It’s about 10 p.m. on a Friday night and I am wandering through the streets of Birmingham, looking for the train station. I have never been so drenched with sweat in my entire life. I have just seen Brand New.
Skip back about half an hour and Jesse Lacey is on stage telling us that we treat his band way better than they deserve. People cheer, not seeming to realise what has just been said.
About half an hour before that, people are screaming "I am not your friend! I am just a man who knows how to feel!" louder than anything else has been screamed all night without seeming to realise the irony in it.
Maybe three quarters of an hour before that, and the crowd of excited kids scream and cheer whenever Jesse walks across the back of the stage whilst Brand New’s crew sets up the gear.
Basically, Brand New are huge. They’ve sold out the hottest (temperature-wise, not, like, ‘so hot right now’) 3000-capacity venue in the UK and it’s not clear who’s more uncomfortable about it: the band, or the fans who wish they’d seen them about five years ago in a venue where people screamed incoherently less, could clap in time and could dance rather than just jump or push people over.
But more about that later. First, skip back another couple of hours and I am running through a downpour to the venue, where I hurry to the floor and try and get a good spot near the front. Moneen are opening, and I am determined to give them a fair chance. See, I had it in my head, for some reason, that Moneen were an absolutely awful metalcore band, though it’s clear that I had them mixed up with someone else because I was nothing but surprised.
Unfortunately falling foul of the ‘Opening Band Curse,’ where openers at large shows such as this are (unless they’re Sonic Boom Six) bound to be ignored even if they play a great set, Moneen exceeded my expectations by a mile. Picking out the few people in the crowd singing along and telling tour stories, singer Kenny Bridges was nothing but upbeat, leading his band through a set of fun post-hardcore with a ton of pop influence and melodic hooks. Making up for being spread across a massive stage by leaping about all over the place, they had an amazing energy. Although they seemed to go down well with the Brand New crowd, they were undeservedly talked over, but I’m sure they managed to find some new fans. I’m among them; it’s always great when a band that you had written off for whatever reason completely changes your mind.
There seems to be a bit more of a buzz for Kevin Devine -- understandable as he’s a long-time friend and collaborator of Jesse Lacey. He came out on stage and seemed humbled by the applause that met him, picking up an acoustic guitar for his first number, before switching to an electric and bringing on the Goddamn Band for the massive, pounding "Cotton Crush," performed here with slightly different lyrics. Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band then played through a mixture of tracks from Kevin’s albums, expanded to a full-band setup where appropriate. The songs from his newest record, Brother’s Blood, sounded huge and they played two of them back-to-back, merged into one massive piece, full of slow build-ups and cathartic explosions. At one point, they played a song with an almost stadium rock feel, miles away from the simple opening, proving in one half-hour set that Kevin Devine can do both the epically huge and the intimately personal better than a large amount of bands that have only mastered one of them.
Which brings us right back to Brand New. The anticipation in the crowd was overwhelming, with kids surging forward and straining for any promise of the band starting. When the lights went out and they came on stage, picked up their instruments and, without a word, tore into "The Shower Scene," the place exploded. Quickly moving onto "The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows," easily the bands biggest song, you got the impression that they just wanted to get it out of the way: throughout the song, the crowd sung along so loud that you could barely hear Jesse’s vocals and, maybe it was just me, but they looked a little fed up with playing it every night.
It’s hard to work out if the band was being cold towards the crowd, or if they just did’t know how to deal with them; throughout most of the set, the lights left the band in the dark and Jesse, in particular, often kept his back turned. They barely talked, save for brief thanks and introductions. As the band occasionally expanded or improvised on a song, showing a post-rock leaning that is hinted on The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, but more fully explored in a live setting, they messed around with their pedals and, in Jesse’s case, screamed into guitar pickups and it sounded amazing, but it only served to alienate the more excitable elements in the crowd, who only seemed to slow down for these moments, the acoustic numbers, or the slower parts of Devil and God.
Overall, though, there was a good mix of songs -- perhaps light on Deja Entendu (but then, last time Brand New played this venue, they played the entire record in full), providing mosh pit fodder in tracks from Your Favorite Weapon, the big singles from Deja Entendu and the heavier moments of Devil and God; emotional fodder in the solo acoustic performances of "Play Crack the Sky" and encore closer "Soco Amaretto Lime"; and pure excitement fodder with two new songs: "Gasoline" is a perhaps heavier track than Brand New have ever written before, with the raw energy of Weapon informed by their later maturity and creativity, and "Trees" or "Bride" or whatever the hell it’s called is powerful and aggressive but slower and a little sludgy. It was incredible to see that much of the crowd already knew the words to the new songs -- it just goes to show the devotion that Brand New’s fans have for them and, whether they like it or not, they’re only gonna get bigger. Especially if they give a performance this good every night.