Perhaps it should seem strange, the idea of a bunch of 30-year-olds swimming in a sea of nostalgia, celebrating a punk rock record that was released a decade ago. After all, isn’t nostalgia something to be reserved for those with more life experience – a chance to reflect on the good old days of a long-lived life? Even more, ten years ago wasn’t that long ago, and it also wasn’t that happy of a time in my life.
Alas, our generation does have quite the proclivity for all things melancholy, and regardless of your take on the definition, this night’s celebration of Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue feels like the best kind of nostalgia.
When the Florida pop-punk outfit released what would become their definitive work ten years ago, I had just finished my first year of college. I was wrestling with the normal confusion and frustrations that come with finding oneself whilst living in a completely new world with completely new people. At its core, Ocean Avenue is about leaving home for the first time and the struggle to balance your life past with what lies ahead. It’s no surprise that this album proved to be the soundtrack for that period for so many of us.
The opening notes of “Way Away” still cause a tightness in my chest and a flood of memories when I hear them. It’s the beginning of a coming of age journey as told by a pop-punk band. As cheesy and trite as that may sound, it didn’t stop a packed house from belting out every note of every song with gusto as Yellowcard rolled through town to play the album in its entirety in an acoustic set.
Although there’s an obvious shift in pace, hearing these songs performed acoustically seems right, and lends itself well to the emotion behind Ryan Key’s words. Really, they’re all of our words, as the crowd sings along to every song. It’s not the album’s title track and breakout single that steals the show on this night. Instead, every song draws its own unique reaction, the most raucous of which belongs to “Believe”, which is accompanied by a breathtaking violin intro by Sean Mackin.
It’s clear from beginning to end that this night’s performance of Ocean Avenue is about much more than remembering that time that Yellowcard had a hit single and was popular for a while. No, this night is a shared experience between the band and its listeners, traveling back to where they were 10 years ago when the songs were first heard. I feel a slight hint of pain upon the opening lines of “Back Home”, as Key sings, “Don’t know what I was looking for when I went home / I found me alone”.
At once, I recall the emotional isolation I felt at that time and how Key’s words encapsulated my thoughts and fears. However, I also remember that home is no longer “back” anywhere – it’s right here and I’m no longer alone. The nostalgic effect of Ocean Avenue reminds me of how I used those songs to cope with a difficult time, but it also reminds me of the progress I’ve made. The experience is both humbling and therapeutic.
It seems appropriate that this night doesn’t end on that note. Instead, the band returns to the stage after a short break to play more recent numbers in full-band form. Indeed, Yellowcard’s story does not end on Ocean Avenue. In fact, Lights and Sounds, Paper Walls, When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes, and Southern Air complete an impressive catalogue and the crowd seems to know it, jumping and singing until the final notes have been played. It’s true that “Rough Landing, Holly” and “The Takedown” don’t carry the same emotional weight for me, but they’re still damn good songs and a joy to be experienced in a live setting.
There are two clear takeaways from this tour: First, Yellowcard is still an incredible band and a shining example to younger bands in the genre of how to keep an audience, stay true to yourself, and make a career out of your musical talents – not just an album.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, the things that stand the test of time in our lives should be those things that taught us something and helped us grow closer to the person we want to be. Many times, these are the things that get us through the difficult periods in our lives. It’s good to look back fondly on these things. It’s even better when we can do so in light of where we are now and where we’re headed.
I’m thankful that my life led me down Ocean Avenue for a time. I’m even more thankful that the journey continued.