Photo credit: Mitchell Wojcik
Depending on who you ask, there may be an emo revival going on. Lifers will insist the music never really went away — just that tastemakers stopped paying attention — but at least they got a hashtag-friendly title out of the whole deal. Pop-punk didn’t even get that.
The Wonder Years, a scrappy band from the Philadelphia ‘burbs with “poppunk” in its official Twitter handle, formed in 2005, when the genre was nearing its most recent commercial peak. But that doesn’t mean they were invited to the party. In those days, the Wonder Years could scarcely score a New York City gig, something frontman Dan “Soupy” Campbell reminded a packed Webster Hall crowd last night, opening a lengthy U.S. tour with Motion City Soundtrack, State Champs, and You Blew It!
The Wonder Years are touring behind their new studio album No Closer to Heaven, which sold a career-best 22,000 first-week copies last month. They’re a band that’s rising as we speak, and the crowd’s boisterous showing of camaraderie and unironic passion backed them every step of the way, even when Campbell got so wound up and out of breath he could barely speak between songs. They play with three guitarists and synchronized onstage smoke explosions. They brought out a second drumkit for their encore performance of “Cigarettes and Saints” and “Came Out Swinging.” These aren’t typical moves for a pop-punk band, but Heaven was really more of a cathartic, punk-influenced alt-rock album, anyway. Higher sales and pyrotechnics next time around?
It certainly seems possible when you get a load of their fans. The Webster crowd was its own collective entity, a swelling sprawl of human currents that opened massive pits for almost every song — even the soft-opening “Devil in My Bloodstream,” which was basically a hand-holding pop-punk Kumbaya circle. Throughout the evening, the music was often loud, sometimes visceral, but the rowdy mass seldom felt aggressive or threatening. And for the lack of gender diversity in the lineup (there were no women over four bands and 21 musicians) the crowd was refreshingly mixed, with the vibe positive and supportive throughout the floor mayhem.
Prior to the Wonder Years, the battle-tested Motion City Soundtrack live experience offered the evening’s tightest pop confections and most familiar sing-alongs. Out promoting its peppy new album Panic Situations, MCS got a tepid response to newer material early in the set, but once the squeaky-clean hooks of “Attractive Today” and “My Favorite Accident” broke the ice, the setlist at large was off and running.
Like Campbell, the other frontmen were unafraid to get earnest, and you know, go there. Early in the Motion City set, Justin Pierre celebrated six years of sobriety and “no panic attacks in a while.” State Champs singer Derek Discanio shouted out Target, referencing a deal with the retailer in selling their new album, Around the World and Back. It’s a sentiment they’ve shared on Twitter, along with the Wonder Years. On the Alt In Our Stars podcast last month, Campbell proclaimed, “We can never be a cool band.”
No kidding, but the evening proved you can trade cool for choruses and stay winning. State Champs’ eight-song set prior to MCS was essentially the Wonder Years on a smaller scale, revving the pits and testing security, leading up to the set-closing, New Found Glory-style banger “Elevate.” And before that, You Blew It! kicked things off with a spirited set that actually linked the night’s lineup to cooler calling cards, or at least those slightly less uncool. You Blew It! has gotten positive coverage on Pitchfork and records for Topshelf Records, a label more closely associated with the aforementioned illusionary revival.
Still, it was a far cry from a cool Saturday night in New York, whatever that means. Largely free from trend pieces and mainstream attention, 2015 pop-punk still sold out the 1,500-capacity Webster Hall two months in advance, with Sunday night’s double-dip very close. CMJ showcases dominated the city’s music venues last night, but across Manhattan and Brooklyn, badge holders and buzz band seekers were unlikely to encounter the same grassroots enthusiasm that made Webster Hall’s upstairs floor shake.