Gig Review: Brand New, The Front Bottoms, Modern Baseball in Glens Falls, New York
Posted: by The Editor
Brand New are one of the most fascinating phenomena in modern alt-rock. They began as a juvenile (though above par) pop punk act, morphed dramatically with each subsequent release, earning significant critical acclaim along the way, and continue to sustain a young, devoted fanbase some 15 years since their inception, and now almost seven years since their last full-length. Their cryptic mystique and scant online presence have somehow driven them the past half-decade, fostering a cult of disciples who lust for a new record, but are continually satiated with sporadic tours and occasional singles. Their discography exceeds genres and scenes, as their audience is an amalgamation of pop punk kids, emo connoisseurs, and even the hypercritical Pitchfork crowd. There simply isn’t any other band like that in existence.
However, the group has strongly hinted recently that they’ll be breaking up in 2018, after one last full-length and a long, dramatic farewell. Therefore, their current tour with The Front Bottoms and Modern Baseball will most likely be one of their last. Although that’s a somber thought for many of their devotees, the band showed this past Friday at the Glens Falls, New York stop of the tour that they’re not disbanding as a washed up legacy act who’re a decade past their prime, but as a band who still have it in them to be a great rock band; therefore, commendably quitting while they’re ahead.
Brand New have repeatedly made the effort to tap younger bands as openers in recent years (The World Is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die, Foxing), but Modern Baseball and The Front Bottoms might’ve been the best two they could’ve picked. Similar to Brand New, MoBo and TFB each have their feet in both the pop punk and indie scenes, which allowed for a draw of fans that were engaged throughout the entire show. People who are into those two bands are most likely fans of Brand New, and that worked inversely as well by providing exposure to older Brand New fans who may be interested in the current generation of indie-tinged pop punk/emo.
It was a bit odd seeing MoBo on an arena-size stage compared to the 200-capacity rooms they were playing two years back, and their sound isn’t quite developed for such a setting. Therefore, classics such as “Tears Over Beers” and “Your Graduation” didn’t go over quite as well as they would in a more intimate environment. However, the majority of their set consisted of new tracks from their sonically bulkier 2016 effort Holy Ghost, and hearing them end with the heartfelt anthem “Just Another Face” was satisfying.
TFB on the other hand, who’ve been selling out 1000-cap venues for a couple years and are fresh off of a summer full of festival one-offs, felt a lot less out of place. Not only is every song of theirs a sing-along requirement, but their stage presence is effortlessly fun, energetic, and carefree. They played a great variety of fan-favorites (“Maps,” “The Beers,”), newer material (“Joanie,” “West Virginia”), and of course the expected hits (“Skeleton,” “Twin Size Mattress), all of which sounded better on the big stage rather than weird or incompatible.
However, despite TFB being more than competent headliners, it’d be difficult to find any band capable of outperforming Brand New. Even if the band got on stage and sucked, which they most certainly didn’t, the crowd’s reaction alone would’ve been enough to make for a memorable experience. A Brand New show is the closest thing this corner of the music universe has to Beatlemania. These are songs that hold a pseudo-religious quality to their listeners, and those people just go insane upon hearing them played. However, what stood out most about this show was that the band legitimately outperformed the raucous crowd.
In celebration of the ten-year-anniversary of their heralded The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, they decided to play the album through at each stop of the tour, in addition to a handful of songs encompassing the rest of their catalogue. Before kicking into Devil and God, they opened with their most radio-friendly, yet timelessly edgy track “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows,” followed by another classic off of Deja Entendu; then a nod to their debut, “Mix Tape;” a taste of the bluesy Daisy, “At the Bottom;” their earworm new single, “I Am a Nightmare;” a track off their recently re-released Leaked Demos, “Brothers”; and finally the sappy, overrated, but beloved acoustic ballad “Play Crack the Sky.”
However, their 2006 masterpiece that spans emo, indie rock, post-rock, and art rock was obviously the main course of the evening. As soon as frontman Jesse Lacey belted the first, shouted “yeah” of “Sowing Season,” the crowd became one sweaty, swaying conglomerate that didn’t fully settle until the band exited the stage. The pacing of the record actually made it perfect for a live replication, as the gradual buildups and sharp explosions made for a well-balanced, captivating set from start to finish. And although the unpredictability of a traditional set was lost, given that everyone knew the order of album, it actually made the set even more exciting because the crowd was able to anticipate the following songs, and know that even deep cuts like “Welcome to Bangkok” and “Not the Sun” would be played.
Although Lacey’s voice didn’t appear to have the falsetto range it used to, as he swapped out some of the higher notes throughout the night with harsh yells, it worked in his favor by giving those songs a bit of a bite, complementing the overall heaviness the rest of the band displayed. Yelly rippers such as “Degausser” and “You Won’t Know” were transformed into genuinely heavy rock songs with the addition of a third guitarist and a second drummer on a semi-electric kit. The distorted riffs were pounding out of the monitors and the two drummers added an entirely new layer of depth to the already-intricate songs. The extended breakdown at the end of “Welcome to Bangkok” was the most intense moment of the night, as the band’s output verged on metal, but with a punky rawness to it that reminisced the ruthless “Vices” off of Daisy. It’s rare that a band actually becomes more aggressive as they age, but it’s even rarer when they pull it off.
However, the beauty of Brand New, particularly on the Devil and God, is their masterful ability to switch between brutally loud and delicately soft on a dime. “Jesus Christ,” the most blatantly theological track in their catalogue, felt even more heavenly with the white beams of light projecting from their backdrop. The quiet, haunting atmosphere of the first half of “Limousine” was also brought to life by the eerie, looped video of two ghastly, child-like figures holding hands and dancing. The music itself set such a poignant, uneasy mood, but the tasteful light show was certainly a valuable element to the performance that you wouldn’t expect to be so fitting at a Brand New concert.
The band really drove home the point, as they did when Devil and God was released, that these aren’t the same four adolescents who cranked out melodramatic pop punk in the early 2000s. Unlike many of their contemporaries who’re still trying to rehash the work of their late teen years, have tried to progress sonically and fell flat, or dropped out of the game entirely, Brand New are successfully innovating up until the end of their career. Again, there aren’t any other bands in their scene who are doing that. At least not at the level that Brand New is.
Eli Enis | @xelienisx