Since I first discovered Taking Back Sunday’s 2002 debut, Tell All Your Friends, nearly a decade ago, the album has remained one of my all-time favorite releases. As a big fan of those word thingamajigs, Tell All Your Friends is like lyrical crack, chock full of vivid metaphors and analogies in the form of dual lyrics sung by TBS frontman Adam Lazzara and guitarist/vocalist John Nolan. These melodies, counter melodies, and call-and-response lyrics became the band’s trademark, and the songs on Tell All Your Friends became anthems for a generation.
In 2003, Nolan and bassist Shaun Cooper left Taking Back Sunday to form Straylight Run, and the band just never felt the same to me. Don’t get me wrong, each subsequent album contained some great songs, but no single release seemed to encapsulate the magic of that debut. When it was announced that Taking Back Sunday would be releasing a new album with the original line-up and that they’d be heading out on a tour in support of that release, I was cautiously optimistic, praying this wasn’t some misguided publicity stunt by the label or a last resort attempt to keep the band together after the departure of two more members, Matt Rubano and Matthew Fazzi, in early 2010.
After listening to the new album at least a half-dozen times since its release last Tuesday, I knew the reunion was no gimmick. The songs were tight, melodic, and lyrically on par with anything the band had released prior. I headed out to their show at House of Blues Sunset Strip eager to find out if the chemistry between the members was relegated to the studio or if it would hold up under the lights of the stage, and by the time I left the historic venue, I knew that the band I loved was back and just maybe, better than ever.
After performances by Color Revolt and The New Regime, Thursday kicked off their set with a burst of confetti and the track “Fast to the End.” Other than the random compilation track, I’d never listened to Thursday, but as frontman Geoff Rickly swung the mic over his head, bringing it dangerously close to bassist Tim Payne’s upraised face, I knew that, familiar with the group’s music or not, this was going to be an awesome set. Highlights included “Counting 5-4-3-2-1,” “Understanding In A Car Crash,” “Turnpike Divides,” and “No Answers,” a track off the group’s latest release, No Devolucion, and the creepy, Cold War-era “Preparing for a Nuclear Disaster” short film the group showed on the giant screen behind them mid-performance was a nice (and disturbing) touch.
When the lights finally went down after the intermission and Taking Back Sunday took the stage, I noted the smiles on Nolan and Lazzara’s faces as they kicked off the set with “El Paso,” one of my favorite tracks off the new album. Any animosity the two may have had for one another—and let’s be honest, no break-up (musical or otherwise) is ever truly mutual—seemed to be buried in the past, and the entire band looked like they were enjoying themselves, with no indication that nearly a decade had passed since they’d last toured as a unit.
Lazzara treated the mic like an extension of his body throughout the set, swinging it wildly and causing me to flinch in anticipation of an accident more than once. As he led TBS through a set heavy on the group’s oldest and newest tracks, I sang along with the crowd, alternating like most of them between Lazzara and Nolan’s parts. Not a single song was played that didn’t amp the crowd up another notch within the first few notes, and by the time the band decided to slow it down mid-set, I was ready for the momentary breather.
However, when Lazzara strapped on a guitar and announced he was honored to be performing the next song, Straylight Run’s gorgeous, haunting ballad “Existentialism on Prom Night,” I knew my lungs weren’t going to be getting a break. Really, how can you not sing along to the lyrics, “Sing like you think no one’s listening”? Put that performance down as something I never thought I’d see.
A half-dozen equally amazing songs later, Taking Back Sunday played “This Is All,” and I know I’ve said this already, but the track is definitely one of my favorites from the new album. During the performance, Lazzara eschewed the stage for the crowd, ending up crouched atop of a bar less than ten feet from where I was standing. With a grin on his face, he raised a shot glass to the House of Blues for being such an amazing venue before continuing his trek through the audience during the band’s performance of “Great Romances of the Twentieth Century.”
I noted the impressive length of the mic cable trailing along behind Lazzara as a helpful fan named Trevor pulled the frontman up into the balcony and then turned my attention to the stage. The smile that had graced Nolan’s face earlier in the night had now turned into an ear-to-ear grin. When he called out to Lazzara, “I’ll see you backstage!” before launching into “Cute without the ‘E’ (Cut From the Team),” the track that introduced so many fans to the band, I believed that he was really looking forward to it. As the band says on their website, “There’s no hard feelings, just the future,” and with regards to Taking Back Sunday, it’s a future I’m definitely looking forward to.
Taking Back Sunday Setlist:
- El Paso
- Make Damn Sure
- You Know How I Do
- Liar (It Takes One to Know One)
- Faith (When I Let You Down)
- Bike Scene
- One-Eighty By Summer
- Error: Operator
- Timberwolves at New Jersey
- Existentialism on Prom Night (Straylight Run Cover)
- What It Feels Like to Be a Ghost?
- A Decade Under the Influence
- Since You’re Gone
- Set Phasers to Stun
- You’re So Last Summer
- Ghostman on Third
- This Is All
- Great Romances of the Twentieth Century
- Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut from the Team)
- ENCORE: Your Own Disaster
- ENCORE: There’s No “I” in Team
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