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.
These are my favorite records of 2010. Looking back at last year’s list, I realize this was a great 12 months of music.
1. Fake Problems – Real Ghosts Caught on Tape
Both lyrically and musically, this record is so much better than Fake Problem’s earlier work, it might as well be a different band. From awful to awesome in one album flat? Not exactly, but you get the idea.
Favorite line: “If Confidence is key, I must be locked out of the house. If home is where the heart is, I do not have a pulse” – “ADT.”
2. Eminem – Recovery
I’m not a rap fan (surprising, I know). In fact, Eminem’s Recovery is one of the only rap albums I own. However, I can say that no matter which genre you prefer, it’s impossible to ignore the statement that Eminem made with this record. Lyrically, it’s ridiculously angry, but somehow completely upbeat and positive at the same time.
Favorite line: “He’s married to the game, like a fuck you for Christmas, his gift is a curse” – “Not Afraid.”
3. Foxy Shazam – Foxy Shazam
The catchiest record of the year comes from the weirdest band of the year. Need proof? Either listen to their album, or see them live. Lead singer Eric Nally routinely smokes four cigarettes on stage, and then eats them.
Favorite line: “Baby, you look like a zebra” – live show
4. Tokyo Police Club – Champ
The first half of this record contains what are easily my favorite songs of the year. Too bad the second half doesn’t quite measure up. Still a great listen containing all of the quirks you would expect from Tokyo Police Club.
Favorite line: “I’m on your side, but only for a while, of course. You never use words you can’t afford, a house of cards and it’s a sign” – “Wait Up (Boots of Danger).”
5. Motion City Soundtrack – My Dinosaur Life
A complete return to form after the so-so Even if it Kills Me. I’m pretty sure the quality of their records is directly proportional to the amount of swearing Justin Pierre does. And he swears a ton on this record.
Favorite line: “It’s been a good year, a good new beginning. I’m through with the old school so let’s commence the winning.” -“Worker Bee.”
6. Steel Train – Steel Train
Steel Train’s transformation from jam band to one of today’s best rock bands is nothing short or remarkable. This is their strongest work to date.
Favorite line: “You and I both are nothing but thieves. We take what we want when we need.” -“Bullet.”
7. Off With Their Heads – In Desolation
In my opinion, Off With Their Heads are the ideal rock band. Everything they play is short, fast and loud.
Favorite line: “So I just drive. It doesn’t matter where. I put my foot to the floor let the wind blow through my hair” – “Drive.”
8. Fireworks – All I Have to Offer Is My Own Confusion
While pop-punk has grown a bit stale in recent years, you wouldn’t know it by listening to Firework’s newest full-length. This is the album that even bands like New Found Glory wish they could write. It’s basically a 12 song party. And it’s my kind of party, because there are enough sarcastic one-liners for everyone in attendance.
Favorite line: “Without this bad knee I wouldn’t have a good one. These vices don’t hold me down. They fucking carry me” – “When We Stand on Each Other We Block Out the Sun.”
9. The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang
While it doesn’t quite pack the punch of their 2008 breakout The ’59 Sound, this is another admirable effort from New Jersey’s new favorite son’s.
Favorite Line: “For the hub city girls in the ribbons and the curls, who know the meaning of staying out late. They know the meaning of staying out very, very late” – “The Diamond Church Street Choir.”
10 Hot Hot Heat – Future Breeds
Talk about a comeback. With this record, Hot Hot Heat took everything that made their pre-Happiness Limited material so much fun, injected it with pure caffeine, and then threw it in a blender. The result was an immensely enjoyable and twisted record.
Favorite line: “So much, so much for dying before you’re 30, or 27 like Jan and Jim. Get on it. Where’s your iconic
all too ironic romantic tragedy recorded quadraphonic?” -“Implosionatic.”
