House Of Blues Boston
June 16th 2013
If there ever has been a band that perfectly embodies the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra, Rancid would have to be considered a strong contender for the title. The Bay Area legends have been playing their distinct brand of melodic punk rock for over 20 years, and they’ve built a huge fan base while doing it. When you put on a Rancid record, you know what to expect.
The same can be said for their live show: no matter where or when you see them, you can expect the band to go heavy on the hits, throw in a few deep cuts, and inspire a raging circle pit throughout the entire performance. The band returned to Boston in June for two shows at the House of Blues, just a year after having played a similar two night stand at the same venue. While the set list didn’t change much from the previous year and the band didn’t debut any new material, they still proved that $30 on a ticket to a Rancid show is one of the best investments you can make right now.
Crown of Thornz was the opening act, and although we missed their set, at least I can say I’m now aware of another band that may have as many spelling issues as I do. Next up was the Transplants, the “super group” made up of Rancid guitarist/vocalist Tim Armstrong, former Rancid and AFI roadie Rob Aston, and superhuman Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker. This band has always been a head-scratcher for me: are they a punk band? Are they rappers? Are they serious? They’ve been around since 1999 but have only put out two albums and have toured only a handful of times.
The group’s opening slot on this tour is in support of their recently released record “In A Warzone” – their first album since 2005’s “Haunted Cities” . The band had been on hiatus since cancelling a major headlining tour back in 2006, and apparently they’ve moved beyond the riff that had caused the long break.
Armstrong, Barker, And Ashton were joined on stage by a young-ish looking bassist and an even younger looking guitarist (think 8) who may have been Barker’s son. They opened with what was apparently the title track off their new record, and then went on to play for a full hour. A 60 minute opening slot for a band with only two albums and a lead singer who’s pulling double duty sounds like it might be a little strange, and it was.
Some of the songs the band played did receive a pretty big reaction from the crowd, including “Diamonds And Guns” (which apparently is their biggest hit), and the very catchy “Gangsters And Thugs”. Armstrong seemed to be conserving energy for the Rancid set by barely playing his guitar on most songs, and Ashton’s rapping left something to be desired. The drumming of Barker, on the other hand, was by far the highlight of the set.
Barker could drum circles around just about anyone without putting in much effort, but from where I was standing it looked like he was really going for it. If Barker, as one of today’s the most talented and well known drummers, had mailed it in while playing an opening slot in someone else’s side project, I don’t think anyone would have blamed him, so he deserves a lot of credit for making the set at least bearable on this night.
Rancid took the stage after the Transplants in front of the same “20th Anniversary” banner they used a year earlier and opened with a string of about seven of their best known songs. I’ve seen a band open with a hit or two, but it’s rare that anyone gets out of the gate as quickly as they did here.
Armstrong’s Transplants set seemed to have provided a good warm-up as, as he sounded about as good as someone with his distinct singing style could and spent plenty of time spinning around the stage throughout the set. Guitarist Lars Frederiksen, standing off to the left of the stage and not pretending to be quite the showman that Armstrong is, still made his presence felt by providing most of the between song banter and handling vocals on a few of the night’s best received tracks. Even bassist and founding member Matt Freeman took his turn on vocals, stepping up to the mic to sing on “Rejected” from 2009’s Let The Dominoes Fall.
In all the band would play 29 songs and managed to keep the pit moving the entire time. If you’ve ever been to a punk show during the summer, you can probably imagine the amount of shirtless bro moshing taking place. Songs that inspired the most participation were “Read Hot Moon” and “Fall Back Down” from 2003’s Indestructible, along with 1994’s “I Wanna Riot” and “Gunshot”.
The band ended the show with a 3 songs encore that consisted of “Tenderloin” from 94’s Lets Go sandwiched by the band’s biggest tracks: “Time Bomb” and “Ruby Soho” from their platinum effort …And Out Come The Wolves. The crowd roared their approval for each one, especially “Time Bomb” which Armstrong jokingly introduced as a “newer song.”
While the band pulled mostly from their most successful albums and didn’t stray far from the formula they had employed on previous tours, no one left unhappy. After years of filling venues around the world, they seem to have the whole live show thing under control. The next thing for the band to work on is their recent penchant for taking 4-5 years between every release. Rumor has it they’ll put out their first album since 2009 later this year. And that can only mean more touring, more Tim Armstrong swinging his guitar, and more circle pits. And hopefully fewer Transplants.
