Taking Back Sunday was set for life with Tell All Your Friends. The gold-selling album catapulted them into emo stardom, garnering them a big enough fanbase for there to be a core set of adorers remaining with every major lineup shift and creative misfire. Honestly, none of the albums that materialized after the major 2003 departure of guitarist/vocalist John Nolan and bassist Shaun Cooper were necessarily bad outright--but none could live up to the raw power, flexible dynamics and emocore bite of the 2002 debut. So naturally, long-time fans rejoiced when it was revealed in April that Nolan and Cooper were back in the band. Said fans gave up credit card numbers when the closest thing to a hometown show was announced for New York's 1,200-cap Irving Plaza. The venue was initially known as Irving Plaza; soon dubbed the Fillmore @ Irving Plaza; and is now back with its original name; I believe this was its first show as such, and if so, seemed quite appropriate.
When Person L was announced as the sole opener for a few of the band's east coast dates, the reaction was hilarious. Grown-ass men whose tastes apparently haven't progressed past generic Drive-Thru pop-"punk" were vehemently disappointed that TBS did not select a more "appropriate" or "reunion"-themed comrade to play the show with them, instead going with the Starting Line ex-frontman's new experimental rock project. That sentiment seemed to run rampant in the crowd during Person L's half-hour set. As they dove into the dreamy "Wooden Soldiers," one antsy heckler instructed the band to "Get the fuck off the stage!" It had to be frustrating for Vasoli and company, and it showed: After the first three songs, Vasoli responded to one crowd member specifically, offering "Why don't you grab yourself a chocolate milk and let the adults watch a band?"
What I like about Person L, and what others can't seem to understand or relate to, is that Vasoli is just unabashedly paying tribute to his varied influences and tastes with this project: You have your Radiohead song; your Dismemberment Plan soft-pop jam; your breathtaking American Football buildup; your bluesy, fuzzy, funk-laden, Hendrix-esque rock'n'roll jam--and it all comes together into a pleasant, cohesive set. And when the band busted out a new song it actually carried clearer shades of originality, finding the band making fully effective use of their dual drummers and a strong percussive backbone that made it a really rhythmically interesting sidestep.
Vasoli jumped and flailed around the stage wildly for most of the set, barely getting back to the mic in time to sing his lines. It made the whole set a little bit loose and raw, but the band's performance always seems more spontaneous, fun and more interesting for the crowd in those cases. Though no one in the audience seemed to care much, Person L gave them something a little different to set them up for Nostalgia Time.
Set list (8:40-9:11):
- Goodness Gracious
- Wooden Soldiers
- Good Days
- Help Yourself
- new song
- The Positives
The cheers in the sold-out venue were deafening after the clip from "Beautiful Girls" was played on the PA system (it was originally a sound bite on the "Great Romances of the 20th Century" demo). The band walked out and immediately busted into their biggest song--"Cute Without the 'E'." Both kids and adults went off. Sloppy, scarily shirtless push-pits formed and the audience crushed against each other--though not nearly as suffocation-inducing as I remember it used to get at Sports Plus or The Downtown. But it was probably comparable temperature-wise, as the audience was clearly generating way, way too much heat for a venue that was already not terribly ventilated or air-conditioned.
The chemistry the band used to have with this lineup was pretty apparent, and yet everything was a little less calculated and rehearsed--for the better, of course. Although, Adam Lazzara toned down his mic swings and played a steadier role on the stage, probably exhausting himself since he was often found crouching down at the front of the stage and singing, while John Nolan implemented keys on some songs to tasteful effect. I'm pretty sure Nolan never used to have a piano on stage with the band, but all those years in Straylight Run has likely made it a fixture of his on-stage setup.
They also had three guitarists, so while the stage looked a little busy, the sound was full and hard-hitting at all points across the set. But they knew when to tone it down; Lazzara picked up a guitar for the softer, more expansive sing-alongs of surprise cuts like "Your Own Disaster" (an old B-side contributed to the 2005 soundtrack to "Elektra") and "Existentialism on Prom Night" (from Straylight Run, the band Nolan and Cooper formed in the interim of their departure and return).
Of course, the set list was TAYF-heavy but that was to be expected (and, naturally, garnered the biggest reactions), and the band still integrated some tracks from their other three albums. They also played two new songs, one of which was dubbed "The Best Places to Be a Mom" (really, Lazzara insisted) and another entirely more repetitive song that was nonetheless immediately catchy and memorable in that Where You Want to Be sense--apparently it's a reworked song from around the TAYF timeline originally called "I'm Not Gay (I Just Wish I Were)."
Despite Lazzara's apparent exhaustion and not always looking emotionally affected by the deeply personal and cathartic nature of that early material (it has been eight years, I guess...), some random moves of his got the girls in a frenzy. As "MakeDamnSure" wound down, he decided to scale the speakers and climb up to the balcony, doing a soft flip over the handrail to sprawl out onto the floor and have fans up there awkwardly look down at him and sing along with the closing lines. For encore closer "There's No 'I' in Team," he went from lazily standing around on the stage singing the last few lines to doing a front-flip stage dive into the crowd; he looked half-conscious as people screamed "Best friends means I pull the trigger, / best friends means you get what you deserve!" in his face and around him.
Hopefully this marks a new era for the band that will fully revitalize them after the okay but fairly passable last album, which even Lazzara called a step backwards. New again indeed.
Photo taken and tweeted by Neil Rubenstein, who guested on "Timberwolves at New Jersey."