Let me briefly discuss my love affair with Brand New before I get down to talking about the show I went to on November 26. I started listening to Brand New when I was in 8th grade. Their album Deja Entendu blew my little 14-year-old mind. I anxiously awaited its follow-up, an effort that took three years to complete. It wasn’t until this time, in the fall of 2006 that I first got to experience Brand New live. It was an acoustic in-store performance at the now defunct Mars Red Records in Haddonfield, NJ. It was amazing, and they lived up to all my expectations. Then, their album, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me dropped shortly after and completely changed everything about my relationship to music. I talked about that album briefly before, and I’m not going to go into too much detail here, but that album is still one of my favorite records of all time. It’s very special to me, and it’s perfect in my eyes. The years haven’t changed that like they have my opinions about other albums. Deja Entendu lost some of its magic for me, but I don’t think the Devil and God ever will. It was on one of the Devil and God tours in the spring of 2007 that I first saw Brand New at a proper gig, and it set the bar unbelievably high. That tour featured Kevin Devine and Manchester Orchestra as support, and it was just perfect. I honestly can say it was one of the best shows I’ve ever been to. It might even be the best. In the four times I’ve seen Brand New since then, I’ve never had as amazing an experience. They’re always good, and I always love their shows, but that show was the peak for me. Nothing has been quite as good, and I don’t know that anything else will ever reach that level of brilliance, of perfection, of love. Brand New released another album in 2009 which I also deeply love, Daisy. It’s visceral and raw and heavy, but so beautiful in it’s anger and anguish. They haven’t released any new music since then, but the few strings of shows they’ve played this year seem promising. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get something new in 2012.
Now, let’s get to the show I went to last week. The House of Blues show was announced over the summer, and I immediately got tickets (it was a small miracle, since the pre-sale sold out in about ten seconds). No support was announced for the show until very recently. If you read this blog regularly, I think you know I like this band, O’Brother, from Atlanta, Georgia. I think they’re fantastic, and I’ve written quite a lot about them these last few months. They announced they would be opening for Brand New on this Atlantic City date. My jaw literally dropped when I read that tweet. I mean literally. I couldn’t believe that the little band that I’d essentially watched grow up would be opening for Brand New. A week or so before the show, mewithoutYou announced that they would also be opening.
Fast forward to last Saturday. My friends and I arrive at the venue, secure a decent spot, and wait to see O’Brother. As always, they were amazing live. It was the third time I’ve seen them this year, and it was just as brilliant, if not better, than their performance with Thrice back in October. I felt like I was being bear-hugged by a wall of sound as they took the stage and started rocking the hell out of songs from their new album Garden Window. I can’t say enough good things about those guys, and I mean every word I when I say they are one of the most talented and unique bands you’ve probably never heard of. Every time I see them live and every time I listen to Garden Window I love them more, and they’re easily becoming one of my favorite bands.
After O’Brother, mewithoutYou took the stage. Oddly enough, I had seen Brand New at the House of Blues back in 2007 and mewithoutYou had opened that show too. In the years since I saw mewithoutYou the first time, I’ve grown a lot more appreciative of, and receptive toward their unique style of music. Musically, the band sounded very good, but their lead singer’s microphone kept getting unplugged, partially due to his frantic dancing around the stage, which made him almost impossible to hear for a large portion of the set. The crowd, which wasn’t the best, was largely not into the performance at all. During O’Brother’s set, I was surprised to see the crowd looking interested and energetic. I don’t know how else to say this, the show was kind of a bro-fest. By that I mean, the majority of the people there were college-aged kids who were drinking or already drunk and were there to see Brand New play a few old songs before they went back to their hotel rooms to party it up. They weren’t interested in hearing much of anything from Brand New’s more recent albums, let alone listening to any other bands play. Brand New has an incredibly devoted and rabid core fan base, kids who love every album and know every word to every song. Kids who trawl the internet hoping to stumble across even the tiniest tidbit of Brand New related news. Unfortunately, those kids aren’t the only people who buy tickets to their shows, and it’s a shame when you’re surrounded by people drunkenly shouting at each other when you really just want to hear some good music. It also makes Brand New an extremely tough act to open for, so bravo, O’Brother and mewithoutYou! Normally, I write show reviews the next day when all the details are freshest in my mind. I didn’t do that for this show because the crowd took away some of my enjoyment. As time went on, and I watched videos on YouTube and reflected on the show, I realized how fantastic it really was, and how great Brand New were live.