Fall Out Boy
May 26th 2013
House Of Blues Boston
Fall Out Boy. There’s a lot to say about this band, but nothing that hasn’t already been said before. And that’s why I’m ending this review right here. Or at least I should, because it’s probably going to be a lot longer than it needs to be, so here’s the short version:
Fall Out Boy returns from four year hiatus. Announces new album and club tour. Tour sells out in seconds. Band releases Save Rock And Roll, which debuts at #1. Band makes triumphant return to Boston in ridiculous fashion. Show includes teenage girls lining up in the freezing rain 12 hours prior to doors opening, Pete Wentz wearing leather pants and some sort of kilt, a lot of flashing lights, and Patrick Stump completely stealing the show.
If that last sentence didn’t make you gag and you’re still reading, here’s the unabridged version:
The show started with scores of people standing in line in the wasteland that exists behind the House of Blues. I’ve seen long lines at this venue, but never one that wrapped all the way around the building like this. The box office had opened at 3PM to allow fans to pick up their “will call only” tickets, and it was obvious that hundreds of fans had arrived much earlier than that.
Despite the line, everyone seemed to make their way inside in time to catch the opening set from Long Island’s NK (formally know as North Korea). The group is led by Ryan Hunter, the charismatic former lead singer of Envy on the Coast. Hunter’s previous band was an underground favorite that had unfortunately called it quits after only two albums in 2010. Hunter is joined in the band by Envy guitarist Brian Bryne, as well as Dilinger Escape Plan drummer Billy Rymer.
“Diverse” would be a good way to describe the band’s sound, as they bounced from Rage Against The Machine-like aggression to Incubus-esque polish, even including a slowed-down “island jam” towards the end of the set. The band’s performance was surprising in that it sounded almost nothing like any of the member’s previous work. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it also means it will be an uphill battle to establish the same type of fan base Envy On The Coast once enjoyed.
After thanking Fall Out Boy for the opportunity to open the show, NK made their way off stage as the countdown to the headliners began. There was very little movement in the crowd, as those who had waited hours in line for a good spot had already staked their claim to the prime viewing spots. As the break carried on past the standard half hour, everyone in attendance began to get antsy, until the lights and music finally cut off and a spotlight illuminated the giant white screen covering most of the stage.
Behind this screen, the shadows of the four band members could be seen as they made their way on stage to Jay-Z’s spoken word intro to “Thriller”. Soon enough, the white screen fell to the floor, revealing the band behind it and inspiring even louder and more ear-splitting shrieks from the crowd.
Lead singer Patrick Stump bounded up to the microphone to start the song while Pete Wentz jumped off a riser at the front of the stage and started spinning in circles like a top. Stump’s booming vocals, Wentz’s theatrics, the falling curtain and all of the flashing strobe lights made for an appearance completely befitting of a band that seems to relish this kind of spectacle.
While some things never change (Wentz’s penchant for showboating instead of actually playing the bass), some thing’s certainly have since the band’s early days. Lead singer Patrick Stump, for example, has always seemed rooted to the microphone stand and entirely uncomfortable in front of the screeming masses. There was also a time when he wasn’t that great of a singer. What a difference a few years and a couple of gold records makes.
The newly slimmed-down Stump literally stole the show, rendering Wentz an unlikely supporting character. When not belting out the huge choruses that make up most of the band’s songs, Stump was racing from one end of the stage to the other or jumping up on the risers, all the while keeping up with his responsibilities as the band’s rhythm guitarist.
Stump commented at the start of the show that he was starting to loose his voice and he would need the crowd’s help in singing along. If this is what his voice sounds like on a bad day, it’s hard to imagine what it sounds like on a good day. Stump handled just about all of the set’s 20 songs with ease, and if there were times when he was off, the crowd was too loud for anyone to notice.
The band did include all of their biggest songs, many of them coming early in the set, including “A Little Less 16 Candles A Little More Touch Me”, “This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race”, and “Grand Theft Autumn/Where Is Your Boy” (and wow does this band have some obnoxiously long song titles).
