JOYCE MANOR live at The Space. Hamden CT. 8/14/12
For those of us who regularly frequent shows in Connecticut, there were many jokes to be made at The Space last night. Which band was going to break down in tears first? What was going to go wrong during TWIABP’s set this time? How long was it going to take for a heated bro-fight to break out during Joyce Manor? There were also many circumstantially humorous but shockingly serious questions asked, like, for instance, “how the hell did this show sell out in advance?” and “where the fuck did all of these people come from?” By the end of the night, a solid 70% of the crowd comprised people that I had never seen or interacted with in my life, which is practically unheard of in my more recent experience with Connecticut punk shows. Jokes aside, it was hard to deny the significance of this show, both in an immediate sense, and as a benchmark for the popularity and marketability of emo-revivalist punk rock. With four highly accomplished independent touring groups on the bill, this show was like emo revival’s perfect storm, and it just happened to descend on the sleepy town of Hamden, Connecticut last night. Frankly, I think it caught most of us off guard.
The show began with recent Topshelf Records-signees Sirs playing to an already packed crowd just before 7:30. They played a set mostly comprising tracks from their new self-titled album, which Topshelf released earlier this year. I recognized the sentiments that some attendees expressed in that it would have been nice to see a local act in more need of a popularity boost as an opener, but I’m sure that Sirs were grateful to end their tour with such a bang. The band’s grooving, abrasive take on Kinsella-style math rock was a fitting sound for the bill, and they were impressively tight.
The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die played next, and, as always, they both blew my mind and disappointed me ever so slightly. I’ve come to expect much from The World Is… in the past two years, but perfect shows are not among those expectations. Transcendent, beautiful moments, always, but never technical perfection. In my experience, they have suffered a lot of technical difficulties, from failed bass cabs to malfunctioning pedalboards, but with a six-member lineup, it’s hard to blame them for running into occasional problems. Last night’s show was no exception to this trend, but what happened this time was scarier and potentially much more dangerous. Towards the end of “Victim Kin Seek Suit,” guitarist Chris Teti accidentally slammed his head into Derrick Shanholtzer-Dvorak’s guitar, causing profuse bleeding and bringing the show to a tenuous halt. The band carried on afterwards as a five-piece, cutting their set short to accomodate Teti’s absence.
Oh but the moments! Those moments of transcendent beauty during their set last night were possibly more transcendently beautiful than any other time I’ve seen them. They opened with the first track on their new LP, a plastering post-rock epic with harmonizing guitar leads and masterful math rock drum work. The following song “Gordon Paul” sounded just as communally resonant as ever, and the closer “I Will Be Okay. Everything” may have even usurped the former song’s ability to get the crowd going. The highlight for me came in between the two, when the band played “Mega Steve,” during which frontman Tom Diaz handed me the mic for the entirety of the song’s slow, screamo-influenced second half. I got to live out my dreams of being a member of TWIABP, and it was even beter than I could have hoped.
Algernon Cadwallader assumed something of an emo-revival elder statesman status when they began their set after The World Is…, running through song after song from their two full lengths and various 7” records to the ecstatic uproar of their engaged fans. “Spit Fountain” provided a particularly joyous opener, and with the ear-to-ear smile that occupied Peter Helmis’ face throughout the entire set, I almost forgot that I was seeing an emo band. Nevertheless, I had a great time, and hearing songs like “Stars” and “Some Kind Of Cadwallader” again brought me straight back to the days when I was first getting into this kind of music. Algernon Cadwallader were there then, and although so many of their contemporaries have since split up, they seem to be in it for the long haul.
As the Algernon trio left the stage, and the Joyce Manor crowd began to pack thicker and thicker into The Space’s standing area, I felt an uneasy sense of impending danger approaching, akin to what one might experience in the so-called ‘calm before the storm.’ A largely predictable affair ensued once it began. Joyce Manor opened with “Call Out (Laundry),” although they could have begun with virtually any song from their self-titled, and their fans — many of whom seemingly materialized out of some void and appeared at The Space that night — went exactly as crazy as predicted. As I stood there in front, batting off stage-divers and dodging flying arms, I wasn’t sure whether to love it, laugh it off, or just leave the chaos ensuing around me. The crux of the issue, for me, is whether Barry Johnson — the band’s perpetually smirking frontman with the dreamy eyes and ridiculous blackout tattoo on his left forearm — is simply an insufferable, unwarranted asshole, or if he’s absolutely on point most of the time. The truth, as I discovered last night, is both. In between winking and waving at crowdsurfing girls and lobbing mean-spirited zingers at kids in the audience, Johnson definitely came off as somebody who cares a lot about himself and little else. Before launching into a sloppy and forgettable version of a Murder City Devils song, Johnson snarkily introduced it as an Oasis cover, as if that were some hilariously ironic thing to do. And yet, there were moments during the set when I couldn’t help but agree with his stage banter, barbed and pointed though it was.
"So, this is your first show, huh?" Johnson sneered as a pile of kids in front collapsed on each other during one of the more heated moments of Joyce Manor’s set. He proceeded to lightly ridicule the same kinds of fans that I’ve always had a problem with ever since I first started listening to Joyce Manor — fans who were at his show, listening to his band’s music. It suggests an impressive amount of guts (after all, he is right), but also a tremendous lack of respect or caring for his own creative product. Joyce Manor’s music, after all, panders thoroughly to the same kind of people that Johnson apparently enjoys chiding so much. The songs are catchy and accessible to even the least indoctrinated ‘punk’-identifying kid, and the lyrics are appropriately vague and delivered with enough disaffected fervor to appeal tremendously to ‘struggling’ middle class white kids. This music is practically tailor-made to suit the fans, and the fans, as last night’s show made very clear, eat it up ravenously. This realization would almost make me admire the band for putting out the relatively challenging Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired, if that album’s more obtuse aesthetic weren’t so obviously the product of laziness rather than a conscious effort to be more interesting.
For what it is, though, Joyce Manor’s music is quite good, and the success of last night’s show reaffirmed my belief that I wasn’t alone in thinking so. From what I could tell, their performance was considerably less tight than when I saw them in April, but their ravenous fans didn’t seem to notice. Much like the band’s music, the cramped moshpit was sloppy, aggressive, and more than a little obnoxious, but I paid my due diligence inside it for the majority of the set before stagediving my way out of there during “Constant Headache.” As I clawed my way over the dense crowd, scraping The Space’s low-hanging ceiling and desperately trying to avoid acting like the literal throngs of people who had unflinchingly kicked and elbowed their way over me in the previous half hour, I realized something that I had known long before I started listening to Joyce Manor. Whether I like it or not, I’m on track to becoming my own worst enemy. Perhaps I might sit the next show out, wherever or whenever that may be. Until then, I’m content to sporadically listen to Joyce Manor on my own time, where neither their Tumblr fanbase, nor the previously unseen legions of people who showed up last night can touch me. Something tells me that there might be some overlap between the two.
View a full set of photos from this show at the Lewis and his Blog facebook page, and be sure to follow Manic Productions and The Arc Agency for information about more Connecticut shows like this in the future.