Brand New's 'Science Fiction' Tour Is a Must-See For the Uninitiated: New York Live Recap
Few people coming to a Brand New show in 2017 are looking to be won over.
Tickets to last night’s (Oct. 19) performance at Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre -- the Long Island emo legends' sixth concert since August’s No. 1 album Science Fiction -- sold out instantly, and those initially locked out of the regal, 3,000-seat concert hall had to pay upwards of $100 to find their way in. If you wanted to purchase a limited edition Brooklyn gig poster, you essentially had to arrive the second doors opened at 6:30, long before openers Nada Surf took the stage, and bum rush the merch table. Jesse Lacey and company could’ve sang the whole set in the voice at 2:44 of “Same Logic/Teeth,” and those in attendance would’ve told their friends how it really just added to the legend of Brand New. But instead, the seventeen-year old rock band is using the early rounds of a potential farewell tour to explore completely new experiences.
It’s most obvious in the stage show. A second drummer and third guitarist (a role this tour aptly manned by longtime associate Kevin Devine) have been staples across Brand New’s recent, proggier years, beginning around the same time they took to wrapping their mic stands with a bouquet’s worth of flowers. But this time, Brand New indulged in an effects-laden stage show the likes of which you’d expect from a critically-adored, mid-level pop star exploring their Björk influence.
Beginning the show with Science Fiction opener “Lit Me Up,” the band was still visible, but playing behind a cage-like screen displaying abstract, woodland-esque projections. These corresponded with the screen behind them, and in between, luminous lamp bulbs decorated the stage. The mic stands seemed to be draped in more flowers than usual. It really was a multi-sensory spectacle, and its appeal transitioned well from the cavernous “Lit Me Up” to the piercing, scream-drenched Daisy salvo “Gasoline” at song two. Next up, the barrier lifted just as “Out of Mana” lurched into its gnarly climax of siren-like guitar. Now in plain view, Brand New was off and running.
The set careened from song to song, the crowd's collective mood seldom dropping below meditative hypnosis, often peaking around moments of noisy catharsis. Frontman Jesse Lacey addressed the masses just twice (once to acknowledge the beauty of the venue, once to acknowledge Nada Surf), apparently focused on embodying and delivering -- just plain living in -- each of Brand New's songs. Snapping between screams and whispers, his voice, a far weatherbeaten cry from the snotty pop hooks of Brand New's early work, held through haunting and defiant. Along with Devine's and Vinnie Accardi's, his guitarwork was knotty and jarring.
Accardi swung his guitar and body around like a striking serpent, which was damn entertaining but did keep him from adding his usual backing howls. Having Devine on board helped in this area, but the band appeared generally disinterested in vocal harmonies, which is perhaps why their pristine 2003 single "The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows" didn't make the set list.
But the band did dip into Deja Entendu, and when it did, the crowd was at its frenzied peaks. The 14-year old LP is the oldest record Brand New regularly plays from, and the apparent favorite of the audience (for all the plaudits around Science Fiction, the vast majority of the crowd appeared mid-20s or older, holdovers from Brand New's first half-decade). "Sic Transit Gloria" pummeled like always, and shouting along with a thousand other adults to the winkingly pompous, petulant lyrics of "Okay I Believe You But My Tommy Gun Don't" is an increasingly absurd, enjoyable spectacle.
Just as the Deja selections were sequestered to the middle of the evening, tracks from 2006's The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me -- the other popular pick for Brand New's greatest album -- bookended the backside of the set list. "Degausser" registered with its buzzsaw outbursts; "Jesus Christ," per usual, as Brand New's airy apex, an anthem for the afterlife for those with two-thirds of their lives left to live.
Seventeen songs in, the set could have well closed with the extended freakout tacked onto the end of “Sowing Season (Yeah).” But after the band and almost all of its onstage effects departed, Lacey returned on his own for one last song: "Soco Amaretto Lime," acoustic sing-along closer to 2001's Your Favorite Weapon, not-so-surprisingly the only song from the band's debut to crack the set list (though more than a few attendees were surely holding out for the timelessly petty "Seventy Times 7").
It could feel quaint, almost dutiful for a famously cagey frontman to end with a sentimental favorite; then you remember its refrain -- "I'm gonna stay eighteen forever/so we can stay like this forever" -- and the band's recent promise, "BRAND NEW 2000-2018." This wasn't the only way it grew to reflect the present. For the familiar close -- "You're just jealous 'cause we're young and in love" -- Lacey flipped it onto himself: "I'm just jealous 'cause you're young and in love."
The 39-year old Lacey isn’t playing to rooms of high schoolers anymore, but perhaps his mindset is more existential. Maybe he’s looking back on himself. Brand New’s formative fanbase often skewed from your stereotypical emo crowd of high school rejects to the actual popular kids who were partying every weekend -- or at least the ones who hoped they were. “We’ll never miss a party ‘cause we keep them going constantly,” Lacey also sings in “Soco,” a sentiment the well-adjusted members of the Kings Theater crowd would probably tweak the words on, too.
But the success and vitality of Science Fiction proves Brand New and its fans are far from washed; they're a unique force, guiding one of music's most fascinating unicorns towards a magical conclusion. Somehow, this extravagant fandom still feels largely unheralded. Hopping aboard this late in the game might seem a daunting task, but for the unconverted, Brand New's current tour is revelation waiting to happen. The next fifteen months or so could well be your last chance.
Here’s the set list from last night’s show:
Lit Me Up
Out of Mana
You Won’t Know
Can’t Get It Out
Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t
Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades
I Will Play My Game Beneath the Spin Light
At the Bottom
In the Water
Sowing Season (Yeah)
Soco Amaretto Lime