While it was nice to hear the hits, it was all of the non-hits the band played that made the set special. These tracks included “Disloyal Order Of The Water Buffalo” and “What A Catch Donnie” – both from 2008’s Folie a Deux. While the album may not have been as well received as their previous work (and was a big reason they went on hiatus), I think these tracks stack up well against anything else they’ve done, and the rest of the crowd seemed to agree based on their reaction.
Another of the show’s high water marks came in the form of “Hum Hallelujah” from 2007’s Infinity On High. Wentz dedicated the song to Boston, saying the city had “been through a lot over the last month”, and then stepped aside to let Stump’s soaring vocals to once again steal the spotlight.
While primarily focusing on newer material, the band did dust off a few choice cuts from their landmark 2003 effort Take This To Your Grave, including “Tell That Mick He Just Made My List Of Things To Do Today”. Many of those in the audience may have been under 10 years old when the record was released, but that didn’t stop these songs from inspiring huge sing-alongs that at times made Stump’s presence seem unnecessary.
The set came to a close with two more solid performances, beginning with a lively rendition of “I Don’t Care”, the Folie a Deux lead single that may have been a radio flop, but was very well received on this night. They then transitioned into current lead single “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light ‘Em Up)” – which has not suffered the same fate as “I Don’t Care”, selling over 1 million downloads since its release.
After making their way off stage for a quick break before the encore, the band returned to play “Save Rock And Roll” while the screens behind them displayed images of rock legends like the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, and Johnny Cash. While it seems ridiculous for a band like Fall Out Boy to be insinuating that they are carrying on in the same tradition as these heavyweights, you do have to appreciate the ambition. During the song, Stump did his best to channel another legend, pounding away at the piano and covering the vocals sang on the album by one Elton John.
Bringing down the curtain on the show was the duo of “Thnks Fr Th Mmrs” and “Saturday”, the Take This To Your Grave track that has served as the band’s set closing number for as long as anyone can remember. As is the norm, Wentz put down the bass during this song to climb into the crowd and pass the mic to those who had dedicated their entire Sunday to being close to the stage for the 90 minute set.
The band then took their bows and made their exit while many in the crowd lingered, hoping to find a stray guitar pick on the floor or the friends they lost track of at some point during the set.
If you were at the show, you would probably agree that Fall Out Boy’s comeback is looking like a huge success. Of course, when you are a band that was as big as Fall Out Boy was, you’re always bound to have a dedicated fan base that sticks with you and can help you pack smaller venues like this. The real test will come this fall, when the band embarks on a national arena tour, which will provide a good indication as to whether this comeback is going to be short-lived on whether the band really is primed to return as one of rock’s biggest acts.
Off With Their Heads
House of Blues Boston
May 18th, 2013
It feels like it’s been years since I’ve written a review on this blog. If you are wondering what caused the long absence, the answer is simple: I stopped going to shows. Just got tired of it. Too loud, too expensive, too time consuming – not worth the effort.
I’m kidding, of course. Since my last entry I’ve been to plenty of shows. Most of them have been awesome. There was Andrew McMahon playing his first solo show in Boston, Titus Andronicus tearing through a late-night set in Cambridge, and the The Bronx’s lead singer, Matt Caughthran, singing an entire song while crowd surfing when opening for Bad Religion at the House of Blues.
While these shows were great, none of them inspired me to finally sit down at the keyboard and hammer out a review. That changed when one of my all time favorites took the stage for what was likely one of the largest headlining shows they’ve played in years at the House of Blues in Boston.
That band is of course Alkaline Trio – an artist forever cursed by the fact that they released a number of excellent albums very early in their career. Since that time, every new record has been held to an unrealistically high standard and any attempt at refining their sounds or experimenting with a new approach is scorned by the fans who helped them become unlikely cult heroes.
For that reason, and despite a number of solid releases over the past few years, most Alkaline Trio fans would not argue the group is at the top of their game. Luckily for the band, you would have had no idea this was the case if you witnessed their latest Boston performance.
The night started with a 30 minute set from Off With Their Heads. Fresh off the release of their third album, the band seemed to be in a great spot to grow their fan base by bringing their brand of gruff punk rock to the Trio-worshiping masses. Strangely enough, lead singer Ryan Young had gone on the record as saying he wasn’t all that excited about the tour due to the unenthusiastic crowd reaction the band was likely to receive (read the interview here).
Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, but few in the crowd seemed excited by the band’s work. The Minneapolis quartet did seem to win over at least a few new fans with a very solid performance. The title track from their recent album Home was a mid-tempo show stopper while most other tracks featured the same frantic energy that made their last two records critical favorites.
Bayside was the primary support for the tour, which must have been an honor for a band that started their career sounding like a pretty decent Alkaline Trio tribute band.
They opened their set with “Devotion and Desire” – a song they have (obnoxiously) closed almost every show with over the past seven years. It did get the crowd moving and kicked off what would become the kind of set you’ve always wanted to see the band to play.
Instead of the the three static figures seemingly rooted to their microphones on stage that we’ve seen in the past, lead singer/guitarist Anthony Raneri, guitarist Jack O’Shea, and bassist Nick Ghanbarian made a concerted effort to move around the stage and look like they were interested in the songs they were playing. During the final song, Raneri even put down the guitar to climb down to the barrier with the mic and let the crowd sing along.
As is always the case, the band sounded great, and O’Shea’s fret board theatrics took center stage whenever the song called for a solo. The band surprisingly made no reference to their allegiances to New York sports teams – which was surprising considering the show was across the street from Fenway, and the Bruins and Rangers were set to square off in in game 2 of their second round playoff series the next day.
It was probably for the better as the band was able to pack 11 songs into their set, which primarily focused on 2011’s Killing Time and also included standout tracks from 2007’s The Walking Wounded and their self-titled record. They closed with a rousing version of “Dear Tragedy” to a rather massive applause.
Next up were the headliners. The last time the band was in Boston two year’s earlier, they played at the Paradise Rock Club, a venue less than half the size of the House of Blues. That’s why the venue choice seemed surprising when the tour was announced. Despite this, the venue was packed as fans jostled for space on the first floor and the balconies.
The band took the stage and kicked off the set as they often do – with the opening track from their most recent album. This time it was the bouncy “She Lied To The FBI” – which received a surprisingly good reaction from the crowd. They followed with b-side “Hell Yes” and then “Clavicle” – a huge fan favorite from their debut album which ratcheted up the energy level considerably. They then followed with two deep cuts from 2003’s Good Mourning in “If We Never Go Inside” and “Donner Party (All Night Long)”. For a big Good Mourning fan like myself, hearing these songs played live was a huge treat.
Right out of the gate, it was obvious the band was willing to switch up the set list quite a bit and wasn’t going to playing just the hits. By the end of the night, the band had completely ignored 2008’s Agony And Irony and 2010’s This Addiction, while playing nearly as many songs from Good Morning (4) as they did from the recently released My Shame Is True (5). It didn’t seem like anyone in attendance had a problem with this, as the band constantly commended the crowd on their effort and even threw in the “best show of the tour” designation at one point.
With the crowd in top form, the band didn’t disappoint with their performance. Guitarist Matt Skiba and bassist Dan Andriano traded vocal duties, with Dan sounding surprisingly good on his songs, notably “Crawl” and the new track “Young Lovers”.
The high point of the set (at least from where I was standing) was the 1-2 punch of “The Torture Doctor” and “My Friend Peter”. The two songs couldn’t be more different: the former is from the band’s latest album and features a huge, glossy chorus, while the latter is a 2 minute blast of punk energy from the band’s early catalog that has long been a fan favorite. The two choices, and the huge sing-alongs they inspired perfectly represented the band’s entire set – whether the song was new or old, the crowd ate up every minute.
Skiba and Co. have made it a point of closing most shows with one of two old favorites: “Radio” or “97”. On this night, the band treated the crowd to both. Skiba ended the night playing the last few cords on his back after leaping off the drum riser while drummer Derek Grant flung drum sticks to the outstretched hands on the floor.
At one point earlier in the set, Skiba had stopped to stare out at the huge crowd and remark “we’re not going to say we don’t like seeing so many of you here.” The sheer size of this show was a reminder of just how dedicated the band’s fan base is. Like many of those in attendance, I had seen Alkaline Trio plenty of times, and like everyone else, I’ll keep going back as long as they keep putting in solid performances like this.
