Somewhere in the kingdom of my memory there’s a small village dedicated to music from my youth. This community is populated with the essence of mallcore. The denizens wear To Write Love on Her Arms gear and sweatbands and large neon Osiris shoes. They have snakebites and skunk striped hair. They’re sneaking beers from their parent’s garage refrigerator and asking an eighteen-year-old to buy them a pack of Camel blues. These citizens work at Hot Topic, Spencer’s, Journey’s, Panera Bread, Del Taco, and Sbarro’s. They are a peaceful people. It was these people and these memories that pushed me to attend Taking Back Sunday’s 20th anniversary show at Chicago’s House of Vans.
Shows at House of Vans require a suspension of usual comforts. No, you will not be comfortable temperature wise. No, you will not be physically capable of moving freely in the space. No, no one will have any sense about anything. That said, you can ease your way into the situation with the generously provided free alcohol, the free music, and the overall positive demeanor of virtually everyone you come into contact with. With that in mind, and a focus on my teenage nostalgia, I dove into what was perhaps one of the most fun music experiences I’ve had in recent memory.
The show opened with pronoun playing a couple oldies and newer songs. Full stop: I didn’t know this band before this show. This three-piece band did the heavy lifting that all opening bands do fairly well. They got people excited, razzed the crowd, declared their love for Chicago, and kept things musically interesting for a bunch of people getting buzzed. pronoun’s 30ish minute set was fun, pleasant, and largely what you might hope a show like this would start with. Hard to say anything bad about a band who are in no way abrasive, so please assume I have a generally positive opinion.
Next up was Rozwell Kid and what do we say about a band who came out of the gates with more energy than most of their contemporaries. I was first introduced to this band years ago in college when they had done a split with Bloomington, Indiana locals Sleeping Bag. At that time the band were a sort of unique anomaly at a time where garage rock was gaining explosive momentum. They had a Weezer-esque quality about them but also this fun sort of power pop vibe that added a differentiating factor to their sound. Now, they’ve evolved quite a bit more since hopping on the SideOneDummy train and have wound up in an energetic, more contemporary take on pop punk place. Their hooks are stronger than when I was introduced to them and they have a creeping, playfully sly wit that is tied into every song. There were uncomplicated singalongs and calls for the crowd to dance, pogo, or clap along. Their set was as it should be: fun, energizing, and infectiously melodic.
As Rozwell Kid closed out a friend and I took a break to drink a few beers and discuss what we may expect from headliners Taking Back Sunday, a band each of us had seen multiple times at this stage in our lives. Would it be old stuff or new, a handful of songs from each album, or just a straight up chaotic mess of everything? Anything was possible. We reminisced on what we’d hoped they’d play while some people around us got too drunk and threw beers at one another. Chaos reigns at the emotional pop punk show. You love to see it.
As our conversation concluded, Taking Back Sunday were on stage and the room was at capacity. The energy was more than palpable, you could physically see the sweat and beer evaporating from people’s bodies and rising into the air and hitting the fans. The band ripped through hits from their first album Tell All Your Friends such as “Cute Without the E (Cut From the Team)” and “Timberwolves at New Jersey”, and “Greatest Romances of the 20th Century.” Taking Back Sunday, like many pop punk bands of their era, are blessed with fans so dedicated that they can sing along to each word in every song to add so much more to the performance. The band shifted into songs from Where You Want to Be, notably a performance of “Set Phasers to Stun” and “This Photograph is Proof (I Know You Know).” For some unknown reason the set was cut short, likely due to some terrible neighborhood curfew in the cursed area known as West Loop. Frontman Adam Lazzara took a moment to acknowledge this and offered to play one last hit, “MakeDamnSure”, and proceeded to obliterate the crowd.
My friend and I left the show largely pleased, if not completely stunned that a band like Taking Back Sunday still held so much weight in the music community. In a crowd filled with pop punk fans we noticed people from across subcultures talking about their love for the band – crust punks, goths, normies, fratty looking bros, and a couple dads. It was cool to talk a walk down memory lane with these people who were absolutely my contemporaries in my past teenage years. Satisfying the nostalgia itch was worth it and I encourage anyone reading this to take some time out of their day to check out Taking Back Sunday, who will arguably become the Foo Fighters of the next generation. I’m closing this out on that extremely hot take, but I will stand by it. Please do not email me about it.
All photos by Kate Scott