Skip School, Start Fights, Hit the Lights

I still remember the first time I saw them play, this tiny band from Lima, Ohio. I had “discovered” them on Purevolume early that semester. It was just a few demos, but I was totally sold.

It was the last day of spring semester in 2004. I had an exam scheduled for around 10 AM in Blacksburg, VA and a show the be at by 6 PM in Virginia Beach. I drove to the exam with my bags packed and ready to go. I flew through the exam, finishing first in the 100 person History of Architecture lecture hall (I aced it by the way.), and hit the road. I flew down the highway, first Interstate 81N, then Interstate 64E, stopping only when my bladder was on the verge of a spontaneous, involuntary eruption.

When I arrived at my parents house, I don’t even think I stopped to say “Hello” before hopping into a friend’s blue Mini Cooper S. We left my parents house and motored a short distance to another, notoriously indecisive friend’s house to fill out our roster. As we were pulling out of his driveway, intent on leaving him behind, he raced to car. Just in time. Somehow, we managed to avoid the Hampton Roads bridge tunnel traffic heading to the Virginia Beach oceanfront. As we paid our tickets and walked into the venue, we could see the band setting up. Perfect timing. Seconds later, they struck the first chord. Then they killed it.

That band that I raced to see, breaking every traffic law possible along the way? Well, they’re called Hit the Lights. Over the next few years, my friends and I saw them every chance we could. I’m pretty sure the took over the top spot as the band I had seen more than any other. They played in Virginia often and they always put on a good show. Plus these were the days of sub $10 ticket prices. Even a starving college student can afford that every once in a while.  

It got to the point where the band would recognize my friends and I, going so far as to invite us to their van to hear a pre-release version of 2006’s This is a Stick Up... Don’t Make it a Murder. If memory serves me correctly, we(stupidly) declined the offer because we were late for a party. There was probably a girl involved. It probably didn’t work out well for anyone.     

Fast forward to last Thursday afternoon. I get a text from my buddy informing me that Hit the Lights “Skip School Start Fights” tour was coming through the Bay Area in a few hours. Ignoring all of my responsibilities and plans for the evening, I obviously agreed to join him that night on an adventure into the suburbs of the East Bay.

The show took place at the Red House in Walnut Creek, AKA the rich white suburb. I had heard rumors of this venue over the years, often wondering why a band would choose to play there instead of San Francisco or Oakland, but I’d never been. I have to say, getting off BART to walk the the venue was surreal. It was like walking into a modern day Pleasantville or the set of a bad CBS sitcom. Everything looked as if it were less than 10 years old and was perfectly clean. I think dust is afraid to venture into of Walnut Creek. Even the Sports Authority looks welcoming.

Deftly maneuvering through Walnut Creek with the help of Apple maps, we managed to find Red House. For the record, the venue is neither red nor a house, but is instead a strange scene kid utopia stuck next to a dry cleaners in a strip mall.

This is the kind of place I wish I had access to as a teenager. This place does everything. It’s a recording studio. They teach kids to play instruments (In case you were interested, Jason Moss, guitarist of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies teaches here. You’re welcome for that trip back in time.). They have something that they call the Whammy Bar that seems more like a suburban coffee shop than a bar. They sell $5 tallboys, so I’m not complaining. Oh yeah, they have a pretty cool little venue rock venue too. Like I said, this place is a teenage scenester utopia.

As cool as this place is for the kids of Walnut Creek, it was a little awkward for an (almost) 30 year old. I honestly think the “Say It Like You Mean It” era Starting Line shirt I was wearing was older than half of the kids at this place. After seeing a few familiar faces in the crowd and a beer or two, I got over it.

Due to our arduous trip from San Francisco... and the early start time... we missed 3 of the 4 opening bands. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t too upset about this. I hadn’t heard of any of the opening bands and I was on a mission to see Hit the Lights.

That doesn’t mean I couldn’t be pleasantly surprised. As we walked in to the Red House, we were greeted with sweet sounds of Lodi, California’s Second to Last. Yes, the same Lodi from Sons of Anarchy. No, Jax Teller was not in the audience. It took me a few songs to warm up the the band, but by the last few songs they had me hooked. Live, Second to Last sounds alot like really old Blink-182. On Spotify, they sound like honest, straightforward Pop-punk. Not too poppy. Not too punk. Somewhere in between.

Second to Last reminds me of a more modern version of some of the best local bands I was lucky enough to see in high school. That is not a dig at Second to Last. I still think some of those local Hampton Roads, VA bands were better than bands that had a huge amount of mainstream success. Hopefully, Second to Last will have more luck than those bands. Based on the industry connections they seem to have, they probably will.

A PBR tallboy later and it was time for the main event, Hit the Lights. Nick, Omar and company hit the stage with a fervor typically only seen in much larger, much more crowded venues. I always appreciate a band that can put it’s best foot forward in any situation.

This show was a part of Hit the Lights’ “Skip School, Start Fights” tour. Why that album? The band let it’s fans vote on which album they wanted to hear the band play in it’s entirety. “Skip School, Start Fights” won in a landslide. Very Cool.

True to the tour’s name, the band started with “Count It” and played album from start to finish. As they played, an initially hesitant crowd committed full force. Hit the Lights is one of those bands that plays with an infectious energy. As a member of the crowd, it’s virtually impossible not to enjoy... and get into... the performance. For anyone who knows their songs, a Hit the Lights show is a night in paradise.

For these of you who are unfamiliar with the band, Hit the Lights is a bright spot in the otherwise Pop Punk wasteland of the late 2000’s. Like many of the bands during that era, they are incredibly poppy, but they do it right. Much like New Found Glory, Hit the Lights first few records mix poppy, but surprisingly heavy instrumentals with disturbingly catchy vocals. Their latest record “Invicta” is a straight up pop record. Don’t get me wrong, its a great record, but it can hardly be classified as pop punk. Oh, and they sound great live.

The band concluded their performance with a few older songs from their breakout album “This Is a Stick Up... Don’t Make it a Murder.”  It is interesting to note the between “This is a Stick Up” and “Skip School” the band changed singers. Original vocalist Colin Ross left the band in 2007. Nick Thompson, one of the band’s original guitarists, stepped into the void and filled Colin’s shoes perfectly. The transition was seamless, seeming more like a natural progression of the band than the introduction of new singer. In a genre as vocal driven as Pop Punk, this was a welcome surprise. It is a testament to Thompson and the rest of Hit the Lights that the were able to progress so effectively after losing one of the band’s key members.

The band concluded their set with an earth shattering rendition of their 2006 hit “Body Bag”. Like any good show, I was only disappointed by the fact that the show had come to an end. I guess it was time for the preteens to go to bed. I can’t say I was complaining, I had to be at Modern Industry bright and early to deal with you jerks. I kid.

Hit the Lights recently signed with the Bay Area’s own Pure Noise records. This week they entered the studio to record their fourth full length album, which is set to come out this fall. Don’t worry, I’ll let you know when it happens.

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