2012 was a great year for live music in the Boston area. Here is the creme of the crop, according to me:
1. Refused at House of Blues Boston, July 20th
One of the greatest hardcore bands of all time proved that their reunion was not just a Cochella money grab when they announced an extensive world tour that stopped in Boston in August. Their 90 minute set was overwhelmingly intense. The aggression precision, and showmanship the band displayed defied every law that should govern a group of 40 year olds that had called it quits 14 years earlier. It would seem natural to say I wish I could have seen them in their prime, but I’m pretty sure this was it.
2. Bruce Springsteen at TD Garden, March 26th
There’s no such thing as a bad Bruce show, but a few factors made this one special. It was Sprinsteen’s first Boston show in three years and coincided with the release of his new album Wrecking Ball. While the tour would make multiple stops in New York and New Jersey, this was the only scheduled Boston show and had sold out in minutes. The three hours sets included a soul melody inspired by the band’s recent performance at the Apollo Theater, an epic encore with the house lights on, and everything else that has made Sprinsteen and Co. rock’s most consistent performers.
3. Motion City Soundtrack Double Header at Bamboozle Festival, May 19th
While there was no explanation as to why MCS was slated for two slots on the same stage at the Bamboozle Festival in Asbury Park, NJ, you weren’t going to hear any complaints from me. Their two appearances, one in the early afternoon and one much later at night, covered a good chunk of their discography and included very few repeats. They garnered the most enthusiastic crowd reaction that I saw all day, which is pretty impressive considering they were competing with the likes of the Foo Fighters on the main stage.
4. The Gaslight Anthem at the Middle East Downstairs, July 22nd
The Gaslight Anthem is way too big to be playing a 550 capacity venue, but that didn’t stop them from doing a small club tour in advance of their new album Handwritten this summer. Their show at the Middle East featured a lot of old tracks, previews or a few new ones, and a whole lot of sweat.
5. Jack’s Mannequin at El Rey Theater, November 11th
The band’s final two shows acted as a benefit for the Dear Jack Foundation and helped to raise $50,000 for childhood cancer research. Andrew McMahon and company’s second to last show featured a very well crafted career spanning set list that even included Something Corporate favorite “Konstantine”
6. Crime In Stereo and I Am The Avalanche at Gramercy Theater, November 24th
Crime in Stereo quietly called it a day in 2010, leaving their fans with little information as to why they had broken up or what they planned to do next. Their 2012 reunion was as unexpected as their breakup, and their first show back proved they still had it. An adrenaline packed opening set from local favorites I Am the Avalanche started things off on the right foot, and had the crowd ready for what would be a memorable 90 minute performance from the headliners. Their set mirrored their discography in that it was as haunting as it was powerful. Frontman Kristian Hallbert danced in and out of the venue’s brilliant, bliding spotlights while the rest of the band tore through each song as if they had never been apart.
7. Coldplay at TD Garden, July 29th
Chris Martin and Co. returned to the Garden for two sold out shows that featured all of the theatrics you would expect for $130 a ticket. This included light-up bracelets that were handed out to everyone in the arena, which the band controlled to made the show look a whole lot like the recently completed Olympic Opening Ceremony.
8. Fun at House of Blues Boston, April 21st
It’s not very often that you get to watch a hardworking band get the attention that they deserve, but that’s exactly what happened to fun in 2012. After their excellent debut album Aim and Ignite was largely ignored, a Super Bowl ad and a few radio spins helped fun become one of the year’s best success stories, and they made a stop in Boston just as their stock was about to shoot through the roof. The crowd’s reaction to the band’s every move made it obvious that a sold out show at the House of Blues was just the start of something very big.
9. Frank Turner at Royale, September 6th
Frank Turner also had a standout 2012, shooting from cult favorite to rock radio staple. He would play two sold out shows at Royale in September, and the first proved that the success certainly hasn’t gone to his head. Turner and the Sleeping Souls played great mix of songs new and old and made sure they weren’t overshadowed by opening act Larry and his Flash, who had put on a great show in their own right.
10. Bouncing Souls at House of Blues Boston, August 4th
While a half empty House of Blues may seem like a strange location for a Bouncing Souls show, the surprising absence of both bouncers and a barrier in front of the stage made for the what was easily the craziest show I’ve been to at the venue since it opened four years ago. After an excellent opening set from the Menzingers, the Bouncing Souls took the stage for what at first seemed like a snooze fest, as the band debuted a number of tracks from their recently released album Comet. When fans realized there would be no repercussions for making their way on stage, the stage diving competition was in session for the rest of the show.
