were absent from the show at The Garden, Deja Entendu’s “I Will Play My Game Beneath the Spin Light” and the new “I am a Nightmare.”  Unfortunately, none of the Daisy standards such as “At the Bottom” or “Gasoline” were played.  Ending the first set with “Play Crack the Sky” was a nice touch adding the lyric “For two more years now” before Vin Accardi entered the stage to sing harmonies.  Some more popular songs were missing, but everything played was eaten up by the crowd before a short break.

The first three songs on The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me are staples of Brand New’s setlist.  While it was great to hear the 1-2-3 punch of “Sowing Season,” “Millstone” and “Jesus,” it sent chills through the audience as red lasers soaked the stage, and Lacey uttered, “Degausser, baby.”  When the band really explodes on songs like “Limousine” or “Not the Sun,” it’s hard to not think you’re watching a metal band.  Accardi and Lacey can both shred, and the dual drummers certainly brings a heavy backbone to the rhythm section.

As the set drew to the end, an acoustic guitar was brought out for “Handcuffs,” which suits the end of the album but not the end of a show.  Ending with “Untitled” was a wise move, since it let the band jam on the main riff to “Jesus” as Accardi sat stage right.  Lacey thanked the audience for the past ten and fifteen years before exiting, and the “2000-2018” epigraph adorned the stage.

While the number of Brand New shows is finite, nights like this in Wallingford are celebratory.  There seems to be promise of a new Brand New album, but since they’re unpredictable, we may never see a fifth LP.  Regardless of where the band goes, everyone will remember this night in Connecticut.

Kanye West’s ‘Saint Pablo’ Tour is a Religious Experience

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There are a handful of moments during Kanye West’s Saint Pablo Tour where West drops to his knees at the center of his floating stage, because Kanye turns wherever he plays into a place of worship.  When the show closes with “Ultralight Beam,” Madison Square Garden wasn’t an arena; it was a cathedral.  Yeezus’s floating stage gets the most talked about, but the lighting design is equally exciting.  Sometimes, the stage is mostly blacked out, and the lights come up over the moshpit.  The whole show is communal.  It’s easy to get lost watching the moshpit, but Kanye keeps his energy up above the pit with the same presence as a punk-rock vocalist.

Kanye is easily one of the most polarizing artists of the past decade.  When entering the arena, most artists of Kanye’s stature would be playing the hits of their contemporaries, but Yeezy opted for ambient drone music.  This almost seemed like preparation for when the overhead lights descended and synthesizer music narrated the light show.  While the energy on the floor electrified as soon as the lights went down, it didn’t truly burst until “Mercy,” where Kanye opened up the fucking pit.

Kanye’s best songs play off large emotions.  Whether it’s the celebratory nature of “Gold Digger,” the remorse on “Runaway,” or the depression on “Heartless,” Yeezy’s heart is sewn to his sleeve.  All of those emotions are explored on the Saint Pablo tour and then some.  West’s icy silhouette during “Wolves” and “Heartless” starkly contrasts the guy slam dancing during “All of the Lights” and “Famous,” but it’s truly a testament to how much Yeezy’s music continues to resonate with listeners and himself.  Kanye laid down on the stage as “Runaway” ended and reached out his hand as if begging the audience for forgiveness.  Kanye’s the father, son and preacher in this instance.

Kanye kept speaking throughout the evening about how this event had the most tickets ever sold at Madison Square Garden.  With everything Kanye does, it’s difficult to tell if this was true or just a delusion, but the Garden certainly felt packed.  Kanye’s neo-gospel sound was only improved by the 20,000+ people.  The studio versions of the songs don’t hold a candle to how they echoed throughout the halls.  When “Ultralight Beam” closed the show, it’s shocking to think Kanye didn’t ascend into Heaven and just descended backstage.

 

James is on an Ultralight Twitter.