By this point in the show, the crowd was getting anxious for Brand New. A unique thing about seeing Brand New live is the lighting. They don’t go along with those colored lights that all clubs have. They only use white lighting and they bring their own extra lighting equipment. I never knew what a difference lighting could make until I first saw Brand New with this kind of set up. The harshness and beauty of minimalist lighting really compliments their music in a way I would never have imagined until I saw it. It just works perfectly. The crowd roared as Brand New first took the stage. Shrouded in darkness, they opened with opening track of Deja Entendu, “Tautou.” I was surprised, I think everyone was. I’ve never seen that song live before. Then they played the next song off of Deja Entendu, and then the next song. By the third consecutive Deja song, I seriously started to wonder if they were going to play Deja in it’s entirety. It seemed far too strange to play the songs in order unless that was their intention. The crowd was loving it, since although it was released in 2003, Deja Entendu probably remains their most popular and well-known album. The first five songs were played in order, and then lead singer Jesse Lacey stopped to introduce another Deja song, “Me vs. Maradona vs. Elvis.” It wasn’t the next song on the record chronologically, so my Deja Entendu from front to back theory was debunked. After that, the band played two songs from The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me, “Sowing Season” and “Millstone,” before speeding through two super old songs from their debut pop punk album, 2001’s Your Favorite Weapon. Those songs are fan favorites, and the crowd absolutely exploded with energy. Two bros in front of me had their arms around each other’s shoulders while they screamed the lyrics at each other and raised their overpriced cups of beer to Brand New. Honestly, it was pretty hilarious.
After rushing through those two songs to appease the masses, the lights went out while Brand New changed their set up for the next few songs. There was a mass exodus from the pit as people left to get drinks or to go party elsewhere–they’d heard what they wanted to hear. Brand New came back on after a brief recess with a completely different stage layout. Jesse had and acoustic guitar and most of the band was seated. They even moved the drum set over to give a more intimate feel. Jesse spoke for a bit and explained they would be playing some different versions of songs. When they started to play “At the Bottom,” I recognized it as being the Daisy Sessions version of the song. Basically, after they recorded Daisy, the band did alternate acoustic versions of several of the songs to release later, possibly as a DVD. Then, their label released one of the videos without asking the band first, and all of the sessions became widely available. This acoustic set was something that Brand New had never done live. They had never played these versions of the songs live, and it was fantastic. The four songs they played this way were probably the highlight of the entire show for me. It was unique and unexpected, and it just seemed natural. They were doing something they wanted to do, not rushing through an old song to make fans happy, and it was great. They played three songs from Daisy this way (all of which were featured on those Daisy Sessions you can find on YouTube), and “Luca” a track from Devil and God. At some point in the set, Jesse made a comment to the effect of, “Sometimes, we just forget that we’re a band” and said that they would like to do things like the acoustic set more often. Then they set things up for the final part of the set, which would be electric.
Instead of bringing up the lights and announcing their prescence, Brand New just launched into “Vices,” one of their heaviest songs with an explosion of light and sound, and followed it up with another track from Daisy, “Gasoline.” They followed this with two more intense tracks from Devil and God, “Degausser” and “You Won’t Know,” coincidentally, two of my favorite songs. Here’s a video of the intense and haunting performance “You Won’t Know” from that night. I didn’t take it, but I thank whoever did:
Pretty awesome, right? It’s definitely one of my favorite performances of that songs. It’s worth noting that Brand New are not always the most fan friendly band. They’ve been known to play sets without acknowledging the audience much at all. This show was different. Jesse talked and joked more than usual, and he seemed genuinely happy while he was on stage. He sincerely thanked the audience and all Brand New fans a couple times as well. After “You Won’t Know” the band slowed things down with “Jesus,” the bands only single from Devil and God. After that, the rest of the band left the stage, and left Jesse, dimly lit, in the center of the stage to close out the evening. It was close to one in the morning by this point, as Jesse, armed solely with his electric guitar started to play the heartbreaking closing track to Deja Entendu, “Play Crack The Sky.” Here’s another video of that beautiful performance:
It was the perfect end to an amazing night of music. Brand New’s performance was truly amazing, and it gave me hope that they are back and may record another album. I’m not embarrassed to say that watching the video of “Play Crack the Sky” I just posted brings tears to my eyes. It’s a beautiful song, and an incredibly meaningful one to me. I’m grateful I was able to be there and to be one of the voices singing along in that crowd.