On October 17th 2016 Brand New graced Connecticut with their presence. Amid murmurs (and half-confirmations) of an impending breakup, or a new album, or a new album and then a breakup, they announced a massive tour spanning nine months and the Atlantic ocean. Fans across the U.K. and the United States promptly shit themselves and held their breath from announcement to presales. Brand New drafted The Front Bottoms and Modern Baseball for the U.S. leg, packed up their mom's minivan, and set out on the open road.
I got to the venue, met my press contact, and was herded with a group of other photographers through the mazelike Oakdale Theater to the photo pit. I spent a few minutes acquainting myself with the landscape and firing off some test shots before the stagehands finished their work, and then segued into my first experience seeing Modern Baseball. Their fans are numerous. Their t-shirts? Everywhere. I hadn't listened to any considerable amount of Mobo before, but at least I had enough background knowledge of their music to sing along to "Your Graduation" (a music video worth watching). After what felt like a very short set they made way for The Front Bottoms.
I'll tell you what: TFB took a long while to grow on me. I immersed myself in their Bar/None sophomore record Talon of the Hawk to no avail, and I had given up until I saw them play Toad's Place in October 2015. They performed an exhaustive collection of material, drank half the bar, and topped the whole mess off with a three song encore. I walked out of that show dehydrated and with wobbly legs, but I was a happy camper anyway. I finally liked The Front Bottoms. I'm not sure what did it, but something changed that night and this time around I was downright excited to see them. They didn't disappoint, except their set felt just as short as Mobo's.
It didn't take long to figure out why. Brand New got onstage, played nine or ten songs plucked from random spots in their discography, and then tore into their breakthrough success The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me. The whole thing. The album is a polarizing one both sonically and thematically, building enormous tension through haunting but gentle movements that seem to either pass by too quickly or go on forever, then releasing it all at once in a cathartic wave. On it, Jesse Lacey (the man responsible for much of Brand New's lyrical content), skews back and forth between restrained, emotionally nuanced delivery and tidal-wave screams. He and the rest of the band delivered an incredible, impressive live performance, with a light show as intricate, wonderful and moody as their music. The sound tech was burning sticks of incense at a mixing booth lit by the glow of a salt lamp, adding to the atmosphere. To my disappointment, the venue cut the band off at curfew with a song left to go. They thanked the audience and walked offstage, "BRAND NEW, 2000 - 2018" projected on the screens behind them.
Brand New's tour - probably not their last, but possibly their best - runs from the time of this writing to July 2017. Buy some tickets before the scalpers snatch them up. Show up early. Get in the pit. Stay there even if you have to pee. You will not regret it.
What we're listening to.