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Fall Out Boy: Reborn with a Bullet

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There's one key ingredient to aging gracefully in rock n' roll; maintaining childlike wonder. This is why so many reunion records fail. Bands may have gathered the same key individuals who created all that great music initially, but somewhere along the way, they had the joy and drive beaten out of them. When Fall Out Boy went on hiatus back in 2009, it was because being in the band had become a chore. Despite creating their most ingenious record to date, Folie à Deux it met a tepid reception and the band was spent from seven years of non-stop work. Something happened in those three years; Fall Out Boy grew up and managed to find that Christmas morning spark again.

Inside the Egyptian Room in Indianapolis this past June I watched all four original members of Fall Out Boy– vocalist and guitarist Patrick Stump, bassist Pete Wentz, guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley – pour their hearts out to a small but attentive crowd of die-hard fans. While bringing the title cut from their latest album, "Save Rock and Roll" to a close, all four gripped microphone's as the chant the closing chorus together "Oh, no, we won't go / 'Cause we don't know how to quit, no, no". Behind them images of their heroes (The Beatles, Clash, Jay Z, Elton John and dozens others) graced the screens as a reminder of what it takes to continually inspire and transform. I have never understood the music press for criticizing acts for doing what they do best. Something most of the mainstream media has never understood about Fall Out Boy us how they have always performed with the elated sense of resolve. This is precisely why their arena tour this fall and their appearance at Riot Fest in Chicago is a must see, you are not just seeing a band who is relying on past glories, but one who is defying the cynics in the process.

With the release of Save Rock and Roll Fall Out Boy did not simply reunite, they were reborn. It is arguably Fall Out Boy's finest triumph, if for no other reason than its plays like a perfect old school rock record with no filler (and their shortest record at eleven songs). I hate classifying music and while Fall Out Boy was always tagged as an emo band, I've always viewed them as a straight forward rock n' roll band blending their wide array of influences into a sound wholly their own. Recorded in secret with input from the entire band this time, Save Rock and Roll excels in inexorable flow of fist pumping zest. Butch Walker, who has worked in the past with them on select songs, took the band to another level with Save Rock and Roll. He does what any truly great producer would do, find their strengths and exploit them. Over the last few years, Walker has been growing rapidly as a producer. Instead of mimicking a sound he previously created, he is finding the niche of each artist he works with bringing out the best in the artist. Aside from his own solo work, Save Rock and Roll is his greatest achievement to date as it captures the essence of Fall Out Boy while sending them into unchartered musical waters.

For the first time in their career, all four members contributed to the songs on the record, whereas in the past Wentz and Stump did the lion share of the writing. This had a recipe for disaster as it could have potentially derailed the record, but this is not ego at work here. Each of the members walked away from Fall Out Boy and flexed their musical muscles elsewhere. Trohman and Hurley raged in the metal super group The Damned Things, while Wentz dabbled with a side project The Black Cards and Stump made the grandest statement of all with a magnificent collection of pop songs on his outstanding solo album Soul Punk. Instead of focusing on the enthusiasm in each of these respective projects, the media compared them to what came before overlooking the greatness each of them seized. When compiling my list for the best albums of 2011 for antiMUSIC Soul Punk came it at number one because it is a triumph in pop production. Stump's forthrightness turns an agnostic into an advocate; he widened the pop spectrum in a way few of his contemporaries would even dare. Most acts are trapped by what is hip and new whereas Stump dove deep into the pool of pop's past, but added socially conscious lyrics placing a spotlight on not just his own demons but also the world at large. Soul Punk makes you believe pop music can attain a higher plateau where he imparts intelligence and offers sage counsel into the mix, it's a shame most didn't bother to listen with an attentive ear but with the band's rebirth, some may venture and discover a hidden treasure.

Save Rock and Roll does not sound like anything they have done before and yet it captures the warm-hearted impossibly catchy songs from their first decade. "The Phoenix" is appropriately titled with its tactile assault on the listener with burgeoning strings, a frenzied rhythm section and Stump's burning vocals. There is no denying they took their comeback seriously and wanted to make a declaration out of the gate to take hold of the listener, reward longtime fans and silence the detractors. "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)" is an intricately crafted pop tune which borrows from hip-hop and a blaze of Sunset Strip metal by way of 1970s Van Halen. "Where Did the Party Go" with its "na-na-na" chorus grabs you, but what shines is the dovetailing force of Hurley's drums and Wentz's hurdling bass groove that Stump and Trohman balance themselves on. "Alone Together" quakes, pummels, and is highlighted by a heartfelt vocal by Stump that shines bright throughout underlining the right mix of assurance and susceptibility. Their collaboration with Courtney Love on "Rat A Tat" is amazing and frightening simultaneously. Musically it is amongst the most unruly compositions on the record and Love's free form lyrics somehow feel right at home. The synth-nostalgia of "Miss Missing You" straddles the line between new wave and emo in an impeccable amalgamation of these genres. A testament to the strength of the songs from Save Rock and Roll was the audience's reaction to these songs matched their enthusiasm for the classics. Only six of the new songs appeared in Indianapolis but each and everyone felt right at home in the set.

