JOYCE MANOR live at Bethesda Lutheran Church. New Haven CT. 2/25/13
I remembered that Joyce Manor existed two days ago, when a series of tweets and tumblr posts indicated to me that, at one of their recent shows with Desaparecidos, Conor Oberst’s punk band played a cover of “Constant Headache,” the anthemic midtempo closer from Joyce Manor’s self-titled album. My eventual reaction was surprise; it prompted a tweet the next night about how something like that could only really happen in 2013, when the Oberst-indebted Joyce Manor and Oberst’s own reunited band stand on virtually the same level in terms of the sizes of their respective fan bases. And yet, my immediate reaction to the news was not one of surprise but rather one of fuzzy, warm acceptance. Mostly, I felt like I was living vicariously through frontman Barry Johnson. I don’t think it would surprise anyone reading this that I would probably be able to die happy if Conor Oberst covered one of my songs. Still, the thought of something so crazy happening to this band worried me somewhat. Considering the possibility of a major ego boost to a band that I have already documented extensively as being egocentric, I was hesitant about their show at New Haven’s Bethesda Lutheran Church last night.
First, a word about the space: I wasn’t familiar with this church by name, but as it turned out, it’s in an affluent neighborhood of New Haven with which I’m very familiar. It was kind of adorably hilarious to see scuzzy punks and Tumblr kids (of which there were many) wandering about cluelessly on St. Ronan Street, directly across from the imposing hill of Yale’s Divinity School. Also, the church’s representatives, who were present throughout the night to sell snacks and oversee the whole affair, made a point to mention that they were worried about “the flying thing” (known to us punks as ‘stage diving’) that everyone started doing during TWIABP’s set. The Arc Agency, who booked the show, jokingly updated the facebook event as a “No Fly Zone.” Cute!
By the time that I arrived around 7 PM, I had missed a good majority of the wrestling-inspired post-hardcore outfit Enzuigiri’s set. What I heard was enjoyable though — heavy, bass-driven punk rock with alternating, dual vocals and a surprising amount of sonic heft for a power trio. Soon after they finished, an early highlight of the show came in the form of a terrific performance by SUNY Purchase indie kids LVL UP (pictured above). I’ve caught LVL UP nearly every time they’ve been to Connecticut in the past year, and each show has been tighter and more enjoyable. They remind me of how The World Is… was a couple years ago; this band is on an upward trajectory towards something great and the release of their forthcoming Extra Worlds 7” should aid that surge. From the Real Estate-aping “Bro Chillers” to the hilariously mosh-inducing performance of “*_*,” there was a lot to love about LVL UP’s set last night, but one of their unreleased songs proved to be the true highlight, with a jaunty power pop progression and multiple unique vocal parts. I can’t wait to hear their new studio material.
The next band on the bill was a New Jersey emo duo called Dads, with whom you’re probably familiar. Of course Dads played this show. Frankly, the experience would have felt incomplete without their mere presence, to say nothing of the performance itself. Having never seen them live before, but having paid attention to their presence on the internet for about three years, I wasn’t sure what to expect. To be honest, I don’t enjoy their music much at this point; it feels too passé — too aesthetically and conceptually linked to a revivalist era of emo that has run its course a few too many times. What bothered me, though, was the manner in which the group presented itself to the crowd, mixing deadpan sarcasm with what occasionally scanned as genuinely self-important conceit. “We’re just going to get right into the hits,” drummer/vocalist John Bradley said, cloyingly, at the beginning of the set. It was a little off-putting, but their fans seemed to enjoy it extensively. Their enthusiasm was lost on me, sadly.
Dads’ set was followed by a high profile performance from locals The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, a band that never truly disappoints live despite occasional, frustrating issues that impede the perfection of which I so thoroughly believe they are capable. Last night, though, they were tighter than ever. Settling into his relatively new role as lead vocalist for the third time that I’ve seen him, David Bello seemed unprecedentedly comfortable onstage. The band as a whole has swelled to 8 members in size, and their collective sound is truly something to behold. Yet despite the intensity that their arsenal of guitars, drums, keyboards, trumpet et. al. can provide, the best moment of their set was also the most tempered and gentle. They closed with a new song, featuring lush, four part harmonies that ended the performance on a powerfully subdued note.
In my experience seeing this band so many times, I’ve realized that to listen to The World Is A Beautiful Place is to give in a little— to a embrace some pretense and allow oneself to experience a certain profundity that may or may not actually be there behind the passionate screams and intertwining melodies. That said, when a couple hundred kids gather in a literal church and sing along as the band’s 8-member orchestra plays their transcendent brand of emotive post-rock, it’s hard not to feel like some kind of pseudo-religious experience is occurring. These guys should consider starting a full-on cult when their new album drops; I hear that’s a terrific promotional strategy.
When Joyce Manor took the stage, I had resigned to relative passivity, although I won’t deny that I was a little intrigued. Within seconds of the opening surge to the front, as the power chords that signal the beginning of “Beach Community” rang out, I found myself buying into it to an extent that I never thought I would. I’ll be honest— I don’t think I had listened to Joyce Manor’s music at all in the five months since they headlined The Space in August, but I actually think that my lack of immediate familiarity made me enjoy the experience more. Their songs (particularly those on the 2011 self-titled record) have a particular way of sticking in one’s brain; hearing them last night amongst the peripheral moshing and communal revelry ignited a welcome feeling of celebration within me, to the point that I actually found myself quite moved. Part of it definitely came from the extent to which the band seemed genuinely happy to be there, rocketing through some peppy new songs and grinning ear to ear during the older cuts. Although the crowd was certainly energetic, no one seemed to get hurt and there was no mean-spirited aggression present at Bethesda Church last night. It was rather cute, really. I received a small scrape on my right arm during “Call Out (Laundry)” and considered it my Joyce Manor mosh injury.
In a night that displayed a fair amount of pretense, some entirely welcome (particularly TWIABP) and others rather unexpected (Dads.. what was going on there?), it was nice to see that Joyce Manor seem to have come to terms with their own identity, with which they previously seemed confused. For a long time I’ve held the belief that there is nothing special or revelatory about their music, but more than ever before, I saw last night how little this matters. Tracks like “Derailed,” which set off a particularly heavy flurry of stage dives, may not be uniquely good, but they certainly are good nonetheless. Joyce Manor knew this, and it seemed as though everybody at the Bethesda Lutheran Church last night knew it too.
Keep up with The Arc Agency on tumblr to find out about more shows like this. Thanks for reading.