Fall Out Boy: The Kids Are Alright (Live In Chicago)
Chicago, IL - United Center on March 12, 2016
I was a city kid who went to a high school in Wilmette, Illinois. Overseeing several of my classrooms was the Edens Expressway with cars hurtling by on the freeway en route to downtown Chicago. On the other side of the six lanes was a mall, Edens Plaza. It's gone through several stores in the last few decades, but the one I spent the most time at was a Borders book store. I would browse the CD selections and procure a large number of import and specialty music and movie magazines. I would often lose myself in that store perusing the book, CD and magazine racks and when I didn't it was because of a discussion I would have with a random stranger. It was about sharing something, finding a mutual passion and opening yourself to someone else. In the early 2000's Patrick Stump and Joe Trohman began a discussion there that ultimately led to the formation of Fall Out Boy. I may have been in that store at the same time as them several times without knowing it. The store closed in 2011 and the last album I ever bought there was Ironiclast by the Damned Things, Joe Trohman and Andy Hurley's band with members of Anthrax. That Borders book store is now a Walgreens and yet, whenever I'm in that neighborhood I am tempted to pull over and lose myself.
Fall Out Boy has come a long way since that infamous meeting and it was on full display at the United Center recently where they performed to a sold-out crowd of 17,000 devoted fans who stood in rapturous devotion. Two kids debating alternative and punk music one night led to this surreal arena experience. I wasn't there at the beginning, I discovered the band after a MTV2 profile which caught my ear for their name, taken from an episode of The Simpsons. Very slowly, over time, they band became more than a curiosity, but a act that crawls under my skin in the best way imaginable, invigorates my mind and is a go-to band whose catalog is more commanding and musically diverse than anyone will ever give it credit for. Most importantly, their music makes me feel alive.
Currently out on their "Wintour", the band is hitting yet another stride in their astonishing comeback. What began in 2013 at the Subterranean club in Chicago's Wicker Park has now become big business. The band has traveled internationally, played a pair of amphitheatre tours and now are on an arena run that is a showcase for their dexterity and drive. Fall Out Boy's influences range far-and-wide into a musical stew that is uniquely their own. The United Center show was a showcase for their decade-and-a-half career. Their steering control of the set is something to marvel at. Their latest record, American Beauty / American Psycho was represented by eight songs, all of which were fueled with high octane delivery as the band tapped into the crowd's energy to capture lightning in a bottle. Back when Fall Out Boy began, there was no way of knowing this band was capable of so much, crafting complex pop-punk anthems a generation would embrace and make their own. Album-after-album they create music that is more than made for the radio, they're personal tales of dissolution and redemption. The complex lyrics entice me to always listen, in the hopes that I'll catch something I never picked up on before. Like a David Lynch or Martin Scorsese film, each frame is filled with nuances and details that warrant repeat viewings. Fall Out Boy's records have proven to be intricately complex pop masterworks. The music seeps into your pores if you let it. Open yourself to it and it will reveal itself to you. I've always been impressed by the band's connection with the fans, but it's the mechanical musical unit that I now sit back and stand in awe of.
The set has evolved significantly over the last three years. Hits come and go in the set, but never have I seen them do anything other than deliver a knock-out to the crowd. This is a band that populates their concerts not with flash but with potent power. How many bands from more than a decade back are still as creatively vibrant and alive as Fall Out Boy? When the band tore through "American Beauty / American Psycho" you could smell the burned rubber on the road. The opening kick-drum of "Sugar, We're Goin Down", the evening's second song, is tantalizing, featuring the band ascending to another musical plane. The song in recent years has found a home at the beginning of the set and despite being a song every other act on the planet would close with, Fall Out Boy uses it as a signal to their crowd with a winking eye that they've hit the stage ready to hit for the fences and they do this song-after-song in an unrelenting manner. "The Phoenix", "Alone Together", "Dance, Dance" and "Thnks fr th Mmrs" are delivered with a fierce and focused precision, but more importantly, they exude energy and enthusiasm for their art.
While Fall Out Boy has no shortage of hits, the set list isn't sequenced into a series of knock-outs, because their fans don't warrant it. They're invested in every lyric, note and performance. "I Don't Care" with at shuffling beat and arms-to-the-air chorus is a showcase for the swinging pile-driving drums of Hurley. His cymbals and snare are pummeled like equipment in a boxing gym. "Chicago Is So Two Years Ago" was done specifically for the hometown crowd and while some of the audience was not alive when the song was written and recorded, the band hasn't forgotten where they came from. Everyone in attendance was alive for "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)" and its reverberations are still being felt as it made the Madhouse on Madison shake the same way the Bull and Blackhawks did with their world championships.