Very Honorable Mentions
Say Anything, Murder By Death, Fake Problems at House of Blues Boston
Neon Trees at the Paradise
The Killers at Agganis Arena
Andrew Jackson Jihad at TT the Bears
Joyce Manor at TT the Bears
Morrissey – Wang Theater, Boston – October 5th, 2012
Morrissey has long been one of music’s most polarizing figures. To some,
he is a living legend and pop-culture icon. To others,
he is a self-absorbed ego maniac. Love him or loathe him,
you have to admit that part of Morrissey’s appeal lies in the fact that he is a
walking contradiction: a wildly successful rock star who sings
about misery and loneliness. That
contradiction is what brought thousands of adoring fans to Boston’s
striking Wang Theater to see the first date of Morrissey’s massive
North American tour. The trek will see him visit just about every major
and minor market across the country, culminating with a stop at the
Staples Center in Los Angeles.
While I’m not very well versed in the specifics of Morrissey’s set list
choices over the years, I do know that the former
Smiths frontman often sprinkles in a few choice cuts from his former
band. I also knew that he tends to stray away from the more
radio-friendly fare that helped make him a household name as a solo
artist in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
Beyond these unwritten rules, the possibilities seemed endless on the
first night of the tour. As Morrissey stepped out on to the stage
with his band following close behind, the crowd erupted. The cheers
got louder and louder as Morrissey calmly stepped to the front of the
stage to take a pre-show bow, and then kicked off the set with “You
Have Killed Me”.
From the very start, it was obvious that Morrissey had come to put on
a show, looking and sounding well rested and ready to tackle North
America for the first time in three years. He added a certain amount
of grit to his normally polished songs, often growling certain words
or lines for extra emphasis. His band was happy to play along, sounding
louder and heavier than on any recordings.
While the set was expertly performed, it would best be described as
“uneven” in terms of song selection and pacing. More upbeat fare
(maybe upbeat isn’t the word) such as “Every Day Is Like A Sunday” and
“I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris” garnered huge reactions from the
crowd and were some of the best moments of the set. However, most of
these songs came at the start of the night.
The show lost a good deal of momentum in the middle of the 90 minute set, as the
band strung together the quartet of “Last Night I Dreamt That Someone
Loved Me”, “Fantastic Bird”, “People Are The Same Everywhere”, ” And
“Meat Is Murder”. The latter featured a graphic animal cruelty video projected on the backdrop.
At that point, the crowd was getting anxious.
Morrissey and crew then segued into “Scandanavia,” which was one of four
songs that the band played that hadn’t been include on any other 2012 set list.
Following this, Morrissey broke out the Smith’s classic “I Know It’s
Over”, which sounded absolutely perfect and helped to revitalize the
crowd. The set would then close with “I’m OK By Myself”, the last
track from his most recent album, 2009’s excellent “Years of Refusal”.
By this point, many of those who had front row seats were rushing the
stage, and while the crew did their best to repel them, a few
did slip by to score an awkward embrace with the man himself.
After a short break, Morrissey and the band returned to the stage for
a one song encore, the Smiths track “How Soon Is Now”. Stretching nearly seven minutes long, the song gave the overly eager fans at the front another chance to bum-rush the stage, and they certainly took advantage of it.
At the conclusion of the song, Morrissey and the band joined arms and
took a post-show bow.
While the set certainly was not the feel good event of the year, most
fans got exactly what they were looking for out of this performance.
Both Morrissey’s vocals and his band were spot-on, and his stage
presence is unmatched. While this was far from a greatest hits set, it did represent a good
cross section of Morrissey’s career. While this appealed to the many
die-hard fans in attendance, the show probably wouldn’t win
over anyone who had been on the fence, but most of those people probably
made up their minds on Morrissey years ago.
Refused and Off! – House of Blues Boston – Friday July 21st, 2012
“The greatest band in the world right now.” “Unreal” “Best live show ever.”
