Twisted in an Urban Wasteland

// Before I start talking about the performances, I need to make note of something peculiar I noticed during the show.  With the exception of the drum kits, all of the bands played with the same equipment.  While this may seem like a small thing, it definitely reduced the time between bands.   As a fan and consumer, I really appreciate this.  There’s nothing worse than having to wait 30 minutes for a band to set up.  I have no idea why they chose to do this, nor do I care, but I really appreciate it.  To all of the bands who played Wednesday night, I say thank you.

I arrived late, after watching the Presidential debate, and the first band I got to see was Such Gold from Rochester, New York.  I had heard of the band before, but had yet to hear them so this was a new experience for me.  Based solely on the performance, they seemed like a band with a lot of potential, but in search of an identity.  After doing a little research in order to write this, I have come to the conclusion that impression may have been caused the fact that their newest album is a stylistic departure from their first.
To their credit, Such Gold took the stage with a lot of energy and it was obvious that they had some incredibly dedicated fans.  While they were a minority, the fans enthusiasm gave me the feeling that I need to hear more from these guys.  They will definitely be on my radar in the future.

Such Gold was followed by Flint, Michigan’s The Swellers.  I was first introduced to the Swellers sometime in 2007 by friends Matt Caratachea and Mark Myers.  At the time, the Pop Punk genre was dominated by bands like All Time Low who put way more emphasis on the Pop than the Punk.  Don’t get me wrong, that kind of music definitely has a place and, frankly, I enjoy quite a bit of it. Unfortunately, it was oversaturating the airwaves at the time.

The Swellers presented us with a refreshing change of pace.  They played a variety of music that more closely resembled vintage No Use for A Name than New Found Glory.  In fact, to my unrefined palate, the Swellers sounded like a logical, welcome progression in a part of the genre that was all but forgotten.

Since then, they have continued to grow on that strong foundation.  I will have to admit that on upon first listen their most recent full length Good for Me lacked some of the raw energy that I had grown to love.  Over time the record has grown on me and I have come to enjoy the album and the single “The Best I Ever Had” quite a bit.

The Swellers took the stage with the kind of intensity that their fans have come to expect.  As they played, you could see Strung Out fans inching closer and closer to the stage.  They were impressed, no doubt, with the pure showmanship that these guys possess.

Their set list included  great mix of songs from their last three albums.  Fans were also treated to a surprise collaboration between two members of the Swellers and two members of Strung Out.  The quartet covered No Use For a Name’s “Justified Black Eye” in memory of recently deceased Bay Area legend Tony Sly.

Fans were also treated to a single off the bands upcoming album Running Out of Places to Go.  The album, which will be released on October 16(?), was recorded without the support of a record label.  According to the band, this was done in order to achieve a higher degree of creative freedom.  The single, called “Making Waves”, seems to make reference to the bands struggle for creative autonomy. I can only hope that this decision will allow the band to find the energy that so many of their fans have come to love.  If the single is any indication, they certainly have

I can say with a great deal of certainty, that I have never been disappointed by a performance by the Swellers and this show was no exception.  My only wish would have been to hear them play “Welcome Back Riders” from their album Ups and Downsizing.  The song has been a sentimental favorite of mine since the albums 2009 release.  I am making a plea for them to play it next time they come through town.  Please?

Next, Strung Out hit the stage with the kind of chemistry that takes 20 years to develop.  If my memory serves correct, I have been listening to this band since Scott Parker introduced them to me in the summer of 2007.  It wasn’t until a few years later that I really dove into the black hole that is independent music scene and when I did Strung Out quickly took a definitive place in my music catalog.

Strung Out’s early albums Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues and Twisted by Design have always been favorites.  I don’t think I’ve gone a month over the past 12 years without listening to at least one of these two albums.  I actually remember arguing repeatedly with my longtime friend Fuzz Worley about which album was better.  I don’t thing we every decided conclusively.

With my historic adoration of those two albums, Strung Out put together the perfect, nostalgic set on Wednesday night.  They played Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues, then they played a cover, then they played Twisted by Design.  While that review may seem a bit stunted, that is all a fan of either album needs to hear to be totally stoked and envious of the experience.

It is a testament to Strung Out’s endurance and professionalism that they were able to accomplish this feat.  Keep in mind that Strung Out has been together for over 20 years.  In typical punk fashion, most of the songs on these two albums come in at around 2.5 minutes.  These 2.5 minutes are played at 100 MPH and filled with a rollercoaster ride of emotion.  If it’s any indication, front man Jason Cruz looked as if he had been caught out in a hurricane by the end of the set.  He was so wet that liquid was literally dripping off of his clothing as he left the stage at the end of the show.

To make the performance even more impressive, Strung Out typically played 3-4 songs in a row without stopping.  When they did stop to tune or change instruments, they usually interrupted Jason’s monologues with the next song’s first notes.  It was almost is if they band shared the same rapt anticipation as the crowd.

The night (and from what I can tell the entire tour) was a tribute to the aforementioned Tony Sly.  In addition to playing “Justified Black Eye” during the Swellers set, Nick Diener of the Swellers replaced Jason Cruz just before the start of “Too Close to See” to cover No Use For a Name’s “Soulmate.”  I find this kind of collaboration to be, well, really cool as it serves to create a special place for the tour in the memories of the audience.

I can still vividly remember watching Brand New and Taking Back Sunday take the stage together at the now defunct 929 Café in Richmond, VA during the summer of 2002.  My memory would be much more clouded if it were not for the unexpected performances that had the singers sing back up on each other’s closing song.  Strung Out and The Swellers will undoubtedly occupy a similar place in my heart for years to come.

The show which culminated in Strung Outs historic performance was both exciting and exhausting.  If you ever get a chance to see The Swellers or Strung Out, take it.  You will not be disappointed.

October 16, 2012 by Patrick
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