Live in Calgary (March 14, 2014)
Standing in the long lineup prior to the sold out show in Calgary from the Greatest Generation tour, I noticed that the average age of attendees appeared to be somewhere in the vicinity of 14, with a surprisingly strong representation from females. This is curious because headliner The Wonder Years’ lyrics express the existential angst of 20 & 30 somethings. But I always welcome youthful enthusiasm and encourage participation in social events, so I entered one of Calgary’s lousiest venues, The UofC’s The Den, with a positive outlook toward the upcoming show.
The sold out show started at 645 as Modern Baseball took the stage. They played a short 8 song set, which concluded with their newest single, Your Graduation, which naturally received the biggest response. Only about half of the crowd was in the venue for this set, the joys of playing first in the lineup, but those there appeared to enjoy the group, whether they were singing along passionately or simply swaying along with a smile. They were the surprise highlight of the night, translating the songs from their two albums into a live setting well. Jokes about Zach Braff lookalikes, actively engaging the audience and starting discussions about Tubby Dog and Battle of the Bands (which would continue throughout the night) provided some friendly banter during frequent between song guitar tunings.
After a short break, Citizen took the stage. The vocals were often unfortunately buried in the sound mix. You could see him singing, but it was lost in the sound. The crowd engaged well, which was great to see. One can only assume that many of the teens passionately singing along to Citizen had raided their parents’ dusty CD collections and discovered a plethora of great 90s alternative bands. There was a lot of beards and flannel being sported in non-ironic ways in the pit during this set. That may have simply been the result of the fact that all of the 30 something lumberjacks came down from the mountains into Calgary for the show though. The crowd spent a few songs standing completely still, slack jawed as they watched the group alternate between Jimmy Eat World emo melodies and droning feedback. They burned through the songs from Youth with vigor, ending predictably with breakout hit, The Summer. Overall, the set was a wonderful contrast to the happy melodies of Modern Baseball. Both groups pulled off wonderful sets, despite very different musical styles. Those who came in late really missed out on some great music.
The night moved quickly and Real Friends were on stage by 810. They kicked off the set with Floorboards with its’ blend of classic pop punk in the vein of The Movielife and familiar vocals that make it obvious why they’d be touring alongside The Wonder Years. They alternated between upbeat pop punk and sappy sing alongs, which found the suddenly female heavy crowd overpowering the band with their sweet mass melodies. It was an interesting contrast to the grungy sound of Citizen. After the first song, they tried to get the crowd to move back for safety reasons because all of the tiny teen girls at the front were being squished against the stage. While vocalist Dan Lambton was grinning like a maniac between songs, the other guys up front looked almost bored as they played through most of the set. Despite rumours that they are gearing up for a full length release, they stuck to the familiar during the live set. The crowd sang the first minute of I’ve Given Up on You for them, which is always a goosebump inducing happening. They followed the somber song with catchy Late Nights in My Car. Real Friends put on a solid set of throwback pop punk with sappy lyrics that was a natural fit considering the headliner.
I openly admit that whoever was slated to replace Defeater was going to be a hard sell for me. The diverse lineup including relative newcomers on the scene was very exciting and the balance between poppy punk and grittier bands was exciting and refreshing. While Defeater’s absence was understandable, Fireworks were a curious replacement. Maybe they were the only available band when the spot opened up almost last minute? Regardless, they were there and ready to play shortly before 9 to a modest crowd. While there seemed to be a large amount of apathy for their set (many people left to go sit at the tables in the back of the venue), there were definitely some stoked kids right up front singing along to their blend of mediocre 90s radio rock and Fall Out Boy styled emo pop. Arrows received a bit of a positive crowd response, but they left the stage to the crowd chanting for Detroit, which is an odd omission. Sure, they have a new album to promote and their biggest song isn’t really reflective of their sound, but curious all the same. The set went on a little too long for my taste.
That small hiccup was quickly forgotten as The Wonder Years took the stage. Having seen them less than a year ago in the same venue, it was great to welcome them back for a longer set. Dan Campbell’s beard has filled out in the interim, but for the most part it felt like they’d only been here yesterday (in a good way). Since this is the Greatest Generation tour, it makes sense to expect a heavy dose of the newest album, which was fine by me. If you remember, it was one of my favorite albums of 2013. They kicked off the set on a high point with There, There and Passing Through a Screen Door from that album, before looking back to Local Man Ruins Everything and My Life As a Pigeon from Suburbia… They quickly transitioned between songs with minimal banter, demonstrating their growth as a band over the past few years. The crowd was wild and singing along, right from the stage to the shadowy back walls. On You’re Not Salinger. Get Over It the crowd picked up the lyrics so chin up and we’ll drown a little slower repeating it over and over in the latter part of the song. One of the highlights was The Devil in My Bloodstream, which had a pretty piano accompaniment and a heartfelt crowd sing along. Most of the set featured songs from The Greatest Generation, with the occasional inclusion of songs from the previous two albums including crowd favorites Last Semester and Everything I Own Fits in This Backpack from The Upsides.
Campbell precluded Dismantling Summer with a story about their attempt to play every US state. When the venue they were supposed to play in North Dakota cancelled, they went across the river and played in another town. To complete a show in ND, the band announced that they would be heading back across to play a late night acoustic set in a Walmart parking lot. He said that the reason that he was coughing between songs was that they’d played this set in the cold night, finishing with the great line excuse me if I’m sick, but I was being a fucking punk. Before playing the final songs of the set, he asked an audience member to time them for 45 seconds after the set so that they could go puke before returning for the encore. The crowd rallied as they launched into Washington Square Park and Came Out Swinging. Campbell literally swam the audience to the very back of the crowd while singing the latter song before returning back to the stage. They guys visibly gave it their all the entire set and ended on a high note. After a brief reprieve they returned to serenade the crowd out with the slower sounds of I Just Want to Sell Out My Funeral.
As a whole, the evening was a great blend of musical styles that simultaneously complemented and contrasted with each other. Each band had their own feverish fan base in attendance, but they all had the entire crowd engaged. It was a wonderful experience.