The hyperbolic statements were everywhere, and I could only hope they were true. Refused hadn’t been a band in a very long time. After releasing what is arguably the greatest and most influential hardcore record of all time in 1998’s The Shape of Punk to Come, the band abruptly split up. They became the rare example of a band that would grow to be exponentially more popular once they were gone, and they hadn’t been heard from since.
When news leaked that the band would be reuniting for this year’s Cochella Festival, even long-time fans and those in the know seemed somewhat shocked, as band members had gone on the record as saying there was no chance they would ever share the same stage again.
Fast forward about six months, and their comeback has been tremendously well received. What was originally planned to be a one-off gig became a few shows in New York (which sold out almost instantly), and then a full blown world tour, including stops in major North American cities and large festivals throughout Europe.
Boston happened to be one of those North American cities, and the band was ready to play what was apparently their first (and most likely last) area show.
They were preceded by Off!, a band with an impressive legacy of its own. Frontman Keith Morris had at one point fronted Black Flag, while the other members of band cut their teeth in acts such as Burning Brides, Redd Kross, and Rocket From The Crypt. While they were on stage for less than 45 minutes, they had time to play about 15 songs. Morris did his best to psych up the crowd in between songs and get them ready for “The Refused”.
While the Off! was entertaining and Morris’s banter made him seem like a pretty likeable guy, it was obvious that most in the crowd hadn’t dove into Off!’s catalog in preparation for the show.
While Morris promised the headliners would be out in 15-20 minutes, standard House of Blues protocol applied, and the wait was actually 30. This was punctured by the lights going down fifteen minutes prior to the headliners taking the stage behind a giant black screen. During those fifteen minutes, a noticeable buzz was piped over the PA, and as the house lights slowly scanned downward the band could be seen through the transparent spots in the screen.
As they played the opening notes to “Worms Of The Senses/Faculties Of The Skull”, the screen fell and the crowd charged forward. As the seven minute epic ebbed and flowed, so did the energy of the crowd, building to a furry towards the end of the song as those at the front of the stage screamed “Let’s Take The First Bus Out Of Here” over and over again.
What followed were two of the night’s most intense numbers: the frantic “Refused Party Program” and the schizophrenic “Liberation Frequency.” It was here that frontman Dennis Lyxzén took control of the show, proving himself to be one of the most talented and charismatic lead singers I’ve ever seen.
While countless bands have attempted the sing/scream dynamic over the past decade, none have pulled it off with the surgical precision that Lyzen displayed, deftly moving between the band’s restrained verses and thundering chorus.
Lyxen’s vocal work was not the only impressive aspect of his performance. He moved around the stage with the energy, and in this case the furry, of a man half his age (he is 40). At one point he could be seen launching the mic into the air, only to leap from the drum riser to catch it on the way down. This was only slightly less impressive than his trip into the crowd, where he sang much of a song as he was held aloft by the fans below.
While most of the set was focused on the band’s magnus opus, they did play four tracks from Songs To Fan The Flames of Discontent, including the crushing “Hook, Line And Sinker.” These four songs were just as well received by the crowd as were the better known tracks from The Shape of Punk To Come.
The band would close their set after 12 songs with “The Shape Of Punk To Come” and make their way off stage. Those towards the first front of the venue found themselves covered in sweat, thoroughly exhausted, and most importantly, 100% ready to expand whatever energy they had left on the band’s two song encore.
Returning to the stage after a longer-than average wait, Refused started with the long intro to “New Noise”, which garnered a roar from the crowd as they readied for complete chaos. By the time the band hit the first chorus, the amount of adrenaline in the room could have matched an Olympic weight lifting session.
The show would then come to a climatic ending with another epic number, the 8-minute long Tannhäuser / Derivè. With its multiple peaks and valleys and changes in pace, the song perfectly represents Refused’s work as a whole and ended the set on a high note.
The band came together at the front of the stage to take a bow and soak in the crowd’s enthusiasm. Throughout the show, Lyxzén had discussed the band’s very political lyrics and how they still seemed as relevant today as they did back in 1997. The Shape Of Punk To Come was years ahead of its time, and to this day, no band has been able to match it.
