It is rare that a rock band transcends the musical subculture from which it spawned, simultaneously surpassing its peers and expanding its musical scope. Most acts ride the wave of a certain sound, tying their success to the ebb and flow of ephemeral interests. This is not the case with Brand New, the Long Island band that has risen like a phoenix from the ashes of the early-aughts emo scene a stronger, more complete band.
Brand New, joined by melodic hardcore acts Crime in Stereo and Thrice, took the stage at Sonar in Baltimore on Wednesday night. The rain soaked, capacity crowd ranged from veterans like myself (first saw Brand New back in 2003) to a new generation of kids with X’ed out hands and body modification.
Since their 2001 debut, Your Favorite Weapon, Brand New has crafted increasingly complex songs, fusing their early pop-punk-emo with elements of acoustic singer-songwriter, prog rock, and post-hardcore music. The compositions require, at times, three guitars, a bass, two drummers, and two vocalists, allowing the band focus on elements lost in the mix and giving older songs a denser sound. Jesse Lacey, lead singer and guitarist, varies the vocals enough to frustrate the sing-along crowd, while adding a new level of screaming that makes you wonder how many more go-rounds the band has.
Lacey has always had a strained relationship with certain elements of his fan base. He’s well aware that his scraggily good looks bring out the teeny-boppers, and this (unwanted?) attention has been a frequent subject of his lyrics; on Deja Entendu’s “I Will Play My Game Beneath The Spin Light,” he muses: “Watch me as I cut myself wide open on this stage / Yes, I am paid to spill my guts … Oh, I would kill for the Atlantic / but I am paid to make girls panic while I sing.”
This tongue-in-cheek, finger-in-eye understanding of the audience manifests itself in the song selection, as the band moves between the pop-punk of their debut album, to the macabre melodies of Deja Entendu, through the layered, bordering-on-progressive jams of The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me, ending up in the raucous screeching of their newest effort, Daisy. “I am not your friend / I am just a man who knows how to feel / I’m not your friend / I’m not your lover / I’m not your family,” he belts on “Sowing Season;” Brand New does this for them, and if you happen to share in the catharsis, good for you.
Which doesn’t mean the show was without a fair share of fan service. Breakthrough emo anthem “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad” has returned to setlist after several years in exile. And a bit of a Nirvana medley, along with some sarcastic banter, demonstrated the band’s sense of humor for an appreciative audience.
The highlight of the set was Lacey’s solo interpretation of “Limousine,” only joined by the band for the finale: the crashing, vibrato-heavy outro. The song, based on the real life tragedy of Katie Flynn, takes on a new poignancy and emotional depth; unfortunately, this was lost on members of the audience who kept shouting for “Moshi Moshi” (the emo-punk equivalent of “Free Bird,” I suppose).
Which is basically the main problem facing Brand New: if they have moved beyond the easy accessibility of Your Favorite Weapon, why can’t they move beyond the fans of that album? Instead of growing with them, the audience is perpetually 18 years old, a tiresome fact for a band that has done all it can to move in new musical directions. The irony of their name has come full circle, as a crowd that has come to see Brand New isn’t ready for something that is just that.