The Front Bottoms-Going Grey

The Front Bottoms were at one time leading figures in the emo-revival.  A weird pop-punk band from New Jersey that let indie rock and folk influences bleed through.  They had lyrics that masked emotion through humor and wits.  Also, they were huge.  They could book their own festival at New York’s Webster Hall with their friends and favorite bands and sell it out.  They toured with emo-vets Brand New on numerous occasions and wrote one of the decades’ best songs about life on the roadBack On Top was a major creative leap for the band, adding much more electric instrumentation than before, and it paid off.  The best songs off Back On Top could square off with any number of songs from their self-titled album or Talon of Hawk.  Unfortunately, Going Grey shows them doing just that: greying into a mediocre band. 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.