Death Rosenstock Made Me Feel Alive

Posted: by The Editor

There’s nothing like a great punk rock show. A good one is pure escapism, temporarily shielding you from the horrors of reality by way of roaring riffage and sweat-fueled camaraderie. It’s a blast, but when it’s done you step outside the venue and the smell of the parking lot hits you, a scent twisted with whatever stressors you drove there with. A good punk rock show will have you check your baggage at the door, but you’ll hastily snatch it back up on the way out.

A great punk rock show will smack you upside the head. It’ll reconfigure your internet broken brain, drain you of your capitalistic impulses, and convince you that collectivism is the only way—at least for a solid 48 hours. A truly great punk rock gig will show you the light, but it’s a solar-powered one. So after a couple days it begins to dim, and then it’s up to you to face the sun and recharge. Chasing that light at the end of an ever-darkening, ever-lengthening tunnel is hard, though, which is essentially what Jeff Rosenstock’s latest album POST- is about. Figuring out how you, the average soulbearer, can beat the developers at their own unwinnable game.

A great punk rock show won’t let you forget the war we’re waging. In fact, it’ll be the crux of the performance. But a great punk rock show will make you feel like we stand a chance. By this logic, Jeff Rosenstock and his band (sometimes self-referenced as Death Rosenstock) must be feeling pretty damn hopeful. Every show they play is a great one. That’s probably not the case, though, as he’s been playing great punk shows for nearly two decades and continues to release albums called Worry. and I Look Like Shit. But that’s kind of what punk is though, right? It’s not a permanent mindset (even Danzig has to shop at Petco), it’s something we have to practice in order to retain.

Witnessing the final night of Rosenstock’s tour with Martha and Bad Moves, the first substantial set of dates since he surprise-dropped POST- to widespread acclaim on New Year’s Day, it appeared as if the gang had been operating a mobile gym for punk ethos over the two-week run. And by punk I mean, as they mean, defying the status quo. All the bands not only stood amongst the crowd for each other’s sets; they cheered for each other; sung each other’s songs; jumped up and down; and blushed at the gooey, warm praise they received from whichever band was occupying the stage. There were a number of sentimental, awestruck thank-yous doled out throughout each set that went beyond obligational nods. These were really sincere moments of appreciation that, although seemingly normal at the time, feel particularly wholesome and uncommonly dear while thinking back.

That was the tone of the evening. Bad Moves and Martha each play a somewhat similar brand of punk-minded power-pop, the latter of whom could also be described as uncommonly dear. A British quartet who hasn’t played the states in nearly half-a-decade, they were a great pick to open for a headliner as magnetic as Rosenstock. All four members take turns at the mic, singing peppy hooks that’re both extraordinary earworms and massive mouthfuls (lots of syllables and strange syntaxes). But even though they shred and, in the strongest sense of the word, bop, Martha have a timidness to them that allowed Jeff and co. to remain unchallenged by the time they took the stage. Few bands could match their energy anyways, so it was best to have openers who didn’t even bother trying.

“Dumbfounded, downtrodden and dejected,” Rosenstock suddenly belted after an unpretentious bit of goofy banter following their walk-out. Those were the mighty first words of “USA,” POST-’s opener and one of the most identifiable displays of pent-up angst this side of the 2008 financial crisis. Exploding from his mouth with unprecedented vigor, it set the entire room into a frenzy that didn’t settle once during the 20-something-song setlist. Though, the hysteria didn’t manifest as an all-consuming, rabid mosh-pit, but as a pervasive inability to stand still. Even folks who weren’t in the lighthearted and (mostly) non-threatening scrum were giving into their primal desires to headbang, foot-tap, arm-thrust and of course howl along to an entire set comprised of bonafide anthems.

They played practically all of POST-, a generous third of Worry.—most memorably a real-time succession of the album’s epic finale, from “Hellhole” all the way through “Perfect Sound Whatever”—and the timeless hits off We Cool?. “Nausea” and “I’m Serious, I’m Sorry” fit nicely alongside the newer cuts, and tracks like “Pash Rash” and “Festival Song” (arguably his best track, and perhaps more contentiously, one of the best rock songs of the 21st century) still have that new car smell.

Even with their expected encore, returning less than 30 seconds to the ongoing ringing of the “Let Them Win” outro synths, the group still managed to surprise us. Foregoing the anticipated “Melba” for a changeup pitch of the floaty POST- ballad “9/10,” they followed that with a bombastically extended version of “You, In Weird Cities.” Drawing out the final bridge, Rosenstock commandeered the saxophone from his keyboardist and dashed off-stage and through the audience to mount atop a structure on the far-right side of the room, blaring the saxophone lick unmic’d and rousing the crowd as the band slowly built the song back upwards. The stunt concluded with him returning to stage and absolutely slaying the final chorus.

It could’ve ended there, but it didn’t. They oddly closed out with Worry. intro “We Begged To Explode,” a teetering slow-burner that I never felt worked as an opener, but honestly couldn’t figure a better spot for within the album’s otherwise-untouchable tracklist. It finally clicked to hear it in a closing context, though. “All these magic moments I’ve forgotten / all these magic moments I’ll forget when the magic is gone,” we all chanted in unison, Rosenstock hurling himself off-stage and rafting across the crowd in a state of visible bliss.

I’m nearing my 48 hours and the light’s beginning to flicker, but I must say, I can still feel that magic.  

Eli Enis | @eli_enis

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