In a heart-tugging and touching moment, the band displayed David Bowie's picture halfway through the performance of "Save Rock and Roll", a gorgeous anthem for the post-modern rock n' roll era if there ever was one. In some ways this is a private moment the band has let us share in. Anyone who has ever picked up an instrument owes a debt to Bowie. Aside from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, I am not sure if there is any other musical artist from the last five decades who has influenced modern music more. In 2013 when the band began touring again, the screen behind them showed their influences from the Clash to Jay Z to Kanye to the Ramones. They're acutely aware of who came before and as students of music, they judiciously model their rock template from a multitude of these influences.
Anyone who doesn't see the merciless fervor in their eyes is blind or biased. At one point in the show, a piano was brought out where Patrick Stump solo performed the first half of 2008's "Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes". The lead cut from their bloody and blistering (and sadly underrated) masterwork Folie à Deux. Stump's impassioned vocals bled over into the band's performance who met him halfway to bring home a concentrated performance that could make the heavens rain. Deux wasn't well received upon its release and after the band finished touring it, they went on a hiatus. It's ripe for a revisit. The reverberations from the crowd, the delicately delivered performance by the band and above all else, the songs affirm life. It takes us, shakes us and captures our feelings at this moment in time. "Hum Hallelujah" is more than a bulldozing anthem for the disaffected, but a prayer. Tipping their hat to Leonard Cohen, they managed to reinvent his "Hallelujah" into something only a band is wizards could pull off. Joe Trohman's guitars burn like an unyielding fire on a song that can only be described as brave for tipping its hat to Leonard Cohen and Jeff Buckley, but making it distinctively their own. I've heard different interpretations of the songs and when Wentz wrote it, I am assuming he went to a dark place but somehow he managed to make it less Good Friday and more Easter Sunday. The general admission crowd in front of the stage found themselves absorbed. This wasn't a single or a bonafide hit, but is regarded as one of the band's best deep cuts.
In a day and age where pop music steers towards the safe rather than the adventurous, Fall Out Boy aims for the target building a pop-punk cathedral catalog that is unlike anyone else on the musical landscape. Much like Rush defined and created their own niche in the 1970s and 80s, Fall Out Boy is doing the same today. There's no question as to whether or not Fall Out Boy is one of the best emo bands, but one of the best working American bands today. It's easy to point to Wilco and the Black Keys but how many of these acts have been successful in merging commercial success with artistic strides as well as Fall Out Boy? The rock world needs all of them, but I can't help but feel Fall Out Boy isn't quite receiving the due there are deserved. I've argued about "Uma Thurman" with fellow music fans. If Jack White, Kanye West, Drake or Beyonce sampled the Munster's television theme, it would be heralded as a dazzling and decadent blast from the past, but because it's coming from a band tagged as emo (one they have transcended in every way imaginable), it's not viewed in a light it should.
In an evening of ear-splitting guitars, soulful crooning, convulsive drumming and raging riffs, it was a quiet moment that stood out to me. One of the mid-tempo songs on their latest record, finally finding a home in the set list is "The Kids Aren't Alright". Pete Wentz took a few minutes before the song to relate to the audience about this moment in time. To some it may come off as grand standing, but he spoke to the crowd with empathy. I can't tell you what the lyrics mean, what story they're trying to tell but I know how it makes me fell. Bob Dylan crooned "How does it feel?" more than five decades back and despite millions of articles written about the art form that is rock n' roll, in the end one should never dictate what you should and shouldn't like, but how it makes you feel. I have written about Fall Out Boy so much in recent years not out of admiration but out of a genuine love for the music. When I listen to their music, it terrifies me but also seeps in and enlightens as well.
Capturing widespread emotions such as euphoric joy, confusion, disbelief, fear and love Fall Out Boy let the crowd enter a private exhibition of their work to take in. Is the show entertaining? Without question, but the real heart lies in the discussions with the audience, the ardent performances and the interaction with the crowds. There are two types of performers in the world; those who figuratively look down on their audience from the stage above and those who gladly lock in eye-to-eye, the four members of Fall Out Boy are the latter.
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: The Kids Are Alright (Live In Chicago)
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