Friday, July 1, 2011

Taking Back Sunday concert review
My review originally appeared at:

A strange tension filled the air when Taking Back Sunday performed the first of two sold out shows at the Mouse House on Tuesday.

Yet it wasn’t completely apparent until night’s end, when Adam Lazzara jumped atop the venue’s bar, stayed there way too long and guitarist Eddie Reyes was so irritated that he flipped the bird in that direction.

Just two weeks into the current tour, the 29-year-old singer appeared tired at times and his vocals were often frayed, muffled or weak (there were no obvious audio problems though). He continually hovered near the dark front corners of the stage while awkwardly crouching down.

Since the early 2000s, Lazzara has been among post-hardcore music’s most dynamic front men. Having seen the New York group live more than a half dozen times - including a memorable July ‘06 gig at Long Beach Arena, captured on the Louder Now: Part Two DVD+CD – I can attest to how powerful they can be in concert. Granted, former members Fred Mascherino and bassist Matt Rubano contributed to that high energy level.

Last year, singer/guitarist John Nolan and bassist Shaun Cooper, who played on popular, gold-certified 2002 effort Tell All Your Friends and exited acrimoniously, returned to the fold after seven years away. They helped record the new fifth self-titled album, which arrived at retailers yesterday. Produced by Eric Valentine, it adeptly ups the pop-oriented quotient without sacrificing their aggressive roots.

In Anaheim, a barefoot Lazzara conversed with the crowd; his fellow musicians (especially drummer Mark O’Connell) and an auxiliary singer/guitarist put on a fierce sonic display. Prime examples included hard-charging opener “El Paso,” the menacing “Error: Operator” and “Spin.”

Having Nolan and Cooper finally back to reprise their original roles on the Tell All Your Friends songs definitely elevated that material to new heights (much of it cropped up during the 90-minute concert - more than any other album).

On the flip side, Nolan’s counterpoint vocal/screams didn’t hold a candle to Mascherino’s Louder Now and Where You Want to Be contributions, Case in point: “A Decade Under the Influence.” Overall, it was an erratic set.

Following opening sets by New Regime and the Color Revolt, longtime New Jersey hardcore act Thursday (yes, another band with a “day of the week” moniker) upstaged the headliner. 

Veterans of the Vans Warped Tour, where I’ve seen them kill a few times, Thursday drew a good chunk of the crowd, who anxiously let out in a chant urging the group’s immediate arrival and responded overwhelmingly to each song. Though less commercially successful than Taking Back Sunday, the sextet predates them by a few years and has a huge fanbase.

Latest Epitaph Records album No Devolucion, released a few months ago, is their best to date and finds the musicians re-teaming with producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips. Mercury Rev). Wisely downplaying the screamo elements, the dreamier, more atmospheric sound (still pierced by guttural yelps every so often) is a welcome change.

Its well-executed 45-minute set featured thought-provoking projections on a screen (black and white instructional medical and atomic bomb films, Soviet cartoons from the 1950s) and an ample sampling of the new songs, which all came off mesmerizing live. For awhile, I was riveted to drummer Tucker Rule, who banged on an unorthodox kit.

Thursday left fans wanting more.

Taking Back Sunday, House of Blues, Anaheim, June 28, 2011
Setlist: El Paso/MakeDamnSure/Bike Scene/Liar (It Takes One to Know One)/One-Eighty by Summer/Error:Operator/Faith (When I Let You Down)/Timberwolves at New Jersey/Existentialism on Prom Night/What’s it Feel Like to Be a Ghost/A Decade Under the Influence/Everything Must Go/Set Phasers to Stun/Best Places to Be a Mom/You’re So Last Summer/Spin/This is All Now/Great Romances of the 21st Century/There’s No ‘I’ in Team/Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut From the Team)

Thursday, House of Blues, Anaheim, June 28, 2011
Setlist: Fast to the End/Counting 5-4-3-2-1/Magnets Caught in a Metal Heart/Understanding in a Car Crash/No Answers/Cross Out the Eyes/Sparks Against the Sun/Jet Black New Year/Turnpike Divides

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