When I was in my late teens few things made as much sense as a Taking Back Sunday song. The lyrics paralleled my life so accurately that it felt like singer Adam Lazzara had telekinetic powers. As I got older I realized I was just a cliche. But that’s the most important part of the emo cliche: the belief that no one could possibly understand what you’re feeling because you’re so unique and deep.
Then you hear a record that articulates your feelings better than you ever could. As a result Adam Lazzara became a cult figure to me. He had a reverse mullet, I had a reverse mullet. He had lyrics from his favorite band tattooed around his elbow, I had lyrics from my favorite band tattooed around my elbow. I would scour the internet for anything Taking Back Sunday and stay up late at night re-watching their legendary set at the Tulagi in Boulder wishing I could be front row screaming back into Lazzara’s face.
I kept up with their rivalry with Brand New and their partial break-up that spawned Straylight Run like it was Brangelina. When I finally saw Taking Back Sunday at Warped Tour ‘04 I felt an adrenaline rush that made my head spin. Towards the end of “Bike Scene” a girl passed out in the pit. The band stopped and everyone helped carry the girl out. Lazzara turned to the crowd and said, “What happens when someone falls down?” And in unison the crowd yelled, “Pick ‘em up!” Without missing a beat they went right back into the last part of the song with, “You got me right! Where you want me!” It was awesome. I grew to cherish that moment with each passing album and show of diminishing returns. By the time I was out of college I had a normal haircut and would only listen to TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS when I was alone.
As I walked into the Summit Music Hall on Wednesday night one thing was clear; even though I had moved on, Taking Back Sunday had gotten bigger. The stage was adorned with three giant LED screens that seemed more appropriate for a Kanye West show and an almost comically tall drum riser. The band took the stage and opened with the ballady “Flicker, Fade”. An odd, but not totally annoying choice.
It was their second song, “What’s it Feels Like to Be a Ghost?” and its opening riff that ignited the audience. During the song the screens played a black and white loop of a cartoon ghost dancing in sync with the song and it was obvious where Lazzara had been picking up his dance moves. The screens really began to enhance the show until they played “Stood a Chance”. The screens flashed rainbow colors like a low rent Katy Perry show. The song itself isn’t terrible, but it was a clear reminder that it’s an Imagine Dragons world they’re just living in it. Any moment of realization that my favorite band had become an emo Kings of Leon was quickly brushed aside when they played “Timberwolves at New Jersey.” I was transported right back to 2004, but this time it was the original TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS line-up, something I thought I would never see. Later in the show, Lazzara gave a special shout-out to original guitarist John Nolan and it seemed that Nolan finally forgave Lazzara for nailing and bailing his sister.
Taking Back Sunday devoted about half of their set playing songs of their last two albums. It was the first time I heard a number of them and was interesting to see them switch gears. The music, while maintaining an emo base, has drifted closer to radio rock. Lazzara’s signature mic spinning was still there, but more controlled and less elaborate than in the past. Instead of diving into the crowd with the mic around his neck he preferred to groove around like a laid back Mick Jagger.
For the encore, they started with one of their worst songs, “Call Me in the Morning”. It shamelessly panders to the radio ballad form without any of heart or self-awareness that made TAKING BACK SUNDAY so great. This song is worse than teenage poetry. Most of the crowd under 25 years-old really seemed to love it, which made me depressed and feel old. Thankfully, they hooked me back in with “Cute Without the E”. The generational divide in the crowd was summed up during the song when a teenager with black swoopy hair tried to climb up the back of a 30-something bald guy with glasses to crowd surf. The guy shrugged him off and pushed him back hard. The kid looked like he’d never been yelled at in his life. I hope he never forgets that moment, especially when he becomes the bald guy.
“MakeDamnSure” was the last song of the evening, and one of the last songs they released to which I felt any connection. It was a nice way to appease both the swoopy haired kids and the 30-somethings. That deft ability is probably why Taking Back Sunday has been able to continue selling out tours and release new records. Unlike a lot of nostalgia acts, Taking Back Sunday didn’t exclusively play their landmark album. They didn’t need to. They have spent the past ten years making new records for each new batch of angsty teens. Those newer records aren’t TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS, but they might be for the kid who doesn’t know any better. They’ve adapted and remained relevant. Much like Jimmy Eat World, Taking Back Sunday has neither burned out nor faded away.