At any given Bad Religion show, there is a good chance that the band has been around longer than the majority of those who bought tickets. Celebrating their 3oth year in operation, the punk legends continue to produce quality albums and grow their fan base. Their continued success can be attributed to the fact that the band’s recent work is some of their best. The Dissent of Man, which hit shelves in September, is no exception. Touring in support of their new album, the band stopped at the House of Blues in Boston to prove that they might be old, but they can still tear it up.
The night started off with a half hour performance from Minneapolis’s Off With Their Heads. Unfortunately, an early start time meant that I wasn’t able to catch their set. However, I can say that if you like Bad Religion and haven’t checked out this band, you should. Their recent album “In Desolation” is a great punk record.
Next up were The Bouncing Souls. Having just celebrated a milestone 20th anniversary themselves, this is another band that knows something about longevity. To most in the crowd, pairing the Bouncing Souls and Bad Religion made for a dream combination, and the Jersey veterans didn’t disappoint with their set.
Racing through 15 songs, the band’s 45 minutes on stage seemed to fly by. The diehard fans at the front loved every moment of their career spanning set, as the band reached deep into their back catalog and pulled out favorites such as 1994’s “Some Kind of Wonderful” and 1997’s “Kate is Great” and “East Coast Fuck You.”
While lead singer Greg Attonito and Co. will never be accused of having great stage presence, the frontman did jump down to the barrier on a number occasions to pass the mic and get the crowd involved. The Bouncing Souls weren’t built to play a cavernous venue like the House of Blues, but they did their best to make the show feel like the sweaty punk shows their fans are accustomed to.
While the first part of their set featured older crowd favorites, the band closed with “Never Say Die/When You’re Young,” a song off their most recent album. The Bouncing Souls are lucky to have a fan base that has grown with them as their sound has changed over the years, and the audience’s reaction to this song was a testament to that.
Quickly after the Bouncing Souls had left the stage their fans began to shuffle to the back of the venue while hundreds of others rushed to the front in anticipation of what would be another great set from Bad Religion.
The band made their appearance on stage and didn’t waste any time before jumping into the fast and aggressive “Do What You Want.” The 1-minute blast from 1988’s Suffer instantly opened a giant circle pit in the middle of the floor that would rage on all night.
Like the Bouncing Souls before them, Bad Religion did their best to please everyone, playing a diverse mix of hit singles and crowd favorites, along with earlier material and the best tracks from The Dissent of Man. Needless to say, nearly every song was well received by the crowd, many of whom shouted along to every word.
While lead singer Greg Graffin may be a published author and UCLA professor by day, he steals the show on stage each night. In between sarcastic “I’m too old for this” jabs, he belted out song after song, never missing a step. Having last played Boston four years earlier, Gaffin did quite a bit of in-between song reminiscing, and even dedicated “Avalon” to the venue of the same name that was recently replaced by the House of Blues.
Popular tracks such as “21st Century Digital Boy,” “Atomic Garden” and set closer “American Jesus” inspired the biggest circle pits of the night. The fact that some of these songs were older than the fans moshing along was almost as impressive as how the songs sounded live.
At the conclusion of “American Jesus,” the band left the stage, but the usual calls for “one more song'” didn’t follow. It seemed as if those at the front were too exhausted to play that game. Gaffin and Co. did return however, all be it in less than dramatic fashion. What followed was easily one of the best encores I’ve ever seen.
This encore included a trio of Bad Religion’s very best, beginning with the rousing “Infected,” moving to the anthemic “Los Angeles is Burning” and finishing with the band’s most notable hit, “Sorrow.” I personally couldn’t have asked for anything more. It was the perfect way to end a 27 song set that had moved at a frantic pace.
With 30 years and 15 albums under their belt, you would expect a band like Bad Religion be slowing down, maybe even resting on their laurels. This obviously is not the case. Their current tour proves that they remain one of punk’s most vital acts. Not only have they inspired many of today’s top acts, they continued to show them how it’s done.