Tonight I woke up feeling lighter, having exorcised some demons with four hours of pop punk bands at The Fonda last night. The show featured one of best touring lineups of the year – Seaway, Knuckle Puck, Moose Blood, Real Friends and my all-time faves The Wonder Years. I’m pretty familiar with all these bands to some degree (and the new Moose Blood is easily in my top 10 AOTY so far) and I recently gave the Real Friends a spin as it had passed me by this May. But it was TWY that led me here, and also helped me unload a spare ticket for $30 as the show had sold out the day before. Demand was hot, and the crowd was young and hungry.
I loved the set from Moose Blood, the first that I caught for the night. I unfortunately missed most of Seaway while waiting in the line that wrapped the corner off of Hollywood Boulevard, but I could see the set streaming on a projection screen at The Fonda’s (very awesome and friendly) rooftop bar. When I got in, grabbed a beer and found my way to the middle of the pack for Moose Blood, I waited for about 60 seconds before they took the stage to cheers to play “Bukowski,” the song that made me love them. I sang along, so did most of the crowd, and their British accents made the whole thing that much more charming. It was one of the tightest pop punk bands I’ve seen in awhile, on par with The Menzingers, with every guitar solo and counterpoint riff nailed to a tee.
I caught the members of Moose Blood mingling with some fellow Brits at the upstairs bar during Knuckle Punk. They seemed like friendly and fun people. I meandered a bit before catching Real Friends downstairs, positioning myself in the back of the room to get a full view of the crowd losing their shit. Scenes like this fill me and thrill me in ways I cannot fully describe — there’s some nostalgia there, for sure, but I also just love seeing people let go. I love it when we drop our facades. I love the mysterious, symbiotic energy between a performer and an audience, a necessary ingredient for a killer shower.
As for Real Friends, I’m so glad I circled back to them — “The Home Inside My Head” is straight-up pop punk with loud guitars and evocative lyrics, but a really melodic sensibility. It’s more aggressive than other counterparts in the new school, such as Moose Blood, but not venturing too far into screaming territory like some of their label mates. There’s a lot more maturity in these tracks compared to their past songs, and they’re at their best when they are grappling with inner turmoil in triumphant, move-forward fashion. Their show channeled this torment, and frontman Dan Lambton is a ball of energy capable of commanding an audience through a long set with his vulnerability on his sleeves. They opened with “Mess,” which is probably my favorite track from them to date. He sings: “Last year I was a trainwreck, now I’m just a mess/I’m letting go so I don’t lose myself/I’m starting to be where I need to be.”
But of course, it was The Wonder Years who kept me captivated. I spend the first three songs of their set (the acoustic title track “No Closer to Heaven,” then the upbeat “Local Man Ruins Everything,” and “I Don’t Like Who I Was Then”) about six rows back, shouting and being thrashed about with other fans I probably had a good six to 10 years on. God it felt so fucking good! I tossed any notions of age-appropriate behavior out the window and got right in the pit, at least until my shitty right knee started acting up (Don’t get old, kids). I spent the rest of the show near the right side of the room with reasonable amounts of personal space, and while I jammed and danced and jumped and sang where appropriate, sometimes I just had to stand in awe and let the performance take over.
“Cigarettes and Saints,” which is probably my favorite track of NCTH, was a stunning, emotional performance, proving Dan Campbell’s frontman abilities are only growing with time. He pushed through the screaming of the bridge and let his natural cracks and shake channel the message of a generation lost in the margins with ferocity and aplomb. Campbell is still playing around with his “choreography,” swinging mic cords this way and that, fumbling with the stand, conducting the audience when they’re singing along (not an exclusive move but a good one nonetheless) and repeatedly standing tall with arms outstretched. The band brought their A-game, and the drumroll of the “Patsy Cline” chorus gave me thrice the chills it did in the recorded version. The harmonies and back-up vocals were emphatic and clear and aggressive, and the occasional bursts of fiery-looking smoke accompanied a stellar light show from the touring lighting manager. I screamed real hard to “Dismantling Summer,” a song from 2013’s “The Greatest Generation” that pulled me through a tumultuous 2015 season.
By the time they closed the set with “Palm Reader” and “Passing Through a Screen Door,” I was too tired to mosh and lose it, so I just sort of stood their gaping and mouthing the words. Giant balloons were released from sidestage, and they bounced around the crowd to the stage and back again, as the players hit them back toward us. Some of balloons popped on top of their gear. It was weird and magical and perfect, I felt lost and utterly found. The show met my expectations musically but pummeled me with unexpected purpose, a necessary salve to wounds I thought had long ago healed. I sort of wanted to cry. Maybe I did and don’t remember. But that is the power of live performance and evocative art and stellar poetry — it will unlock the things you are too scared or too numb to feel anymore in the light of the dull, boring, ever-numbered days.
“The future feels bright
Like the glow of a city
Out across the Great Plains,
Where the closer I get, the further I feel away.
I could stay here in the darkness.
Feels like I’m wandering in circles for days.
I may never reach the gates.
I’ll keep walking anyway.
I’m no closer to Heaven.”
~No Closer To Heaven
The Wonder Years, No Closer To Heven