It’s very rare that a group playing this type of music is mentioned in the “best band’s in the world right now” discussion, but with their stunning live show, Refused have staked their claim to a spot at the top of that list. It is even more impressive when you consider how long the band was away, and how short-lived the reunion is likely to be. The band has added another chapter in what was already a very impressive story, and with their live show, they’ve once again set the bar so high it’s hard to imagine it being matched anytime soon.
For the past week, I had obsessively searched Ticketmaster.com hoping a few more tickets would be released for the Neon Trees May 7th show at the Paradise in Boston. I had wanted to see the band since I had first listened to their debut EP “Habits” nearly two years earlier, but apparently not enough to realize they had announced a Boston show back in March.
Each time I searched, I received the same dreaded “Sorry, No Exact Matches Were Found” screen, every ticket buyers worst nightmare. By the morning of the show, I figured I had missed my shot, but I kept searching anyway. At around 11am, two tickets finally popped up. I was in.
I then hit play on their latest album, the long awaited Picture Show. Like Habits, it has a few duds, but it also has moments of pure genius, which come in the form of songs that are infectious, brash, and poignant all at the same time. These songs give Neon Trees the markings of a band that could establish themselves as pop mainstays in the vein of the Killers or All American Rejects. Staying power, however, was the last thing on anyone’s mind as the crowd filed into the packed Paradise.
While I missed the first opener, I did make it in time to see the 45+ minute set from AWOLNATION. I didn’t know much about the band, other than the fact they had built a decent fan base and experienced some mainstream notoriety. They were undoubtedly part of the reason tickets for the show had been so hard to come by.
I walked away very impressed by mastermind Aaron Bruno and company’s performance. They mix elements of the current dance/electronic/whatever you call it with alternative rock and big choruses, and the result is a set of songs that can appeal to a very wide audience, even on first listen. Bruno worked the crowd relentlessly, and he seemed to feed off the energy of the fans in the first few rows. He even jumped in to join them on a number of occasions.
After AWOLNATION left the stage, Neon Trees somehow took 45 minutes to appear on stage. When they did, they did so in style, with lead singer Tyler Glenn sporting a pair of gigantic sunglasses, neon mohawk, and LED-lit mic stand. They opened with the first two tracks from Picture Show,”Moving In The Dark” and “Teenage Sounds.”
The crowd bobbed their heads, and some sang along, but things didn’t really get started until the band broke into Habits’ opening track “Sins Of My Youth.” I must say that I am partial to this song, so it was one of the highlight of the night for me. At one point Glenn grabbed the mic from the stand and dropped to one knee, repeatedly chanting the song’s bridge and asking the audience “would you love me still?” The crowd ate it up.
After a (likely fictional) account of how Glenn had met and subsequently lost his dream girl at their last Boston show, the band launched into their latest single, “Everybody Talks.” The song has achieved its fair share of “commercial” success, having been featured in a recent Buick TV spot, and it was obvious that its huge chorus has already made it a fan favorite.
Following this was another new track, “Mad Love,” which featured Glenn and drummer Elaine Bradley trading lines throughout the song. Shortly afterwards, Glenn picked up an acoustic guitar to strum the chords to “Your Surrender” as the rest of the band left the stage. Unfortunately, the track didn’t translate very well as a stripped-down version, and the crowd started to get restless.
Things soon got back up to speed, as the band continued to focus on songs from their new album, including 80’s throwback “Weekend” and “Lessons In Love”. The new cuts received a solid reaction from the crowd, and the band seemed very comfortable playing the new material in a live setting.
None of the new tracks, however, could compare to the sets closing number. As a preface to the song, Glenn commended the fans for being the sole reason why it had somehow hit the top of alternative charts and become inescapable over the past two years. As soon as the quintet played the opening notes to “Animal”, everyone in the building basically went crazy, and continued to do so until the band walked off stage.
While they had already played what is obviously their biggest hit, Glenn and Co. returned for the obligatory encore, a treat in the form of Habits “1983”. While the set had lasted just over 60 minutes, Neon Trees has successfully appeased fans by playing a mix of very familiar tracks from their debut album, along with the strongest materials from Picture Show. Glenn performed with the energy of an unknown singer on a festival stage – absolutely determined to give the crowd a reason to come back. Whether they continue to enjoy the same mainstream success that “Animal” has provided remains to be seen. Either way, the fans in attendance at The Paradise are sure to come back for more next time the band is in town.