Better Than: Any of the crap under the misapplied "emo" rubric these days
Any number of swoop-haired bands of the current Warped Tour generation may, perhaps, boast more Internet "friends," but few can even hope for the longevity of Saves the Day and Alkaline Trio. The members of both these latter acts hoever in age just around 30, but with over a decade each in the biz, serve as a welcome reminder of a time when "emo" still sounded like a rightful offshoot of punk. But disregard genre tags -- the two bands impressed last night, avoiding gimmickry and cheese in favor of superior musicianship, stage presence, and songwriting.
Most of the folks in the audience, meanwhile, were in their mid-twenties, had grown up with the bands, and were noticeably tripping out over processing thesefacts. There was much overheard talks along the lines of "I would go into the pit, but," or, "my days of ___ are over," or even, "Man, I feel like I'm going to prom next week!" Still, despite the very turn-of-millennium-seeming bill, not everything was a blast from the past.
The very contemporary Nightmare of You, a quartet from New York City via Long Island, opened. Their sound is at a marked contrast to that of their tourmates, an indie rock that alternates between jangly and funk-touched guitar. With this slightly experimental bent, it took the crowd a while to thaw. It did, by set's end, but that's when the band turned back to its more straightforward earlier material -- once upon a time, Brandon Reilly was the guitarist for pop-punk Long Island favorites the Movielife.
The biggest surprises came from Saves the Day, up next. While the band faced a recent near-break-up (again) after the departure of longtime guitarist David Soloway, frontman Chris Conley and co. soldier on. Replacement axeman Arun Bali looks a little like a tan Soloway -- he's similarly tall and skinny to Conley's shorter and sturdy. Live, he's also a competent musical replacement (although it remains to be seen if, on the band's new album, he will match Soloway's distinctive writing chops).
Conley's performance style, meanwhile, stands in contrast to that of most of his musical eers. His lyrics may often be irretrievably grim, but live he's clearly happy, almost chipper. It works -- his obvious gratitude for being able to perform comes across and humble and intensely likeable.
He also clearly considers his fans. When I interviewed him last week, he said the set list would focus more on the band's latter-day material, which would have upset many of the lifers in the crowd at Revolution. And indeed, there was a song or two from 2006's Sound the Alarm and 2007's Under the Boards, as well as the two best songs from 2003's In Reverie -- "Anywhere With You" and "What Went Wrong."
But to the jostling, sing-along delight of rabid Saves the Day acolytes, there were some welcome dips into the band's back catalog. From 2001's watershed Stay What You Are there was the expected "Freakish," the less expected "Firefly," and the unexpected "Cars and Calories." (The most obvious number from this album, "At Your Funeral," was omitted.) And from further back was the 2000 single "Shoulder to the Wheel," and even "Holly Hox, Forget Me Nots," from 1999's Through Being Cool. And as melodic as these songs are, they've long struck a weird chord with tougher guys -- plenty of tattoos and beards swirled below into a boisterous almost-pit.
The only low point here was the performance of bassist Manuel Carrero. He hung at the back of the stage and played accurately, though listlessly, visible bored or annoyed. It was a strange contrast to his recent appearance in South Florida this past March, when he enthusiastically played the same venue as a member of Thursday. Regardless, it didn't cramp Conley's style, and although the crowd chanted for an encore, there wasn't one. (Not even a fake one.) It was time for Alkaline Trio.
Similar to Saves the Day, Alkaline Trio's set spanned its discography. "Burn," from 2005's Crimson, "Fatally Yours," from 2003's Good Mourning, and "I'm Dying Tomorrow," from 2001's From Here to Infirmary were just a few of the older cuts interspersed with material from teh band's latest, last year's Agony & Irony.
Not that this was a nostalgia show. Alkaline Trio's strength has been in hanging tales of self-loathing and mild alcoholism on deceptive pop hooks, and the chronological variety of the set list just reinforced that. And more than a few under-21s were visibly into it, as it should be. By maintaining the respect of old fans and still gaining new ones, both Alkaline Trio and Saves the Day can bet on more years of happily received music-making.
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Personal Bias: I suppose I'm one of those sensitive types with a specific, personal connection to Saves the Day.
Random Detail: There's usually a Matt Skiba dress-alike in the crowd of an Alkaline Trio show; I spotted at least one.
By the Way: Nightmare of You's second album, Infomaniac, is due out in July.