Enthralling dark rockers Alkaline Trio descended upon the Troubadour this week for two sold-out performances filled with their unique brand of dark themes, acerbic lyrics, and catchy melodies. It was the group’s fifteenth anniversary tour supporting Damnesia, their new, semi-acoustic, eighth studio album.
I arrived at the July 19th show late, nabbing the tail end of second opening act Dead Country. The Silver Lake rock group featured the same chugging guitars and hard rock melodies that have become synonymous with Alkaline Trio’s sound. Lead singer Nick Long ended their set by repetitively belting out, “I’m not asking for a reason.”
The penultimate band Smoking Popes were welcomed to the stage with enthusiastic applause. After taking a hiatus in early 2000, this Chicago-based pop punk band clearly hasn’t lost steam as they jumped around the stage, kicking their Converse sneakers high. New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert was among the fans happy to see the reunited band, tweeting, “I finally got to see @smokingpopes live tonight! I’ve been a fan for years but they broke up and now back together. Glad that happened.”
The bespectacled lead singer Josh Ceterera pointed to the most fervent fans as he sang the band’s pop punk tunes. “Let’s Here It For” was clearly a crowd favorite as fans pointed back and screamed the lyrics, “Let’s hear it for letting someone totally ruin your life.” Their performance of “Megan,” the slowest song in their set, was warmly accepted by the crowd as well.
Like Alkaline Trio, Smoking Popes possess a talent for singing about depressive things in such upbeat ways that you forget you’re singing along to a song about a “long, slow painful demise.” The band’s set culminated with the crowd singing, “Woah, I know you love me,” and Ceterara crawled into the crowd to let the most die-hard fan sing the final chorus into his microphone.
Alkaline Trio casually walked onstage and lifted their arms to acknowledge the deafening screams from devout fans, particularly those pushed against the stage, decked out in Alkaline Trio merchandise. The twenty-three-song set, kicked off with “Armageddon,” featured a semi-acoustic set and spanned all eight of their studio albums.
The group was focused on playing as many songs as possible, announcing song titles before almost every song and connecting with their dedicated fan base. Oftentimes, it was hard to tell who was singing to whom as fans reached out their arms and scream-sang along with Alkaline Trio’s haunting, heart-breaking repertoire. In between their macabre music, lead singer and guitarist Matt Skiba briefly pinpointed where he was living when each song was written, noting their hometown of Chicago to Berkeley to Brooklyn to San Francisco and finally Los Angeles.
Ultimately, the group praised Los Angeles and commented that it was “good to be home.” Bassist Dan Andriano explained, “This is one of the best tours we’ve ever done, and we tour because we love to do this, and we always came back to LA because we love it… it’s the fifteenth year we’ve been a band, and it’s because of you.”
The crowd participation continued during “This Could Be Love,” as audience members threw up their hands and counted on their fingers, “Step one, slit my throat / Step two, play in my blood.” Andriano lead a crowd clap-a-long at the beginning of “Calling All Skeletons” before slowing things down with the brand new acoustic song “I Remember A Rooftop.” He acknowledged the crowd’s confusion, saying, “I know guys, we build it up and then we come out with an acoustic guitar and it’s like ‘What the fuck?’”
Smoking Popes joined Alkaline Trio onstage during the group’s cover of Violent Femmes’ “I Held Her In My Arms.” There was something weirdly beautiful and full-circle about two grown Chicagoans embracing as Ceterera pulled Skiba down to the ground at the song’s end.
The crowd began chanting “Radio!” before the three-song encore, which didn’t consist of the band’s seminal track, but began with “My Friend Peter,” during which a brief mosh pit flared up. Skiba finished the final song “’97″ on his back, still playing guitar, legs kicked up over his head.
Alkaline Trio’s lengthy set was met with open arms and raised middle fingers by their fervent fan base. The concert was packed full of the punk rock classics that took these Chicago rockers from small town heroes to national punk legends. After their two-day run at The Troubadour, it’s clear that Los Angeles will always be a home away from home for this hauntingly talented trio.
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