While I followed Fall Out Boy a decade back, it was not until an arena tour in the fall of 2007 where I was able to catch them live for the first time. The evening took my breath away as they had this implicit connection with their audience. It stands as one of the greatest arena shows I have ever seen (another reason to catch them on their current tour). What awed me most about that evening was that Fall Out Boy were the heroes of the day to a generation of fans. Pete Townshend once said "Rock won't eliminate your problems, but it will sort of let you dance all over them" and few bands exemplify this quote better than Fall Out Boy. Inside the intimate confines of the Egyptian Room, they captured that spark again igniting the hearts of the sold-out crowd.

Opening with a tape of infamous Jay Z intro, the band stood behind a curtain that dropped as the band fired off "Thriller" in unison capturing a reverberating howl from the crowd. I have discussed the hunger with which the new songs were performed, but what astonished me was the resolve of the band on their older songs. Fueled by the ecstatic reception of the crowd the band played with the same gusto as I saw six years ago. Fall Out Boy could have gone down a very different route with this record and tour. Most acts would have done a handful of club shows to stir anticipation for the record (which FOB did), but they would then hit the sheds or arenas and cash in on the renewed interest padding their bank accounts while overpricing tickets and alienating fans in the process. Instead, Fall Out Boy booked a ten-week tour of clubs and theatres where the band allowed their fans to get up close to them reestablishing a bond. Looking around the room in Indianapolis, the fans were rapturous to see their heroes up close. Throughout the 90-minute set, the band played material from all of their albums and among the twenty songs they played, not one fell on deaf ears. An early highlight was the crushing guitar assault of "Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes" which Trohman and Wentz played off one another in impeccable accord. On "Buffalos", Hurley pummeled his drums within an inch of his life. Folie was a record that didn't meet its expectations in an industry all too concerned with numbers, but to the fans it was this a musical tour de force gift wrapped in cryptic lyrics, most of which I'm still trying to make sense of five years later. During "What A Catch, Donnie" an older tattooed man towards back sang along to every word not afraid to show his openness. "Death Valley" featured merciless drums, razor sharp guitars and searing vocals. Guitarist Joe Trohman's guitar playing was deranged in all the right ways that he relished every note as he leaped across the stage. The last time I saw Trohman in concert he was playing with The Damned Things (which featured Hurley on drums and Scott Ian of Anthrax). Despite being a lead guitarists in that band, he was one of three and they traded off solos and riffing with one another and he appeared so self-assured and happy in what he was doing, I wasn't sure if he would ever return to the Fall Out Boy fold. Fortunately, he did and contributed to the new album. Onstage he was a man obsessed as he performed in a bracing and breathtaking manner.

The set was meticulously crafted and sequenced. The new songs hit the audience's sweet spot as they were paired perfectly with musical catnip ; "A Little Less Sixteen Candles, a Little More 'Touch Me'", "Hum Hallelujah", "Sugar, We're Goin Down", "Thnks fr th Mmrs", "Saturday" each were carried out with incandescent elation by the band. Never once did you feel they were performing the songs because it was expected. The crowd, more mature and older since they last saw the band, still reveled in the music in a way everyone dreams about but few attain. This was not a venue of escapism but a house of devotion. There are artists who need to applause from not just their fan base, but also everyone. Then there are acts that play to their core head-on and this inexorable zeal that when done well manifests itself into something more. Fall Out Boy is a group of four remarkably gifted musicians who happened to be friends. Their time apart made them tougher more unwavering and with a clearer mind and conscious to not just get back together but to be the better than they were when they went their own ways four years ago. The one member I have not spoken about yet is bassist Pete Wentz. This album and tour would not exist if he had not reached out to Stump in early 2012. He's often been the target of critics for the celebrity aspect of his life, but what no one ever gives him credit for is how this ardent caffeinated kid has touched so many with his vociferous lyrics and forceful performances. He may not have been as flashy this time around, but he roamed the stage not like a kid who just won the lottery but a man who still has the fire within burning bright and who wants his fans to love music as much as he did growing up. Instead of leaps and jumps, he gained points for small gestures whether it was eye contact with the fans, the willingness to step back and let Stump and Trohman steal the spotlight, the harmonies he embroidered and the surging bass lines that fuel every song. A whole generation of writer's will see him as not much more than a pin-up boy, but they're judging a book by its cover because Wentz is one of the most ingenious artists of his generation.

There is a key line in Fall out Boy's concluding track "Save Rock and Roll"; "You are what you love, not who loves you". It is possibly too long to put on a t-shirt, but it perfectly encapsulates their mission. They are taking this music to the fans. The understand that true believers will pick you up when you are down and remind you what makes you extraordinary. Watching the interplay between the band and their fans this past summer reminded me of why Fall Out Boy is one of the best working bands today; they identify with their fans and reward them. Once you lose that inner child, no matter how many milk cartons or Soul Asylum videos you splash a picture on, it's gone. Fall Out Boy has managed to keep that little kid from losing his sense of wonder. If you have lost it and are seeking it, check them out this fall because their music and performances may hold the key to rediscovering your inner child.

Fall Out Boy is headlining arenas in September and will perform at Riot Fest on September 13.

Check out a preview of the album tracks here.

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 tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter

Fall Out Boy: Reborn with a Bullet
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