For those who don’t know, the revival of emo is upon us. In a recent article titled “Modern Baseball and How Emo Grew Up,” Pitchfork’s Dan Caffrey describes how a torrent of bands have emerged over the past few years who bear the influence of the emo acts of the ’90s and 2000s, while eschewing the lyrical immaturity, and bitter misogyny characteristic of those earlier waves. These bands sound far less like the “emo” bands that are freshest in our memories — mainstream acts like Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco and My Chemical Romance whom genre purists wouldn’t consider emo in the first place — and much more like their more indie-influenced predecessors. How appropriate it is then, that two prominent bands of this resurgence — Modern Baseball and The Front Bottoms — have joined emo veterans Brand New on their final tour? The show came to Ithaca College’s Athletics and Events Center on Tuesday night, and was far from a disappointment.
Due to a late taxi and an astronomical line for Will-Call tickets, I walked into the packed gymnasium just as Modern Baseball were hammering out their last few chords. This was quite the disappointment, as I really enjoyed the band’s performance when they came to Cornell back in 2014, and have only become a bigger fan since: Modern Baseball are one of the most acclaimed acts of the emo revival, and for good reason. This year’s excellent Holy Ghost proves the point.
The Front Bottoms followed, throwing the crowd into sing-along bliss with their exuberant, acoustic pop. Though I’m less interested in The Front Bottoms musically, I could certainly appreciate the quirkiness and occasional hilarity of their lyrics. The line “One day you’ll be washing yourself with hand-soap in a public bathroom,” from early-hit “Maps,” stands as one of the most hilarious warnings to aspiring artists I’ve ever heard, and over the course of the performance I had the pleasure of being introduced to a number of other such lyrical gems (e.g. “And I will remember that summer/ As the summer I was taking steroids /Because you like a man with muscles And I like you,” “My body is a temple How much you think I could get for it?”)
Brand New took the stage after a lengthy delay, and immediately burst into energetic renditions fan-favorites: a number of songs from commercial breakthrough Deja Entendu and their newest single “I am a Nightmare.” The band exuded alt-rock professionalism, playing under an ocean of stage lights and hyping up the crowd, but as a more casual fan, I found myself struggling to find my way into the set emotionally. I worried the entire show would be a continuation of this lively beginning at the expense of the quieter moments that constitute as much of Brand New’s appeal as the louder ones.
My worries were relieved shortly however. The stage went dark again, lead guitarist Vincent Accardi’s hood came up, and the band moved into the second part of their set: a full and sequential playing of their 2006 album The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me (The tour, as it happens, is meant to be both a farewell and a tenth-anniversary celebration of this magnum opus). This album stands as one of the greatest in emo history thanks largely to its superior lyricism. Primary songwriter and frontman Jesse Lacey tackles some of the typical emo themes—heartache and the pains of young adulthood—but goes much deeper, focusing on the grander themes beneath these: the loss of innocence and morality. “Was losing all my friends/Was losing them to drinking and to driving,” the collection of songs melancholically opens, immediately raising the stakes beyond those of the petty relationship troubles with which the emo genre is so easily and often lampooned for being fixated. Elsewhere, as in the title, the album’s bleak themes are spelled out in the language of Christianity. In their best moments, Brand New is able to explore quotidian struggles in mythic terms as well as their tour mates of earlier this year: indie-legends, Modest Mouse. One such moment comes three track into The Devil and God… with the song “Jesus Christ.” On this slow and pensive track, Lacey reflects on guilt, isolation and his own darkness, wondering what would happen if he came face-to-face with the Jesus so familiar to him from his Christian childhood. Could Jesus accept him in his sinful state? Moreover, could he possibly accept Jesus given his darkness? Or would he “get scared” and “try to nail [him] back up?” “So what did you do those three days you were dead?” Lacey wonders of Christ “’cause this problem’s gonna last more than the weekend.” On Tuesday night, the band played this beautiful song in a grid of rotating LED lights. I couldn’t help but cry. If the set had ended right then, I would have been fully satisfied.
But no, the grand arch of The Devil and God… would not be complete until Brand New took us through several more explorations of this theme of sin and guilt. Several found Lacey adopting perspectives other than his own, and reflecting on morality at a more societal level, such as the pair of songs “Limousine,” and “You Won’t Know,” in which Lacey tells the crushing story of a fatal, real-life, drunk driving incident by singing from the standpoint of both the guilt-ridden perpetrator and the anguished family of the victim.
Just before playing acoustic album-closer “Handcuffs,” the band took a moment to thank their fans for coming out, and for “the past 15 years.” It was a somber moment for sure, but I left feeling glad that I’d gotten the chance to see these legends of emo before their disbandment, and glad that they brought the next generation along with them.
Matt Pegan is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].