Photo credit: Jesse Ives
We all shuffle and divide musicians into their respective genres and sub-genres. It’s a necessary evil because how else do we know what we’re getting ourselves into when we buy a CD or go to a show? By categorizing we often over-simplify and marginalize bands that undoubtedly have infinitely complex origins and sounds. That band? Crap pop punk. Them? Bubblegum pop. Oh, that’s just another drum ‘n’ bass DJ. Trip-hop, Portishead rip-off. They want to be Radiohead. He’s just working that sensitive singer-songwriter shtick. They only wish they were Outkast. Blah, blah, blah. Certainly, far too many groups only exist within the limitations of their genre. They don’t even make a pretense of resisting classification. Listening to their records for some indication of originality is an exercise in futility. But live, that all changes. Tonight, the bands playing could easily and without a second thought be pigeon-holed as punk/emo/indie rockers come to share their pain. Orange Island, Eisley, Hot Rod Circuit, and Brand New all bring versions of the same thing. After closer examination and a few hours spent at the mercy of these bands, the urge to classify and label disappears. The inner cynic shuts up and the music takes over. And that is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Of course I’m about to label the hell out of the bands that performed this Halloween at the Trocadero in Philadelphia. I’m going to describe what they sounded like, what other musicians they imitated, and what genres they either transcended or were relegated to. But it’s all for you — the poor fan who could have been at this amazing show! Just know that if you’d been there, you wouldn’t need to limit the experience to words. Orange Island — Triple Crown Records label-mates with headliner Brand New — started the evening shortly after the doors opened and provided the music easiest to classify. Hailing from Clinton Massachusetts, they offered a quick-and-dirty performance, invoking Thursday as well as any other number of bands rocking hard and singing harder. By 8:00 p.m., the next band, Eisley, was on stage and ready to go. I don’t think anyone knew what he/she was in for. Composed of three sisters — Chauntelle, Sherrie, and Stacy DuPree — one brother/drummer, Weston, and friend/bassist Jonathan Wilson, Eisley filled the Trocadero with a shimmering blend of jangly guitar, ambient keyboard, and ethereal harmonies. Standing in stark contrast to the previous band and the two still ahead of them, this group of Texas natives played a short set of unabashed pop. All three sisters sang like angels. They even had blond hair that sparkled in the bright lights. Their simple Coldplay-inspired melodies and intricate harmonies charmed the audience and drew enthusiastic applause — applause that a bunch of punk and emo kids were not expecting to volunteer. But as Eisley thanked us profusely for coming and listening, we all realized that this band wasn’t on the bill because they fit in with the others. Eisley toured with Brand New because the kids in the band are exceedingly talented and dedicated to their music. That we all got that makes me feel good. Hot Rod Circuit — former Triple Crowners, now on Vagrant — took the stage next and provided some much-needed, straightforward rock. The crowd showed its enthusiasm by suddenly rushing the stage, at which time the kids up front pushed back. A serious shoving match ensued, that from above, looked more than a little scary. The crowd continued to seethe as HRC launched into its nearly hour-long set of aggressive punk-infused rock. The band covered most of their 2002 release Sorry About Tomorrow, wasting no time between songs, pausing only to thank us for coming and to praise Eisley. Vocalist Andrew Jackson carried himself with earnest poise and sang his heart out. Guitarist Casey Prestwood threw himself around his half of the stage with controlled abandon. His body thrashed about, but his playing never suffered, showing us that he had command of both his body and his instrument. The rest of the band gave him lots of room, though. The set lasted a few songs too long, but the band definitely succeeded in showing their true colors as a genuine rock and roll group, dedicated to the image of the stumbling and swaggering rock star and even more dedicated to surrounding that image with substantive talent. The single “The Pharmacist” fell into every stereotype of the prevalent pop/punk trend, but the rest of the set neatly leapt over those snares. Philly’s Trocadero has one hell of an efficient staff and the bands must have some experienced roadies, because a few short minutes after HRC walked off, the club darkened and Brand New’s backdrop of an ageless boy with hollowed cheeks and glowing eyes fell behind the drum kit. A