Taking Back Sunday presents an alternate history to Brand New. They dug their heels in, honing their pop skills and becoming better, tighter and even more fun over the course of 20 years.
McMenamin’s Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR
The very stupid rivalry between Taking Back Sunday and Brand New, which started because TBS guitarist John Nolan tried to seduce the girlfriend of BN frontman (and original TBS member) Jesse Lacey, felt like a Greek origin myth made real, and fans drew a Hatfield/McCoy-esque line in the sand over it. This bond broke in 2017 with the revelation that Lacey was a sexual predator, leaving long-embittered fans still holding onto their pop-punk grudges wondering what it was all for.
Taking Back Sunday presents an alternate history to their sister band, where instead of warping and eventually abandoning pop-punk, they dug their heels in, honing their pop skills and becoming better, tighter and even more fun over the course of 20 years. That they have the juice all these years later to sell out two nights at the Crystal Ballroom – wherein they would play Tell All Your Friends in its entirety, immediately followed by either their sophomore album, Where You Want to Be, or their third, Louder Now (a decision made by coin-toss, with the runner-up played the following evening) – feels like a testament to the awesome staying power of TBS and pop-punk as a whole, to say nothing of the drawing power of nostalgia.
It’s a sad fact that this style of music doesn’t always age well, and it takes a really special band to keep it feeling exhilarating even after 20 years. It became apparent within one song that the time spent getting better at what they do rather than exploring other influences has made the band tight, engaging and spectacularly fun. Their stage production, which included lights, lasers and a color-changing neon sign in the shape of a jaguar head (one of the coolest stage props I’ve seen since I saw Grizzly Bear on the same stage flanked by twinkling Mason jars), somehow still felt tasteful in its garishness, a perfect complement to the set itself.
Frontman Adam Lazzara appears to be the physical manifestation of charisma, the likes of which I’ve only seen in other superhuman performers like Garth Brooks, the Hives’ Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, and the late Charles Bradley. As he sang, he would do mic tricks, from spins and catches to just twirling it around his own neck, never dropping it or missing a beat. In banter, he was unfalteringly engaging, rambling with glee over his excitement to be performing where Jeff Tweedy recorded segments of his Sunken Treasure concert film, telling stories about the writing of these songs and how the record company changed things, at one point going on a tangent about stealing Yankee Candles from your mom’s room mid-brood as a teenager, a product plug for the twentysomethings who grew up on the Honda Civic Tours of the aughts. The remainder of the band laughed along, never really engaging in the jokes, letting the relentless energy they put forth when actually playing the songs speak for them.
The entire show, from top to bottom, felt like a love letter to the former scene kids in the crowd who grew up with the band, with Tell All Your Friends and Where You Want to Be now scratched into their souls. That the whole room was electrified for the entire show was no surprise, as the crowd spent every available moment with our firsts in the air, shouting along to every single word. The first two TBS albums represent a slab of simpler times for many, hearkening to when the music you loved helped form bonds with those around you, making it easier to base your whole identity around the music. With the 21 songs of Tell and Where, the whole room sang along as they were transported back to a time when they were 15 and shouting “AND WILL YOU TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS/ YOU’VE GOT YOUR GUN TO MY HEAD!?” in their bedrooms, the pounding of their parents’ to turn that shit down drowned out by Lazzara’s shouts.
Taking Back Sunday clearly understands this, which is what made their blowout feel not just entertaining, but reverent. They closed the set without an encore, simply ending with a two-song Louder Now consolation prize, the title track of 2016’s Tidal Wave, and the unreleased “All Ready to Go” from their 20th anniversary compilation Twenty. The entire show was so fun that by the time they reached their set closer, they could have just plowed through and done Louder Now as a victory lap. Seeing them pay tribute to the legacy of those albums for people who were molded by them made for one of the best feelings in live music: the ability to be in a room full of people who walked away feeling more complete for having been there.