By Hollister Dixon
Brand New occupy a very specific, very big place in my heart. I first heard the bombastic, pop punk gem of a record Your Favorite Weapon at roughly 16, and enjoyed it quite a lot. Then I discovered the very heartfelt and dynamic Deja Entendu, and fell head over heels in love with the band. Not long after falling in love, they released their third record, the wildly different and incredibly mature The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, an album so far removed in every way from Your Favorite Weapon that it may as well not even be the same band. This also includes the band’s last record, Daisy, which could be described as “impenetrable” (and has, by my showgoing companion/FOTR contributor/only real Brand New fan I know Jordan Portlock), which continues that trek away from those wry, goofy pop punk roots. The last time Brand New stopped by Portland was the 2011 incarnation of MusicFest Northwest, and at that point, Daisy was already two years old. And, despite being five years removed from that record, and despite having no new material to speak of, it seemed like as good of a time as any for the band to come back to Portland – and a good reason for me to fall back in love with Jesse Lacey’s words.
First up was Oklahoma’s Broncho. First, the positive: this is a band that has a lot going for them, with a good sound and great stage presence. Though that doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s enough for me to actually be interested in seeing what they do in the future, but my biggest concern is that they’re a band that didn’t ever sound like themselves, but rather other bands; one song sounded like Joy Division, then Pavement, then Thee Oh Sees, then Built to Spill. And while being influenced by bands like those is absolutely wonderful, the biggest, most important trick is to bury those influences under you own sound, which they failed to do, to the point where it sounded like a band that was intentionally covering the aesthetics of those bands. On top of this, every song felt painfully static, with no build up or change in feeling, as though each song was just one big verse that forgot to become a chorus or a bridge, before just giving up and ending. It’s unfair to say that they were a bad band – they were good, though never great, and clearly has something going for them – but it’s actually difficult to accurately say they were good, and not just their influences. They need a loving producer to help guide them, because I feel like they could be fantastic with the proper push.
You know who doesn’t need a push, though? Joyce Manor. When I first played “Constant Headache” following our coverage of 2013’s MusicFest Northwest, I found myself listening to a fantastic band that would, someday, garner a wonderful cult following. But what I didn’t expect to find, upon finally seeing them live, was a Crystal Ballroom full of people losing their everloving minds, dancing and shoving and singing along to absolutely every word. I found myself after the show asking people, “Are Joyce Manor the biggest band in the world, and nobody told me?” I’m still not sure if they are, but don’t tell that crowd that. Every single song and every single chanted lyric was a strange reminder that, sometimes, you uncover a pocket of fandom that you never even knew was there, and that fandom is as overjoyed and loving as any other, despite seeming to hide it incredibly well. The love in the room is made even more surprising and incredible when you consider that effectively nobody in this room bought tickets to see Joyce Manor, as the show was sold out long before they were announced as support for the show. All I can tell you is this: don’t sleep on Joyce Manor, if you have been. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Please.
Rounding out the night, performing to a rapturous crowd, was Long Island’s Brand New. About that sold-out aspect in the above paragraph: this particular show sold out in what seemed to be an hour, and then more tickets were released, which also sold out. As someone who knows three people who kinda like Brand New, and nobody else, it was an immense surprise to me that the band, five years removed from their last record with no new one in sight, could pull in such a massively loyal fanbase. But, I guess this shouldn’t surprise me, since Jesse Lacey is one of the most talented frontmen in modern rock, despite never quite getting the recognition he deserves. The band starts with Deja Entendu preamble “Tautou” (after walking onstage to Olivia Newton-John’s “Please Don’t Keep Me Waiting”[???]), and then dives headlong into The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me highlight “Degausser”, the song that made me fall in love with that record. At this point, the crowd is already going insane, and it only gets crazier at the night goes on. Following this, they play through a run of Daisy tracks before returning to older, more familiar (and, sadly, well-received) material for the remainder of the evening, starting with Deja Entendu‘s fan favorite “Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades”, and bouncing around their catalog with perfect precision.
Before the show, Jordan Portlock and I discussed the bizarreness of the band’s career trajectory, and how strange it might be for new fans to hear a song from Your Favorite Weapon next to one from The Devil and God. About halfway through the set, they do exactly this, in a very interesting way; the set’s only Weapon cut, the blistering John Nolan (of Taking Back Sunday) diss track, and Devil And God opener “Sowing Season (Yeah)”. It’s a jarring combination (going from poppy and wry to contemplative and heavily layered), but it isn’t until you dig into the lyrics of both songs that you realize how Jesse Lacey thinks. While the former contains a scathing line about drunk driving (“Have another drink and drive yourself home / I hope there’s ice on all the roads / And you can think of me when you forget your seatbelt, and again when your head goes through the windshield”), “Sowing Season” begins with a Lacey in a distant, reserved state: “Was losing all my friends / losing them to drinking and to driving / Was losing all my friends, but I got ’em back.” It’s hard to say whether or not the relationship between the two, or their spots next to each other on the setlist, were completely intentional, but it speaks volumes about the distance the band’s travelled in the 15+ years they’ve been around.
The entire band is on top of their game, all of whom made every single song seem just so easy. The moods of each song varied, never quite staying in the same place for too long, and the band rolled with those changes admirably. The band was tight the last time I saw them, but they’ve taken things to an entirely different level since then, which is truly wonderful. And through it all, the crowd surged and pulsated more than any I’ve been to in quite awhile, giving way to at least a couple dozen(!!!) crowd surfers, who flew by at a near constant rate. The entire experience left me wondering: if there are this many loving, obsessive Brand New fans in Portland, why haven’t I met any of them, or made friends with any of them?
The band closed out the night with a somber run of Devil and God songs – the painfully tragic “Limousine” and the still-beautiful-8-years-on “Jesus Christ” – before launching into a 9-minute version of Devil and God centerpiece “You Won’t Know”, which turned an incredible song into something else entirely: an utter masterpiece, and a crowning achievement for the band. It’s one of the most outstanding displays of showmanship I’ve seen in quite awhile, and it was fantastic to experience it with such a loving crowd. They exited without an encore, and despite the active effort put in by the crew to take down the set, dozens of people stuck around shouting for more songs. It was honestly inspiring.
At this point in time, we don’t really have any hints at new music from Brand New. Jesse Lacey posted online a few months back about writing and recording taking place, but the tour the band is on hasn’t included any new music. Even as a fan of the band’s work, though, I find myself thinking that I could live with never getting another record from the band, and simply getting the occasional untouchable show like this one. That may be ridiculous, but it’s hard to