The Last Band that Changed My Life

“Now I realize, I'd give anything I have
to walk a day in my old shoes.
Wondering what my first smoke would be like,
my first fuck, my next fuck up.
{Or} the next band that would change my life”
While those are the line to a Bayside songs (one of my favorites), this post is not about them.  Instead, this is a post about the sentiment of those lyrics, specifically the last line. Now, it’s obviously a bit hyperbolic to say that a band changed my life. It would be appropriate to say that a band impacted me in a completely unexpected way, totally disrupting my weekly playlist.

I’ve been to far to many shows over the past decade or so. Going into each show, I do my best to research each band before I see them. As a result, I develop an opinion of them, typically based on their latest release, before they ever step on stage. As is human nature, most bands live up to my expectations, positive or negative.

Since about my sophomore year in high school, three bands have completely changed my perception with their live performances... Well, at least in a positive way. The first two happened in fairly quick succession.

ThriceOn June 10, 2002, four friends and I piled into my coffee brown 1990 Honda Accord and headed to Richmond, VA. After taking a few wrong turns on one way streets, we finally reached Alley Katz.  We were there to see four bands for a whopping $6. The bands on the booking that evening were Recover followed by Brand New, Coheed and Cambria, and Thrice.

I had made the journey see Brand New and Coheed, as I shied away from harder music at the time.  Because Thrice was headlining, We originally planned on leaving early, probably hoping to make it back in time for a high school exam the next morning.  Despite our protests, one of my passengers convinced us to stick around for the headliner.
That night, Thrice made all of us glad we stuck around.  At this point, the only “hard” bands I had seen were local. Despite having a few passionate followers, none of these bands were able to match the intensity with which Thrice took the stage.  By the time the final notes of Deadbolt faded into the atmosphere, I was hooked.  I left the venue with a T-shirt and copies of both Identity Crisis and The Illusion of Safety.

The next such occasion came in the Fall of 2012 (can’t find the exact date). I keep running the event over in my head to try to remember exactly when this took place.  Three things make me fairly certain of this date.  First, I was no longer driving a Honda Accord.  It was totaled in August of that year on the way home from seeing Northstar, Rufio, Brand New, and Taking Back Sunday.  Next, I still have a ticket from a show featuring this band at Peabody’s in Virginia Beach, VA a few months later.

This was a glorious Saturday on which I had nothing to do, except attend two concerts (I miss those days.).  I had originally planned on going to a local show that evening to see a few local bands(including a saves the day cover band) play at a youth center on a local military base.
Rise Against 2
A few hours before the local show, one of my hardcore friends told me a band from Chicago was playing that afternoon.  This was strange for a few reasons.  First, the show started at around 3pm.  Second, it took place at Mitty’s a Restaraunt in the Omni Hotel.  This venue was best known for its under 18 dance parties, one of which I actually regret going to (for the girl not the party.)

Now, I had heard the band’s record a few times and wasn’t completely sold. There were a few standout tracks, notably Everchanging and Six Ways till Sunday, but overall the record was way harder than most of the music I listened to at the time.  I just wasn’t comfortable with paying for someone to yell at me, but the show was cheap and my friends were going, so I went.

That band was Rise Against and like Thrice a few months before, they completely blew me away.  I’m having trouble remembering many of the details, but I remember being astounded by the intensity and energy with which the band played.  Tim, their singer, moved with reckless abandon across the stage, capturing the attention of everyone in the room.  In the end, they didn’t play either of their aforementioned hits, but it didn’t matter.  I was sold.
Rise Against 1
I saw Rise Against many times over the next few years, to the point where the band began to recognize a few friends and I just from seeing us in the crowd.  Their next album, Revolutions Per Minute, is still one of my all time favorites.  Though I have become progressively less interested in the band’s music over the year, I maintain a huge amount of respect for them and their ability to remain true to their beliefs( I just wish they captured their live energy in their newer recordings like the did on songs like “Generation Lost”.).

Almost a decade passed before I was similarly affected by a bands performance.  I think this is the result of “knowing too much” about a bands before I see them mixed with an unhealthy dose of skepticism and cynicism that comes with age. A show on a rainy night in March of 2012 proved to me that there are bands out there capable of exceeding my unreasonably high expectations.

As is often the case, I made the decision to go to this show at the last minute.  Having had a stressful few weeks working on my master’s thesis(which turned into Modern Industry), I decided I deserved to have some fun.  After class let out that evening, I made the trek from downtown San Francisco to Slims... in the rain.  While this decision was bit shortsighted, it did give me the opportunity to get into the right mindset for going to a show solo.

Rereading over the night’s bill (The Story So Far... Transit... Polar Bear Club... The Wonder Years), I began debating how I would spend my time that night.  Get up front for the Story So Far... then play drink the beer until The Wonder Years hit the stage.

Nothing against the bands in the middle, but they just weren’t my thing.  I had seen Transit a few month before and was left feeling a little disappointed.  I had never seen Polar Bear Club, but their records just didn’t connect with me, though I was having trouble getting “Living Saints” out of my head.
Halfway through the show, things were going mostly to plan.  I was surprised by the opportunity to hear Into It. Over It. start the show with a few acoustic tracks.  Then the hometown boys from The Story So Far took to the stage and absolutely killed it as the crowd started to grow.  I made it through Transit, a little more impressed than the last time I had seen them. By the time Polar Bear Club finished setting up, I was beginning to feel a little be antsy... ready for the headliner.

Then the curtain rose, with Polar Bear Club playing the first few notes of Pawner. As the song slowly built up, I quickly began to realize that I was in for something special.  I quickly made my way from the bar in the back to the front barrier just in time for the crescendo.  I remained there for the rest of their set, long after my pint glass ran dry.

The emotion and intensity flows that flows from these guys is simply infectious.  It’s not that the play their songs any faster that they were recorded (I don’t think they do), but as a group they have the uncanny ability to draw the viewer in and leave him wanting more.
Polar Bear Club songs capture a sense of nostalgia and hope that I have felt since leaving my friends and family to journey to the left coast a little over three years ago.  When you mix that with a healthy dose of punk sensibility, you have a winner in my eyes.  Last I heard, Polar Bear Club was in the midst of writing a new album.  I can only hope they take the best parts of what they have done before and mix it with something new to create my new favorite album.  A boy can dream.

Since March of last year, Polar Bear Club’s last two albums have consistently been at the top of my playlists and deservedly so. Considering what the other two bands in this article have accomplished, it may be a bit presumptuous to include Polar Bear Club, but I don’t think so. Given their stage presence and writing abilities, I have no doubt they will achieve whatever they desire.   If they continue on this course and learn from the mistakes of those that came before them, they will have a bright future.

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