The All-American Rejects: Songs To Save Your Life By

Concert Review: The Metro-Chicago, IL
April 9th, 2012

Great shows are often defined by a singular communal moment. You know what I'm talking about- where the band stirs the crowd into a tizzy where they lose themselves in the moment allowing their emotions to get the best of them. Whether it's a tear escaping from an eye duct, a yelp at the top of your lungs, a jogging leap or a thrust of the arm to the air so insistent you'd knock someone out it was angled downward. With each passing year of my life, these collective moments slowly disappear. Most music acts struggle to whip up the fervor their musical descendents previously did without trying. I hear about concerts by the Clash, Ramones and the Who where the crowd transcended the evening to another world. As the All-American Rejects closed out their main set the Chicago's Metro with "Move Along" the crowd wept and wailed along to the time-keeping drums that pulsed, the combustive guitars and their own voices which almost drowned the band out just like their rock forefathers had before. The entire concert was a fury-filled ride of rapture but this song took it up a notch. The All-American Rejects may not make any year-end critics lists, but watching the crowd's collective retorts song-after-song made me realize this is a band bigger and better than anyone other than their fans gives them credit for.

Going right for the jugular the band began their tight 90-minute show with the bursting riff of "Dirty Little Secret" providing the crowd with a shock of instantaneous satisfaction. Their eponymous debut record is a decade old, but several songs were featured in the set and didn't feel the least bit dated. "My Paper Heart" was a cotton-candy pop concoction, but onstage at the Metro, it was fueled with inexorable aggression. "Your Star" was performed without a hint of irony. The unbridled gusto of their late teens still infused the performance. "Swing, Swing" elicited a cacophony of roars and a huge adrenaline rush from the crowd. If a song moves and inspires someone then it never becomes dated. In my book, there's nothing sexier than a group who constantly evolves and brings their fans along for the ride. There was an entirely charming quality of their debut which they have improved upon with each release. For a band as well-manicured as the Rejects are on record, they bring a more monolithic density to their songs in concert. On the 2008 cut "Fallin' Apart" the floor shook as heavily as it had during "Dirty Little Secret" proving there is more to this band than the radio hits and videos. On record the song floats on a the same pop cloud that Katy Perry drove on her biggest singles, but the Rejects didn't just perform, they heaved back and forth with the crowd as the crowd stood there and sung every last lyric. This point was driven home even further on "I Wanna" where Ritter stood at the tip of the stage, raised his arms and the crowd, both males and females followed his lead and proceeded to merrily jump and down. The force of the crowd never relented for the entirety of their set.

The Rejects fourth record Kids in the Street was represented by eight songs in the set. Kids in the Street finds the band liberating their minds onto a intricately well crafted alternative pop-rock template that is hard to deny under the guidance of Greg Wells who most recently added his production touches to a few cuts on Adele's 21.The lead single "Beekeeper's Daughter" didn't miss a beat with the crowd with a chorus as endearing as anything they've created to date. Ritter roamed the stage like it was an arena much to the glee of the crowd. The strident Ric Ocasek influence "Fast and Slow" invigorated the crowd while the catching mid-tempo number "Someday's Gone" exemplified their musical expansion. "Gonzo" featured an underpinning of rhythm where two basses complimented Chris Gaylor's kick-drum tempo. Trying to make sense of the last decade of their life, the Rejects concocted an anthem of living in the present. "Only when you look forward could you see behind". These introspective lyrics further illustrate the weightiness with which the Rejects take their craft. Musically it shifts from a whisper to a scream with the bass and drums affecting not just the song but the fragile emotions of the listener. Guitarists Nick Wheeler and Mike Kennerty guitars reverberate never overshadowing the song. Their guitar work on many of the new songs more or less compliment them rather than overpowering them. This is the highest compliment I can give them as they sacrificed their talents for the sake of the songs.

"Kids In the Street" was performed under a sepia blue light. It's hard to imagine that each and every attendee would have chosen to be anywhere else than inside the Metro. The penultimate song was a prayer. Surrounded by their friends with their favorite band performing out-of-their-skin, they mouth along to every last lyric because it's more than mere entertainment but something that connected with them and steers them and their journey through the battlegrounds of our times. As they chronicled life tales the All-American Rejects relentlessly surged off the stage and into the crowd's consciousness chronicling our lives through perfect songs. This is a band whose collective whole and talents are far greater than anyone gives them credit for. They have lived the rock n' roll life a bit, but I can never deny them because the music is delivered with such earnestness. The crowd at the show was more than delirious as they proved on "Gives You Hell" where they sung not just the chorus, but the verses as well as their voices coalesced and soared. Ritter and the band seduced the heavily female crowd enough to warrant a shower of bras midway through the song which continued until after they took their bows and headed into the darkness of the backstage.

A song doesn't need to be sonically raw to be real. Because they create sonically full-bodied records, their songwriting is often undermined. The title cut of each All-American Rejects is more than a mere song from the record. It's always a theme that embodies the record, most often with finding triumph in the face of adversity. Some may say the band has made a career out of being derivative, but I'd say they have made a career out of playing to their strengths continually upping their game with each release. Each song is filled with enough earnestness to bring you to your knees, "(Mona Lisa) When the World Comes Down", "Move Along" and "Kids in the Street" are merely three songs hat delineate our existence I don't have all the answers, but what I am sure of is that we were not destined to walk this Earth alone. In our darkest moments, we should strive to hold onto something or someone. Some songs may be delivered tongue-in-cheek playfulness, but most of their catalog is imbued with silver lining of hope and sometimes that's just what the doctor ordered. The crowd inside the Metro hung and sung onto every last song as if their life depended on it. Many may dismiss them as being unoriginal, but they're missing out on the healing each song brings. Taking in a whole All-American Rejects concert, your eyes are opened to the effortless splendor of their catalog, the strength of their songs and the fervor with which they are performed. The music of the All-American Rejects serve as a counterpoint to the tragedies we endure- it's bold enough to make everyone believe that a better day is right around the corner. When their time comes for a Greatest Hits record, they should call it Songs To Save Your Life By.

Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter

The All-American Rejects: Songs To Save Your Life By

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