pulsing, ominous rhythm shook the architecture and an eerie green light shown out into the crowd, blinding us. Then the silhouettes of the band members crossed in front of the lights and audience’s volume rose to an almost painful fevered pitch. Brand New opened with the strongest track from the critically acclaimed Deja Entendu, “Okay, I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t”. The crowd knew every…single…word. Singer Jesse Lacey’s sarcastic lyrics, “I am heaven sent / Don’t you dare forget” were screamed back to him, almost drowning out his voice. I was worried that the show would progress this way — the crowd so enthused that the singer’s voice is inaudible — but when the chorus kicked in, the band’s stadium-size sound filled the club. “Tommy Gun” evolved beautifully, spiraling upward in intensity until Lacey’s distinctive voice screamed “This is the break in the bend / This is the closest of calls / This is the reason you’re alive / This is the reason you fall!” The venue exploded with the release of the chorus, but then had no time to breathe as the band launched into another track from Deja Entendu, “Guernica”. Written about a cancer diagnosis in Lacey’s family, the song’s pounding urgency surrounded and almost overpowered both the tender lyrics and the singer’s unassuming stage presence. Switching back and forth from Deja Entendu tracks to 2001’s Your Favorite Weapon, the distinction between old and new material was obvious even to the Brand New newcomer. The songs from Your Favorite Weapon possessed a blatant obsession with love, youth, and innocence. Tracks like “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad”, “Seventy Time 7”, and “Soco Amaretto Lime” were unapologetic odes to all the emotions attached to high school and the struggles to move past those emotions. The upbeat songs imitated Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American (a compliment), while the slower, acoustic tunes fell in line with some of Dashboard Confessional’s musings on life and love (not such a compliment). The crowd went nuts for these tracks, and the band called up enough youthful energy to pull them off; however, it was clear that they paid more attention to their new material. The only hitch in the show came after they played the opening track from Deja Entendu, “Tautou”. Instead of going right into the next track, “Sic Transit Gloria”, the audience got a serious Dashboard moment with “No Seatbelt Song”. The two songs didn’t blend well at all, the transition awkward for the band and for those of us waiting in vain for Garrett Tierney’s throbbing bass line intro to “Sic Transit”. Lacey saved the moment when he used a bow to turn his guitar into a more haunting characterization of itself. Regardless of that set list faux pas , Deja Entendu is such a marked improvement from Your Favorite Weapon, Brand New is almost a different band on this newer record. Lacey’s lyrics have matured and taken on the jaded tone of a kid who has moved past high school and has realized that the rose-colored haze through which he saw life is actually smog. The world can suck hardcore, and with lyrics like “I’ve seen what happens to the wicked and proud when they decide to try to take on the throne for the crown / And we learn as we age / Wait for nothing and my body still aches,” Lacey’s got his pen recording it as he sees it. During this track, “Jaws Theme Swimming”, the smoke machines were working overtime, surrounding the band in a murky green haze perfect for the darkness of the song. Every time the band switched to an older song, I’d get impatient for a return to the new stuff. Your Favorite Weapon may have been endearingly innocent, but Deja Entendu possesses a majestic pessimism. Each song is a complete and commanding idea. “Sic Transit Gloria . . . Glory Fades”, “I Will Play My Game Beneath the Spin Light”, “The Quiet Things that No One Ever Knows”, “Jaws Theme Swimming”, “The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot”, “Guernica”, and “Tommy Gun” all stand in stark contrast to one another, not only illustrating the band’s versatility, but their evolving talent as composers. Their performance this Halloween was dramatic, cinematic, dynamic, epic, heart-breaking, celebratory, and jubilant. Lacey’s songwriting and “aw shucks” stage presence, guitarist Vin Accardi’s slick rock star style and scream, and drummer Brian Lane’s unassailable hold on the rhythm section have combined to make Brand New one of the most promising acts in contemporary rock music. The band has already been lumped into that damn emo category, but their performance tonight removed them from the trappings of that genre and catapulted them into pure rock music. The crowd knew that. We weren’t there for some emo band. We were at a rock concert. Happy Halloween.