Live: Fall Out Boy's Arena Emo
They just buy tight jeans till they nuts hang all out, boy (photo by Ryan Dombal)
Fall Out Boy
Madison Square Garden
November 14, 2007
If MySpace emo is to be the new hair-metal, which it already sort of is, the genre is going to need to produce at least a few bands who look at home on arena stages. Earlier this year, I watched My Chemical Romance give it an honest shot at Nassau Coliseum, leaning hard on their Tim Burton theatrics. But one of the band's blimps wouldn't inflate right, and none of the band's members seemed ready to inhabit that provincial arena, though they certainly had the kids on their side. Fall Out Boy are probably the closest thing emo has to a Poison or a Motley Crue: a big band unashamed of their vicious pop hooks or their delight in fame. And last night's show had all the obvious arena-rock trappings: gratuitous pyro, massive Jumbotron videos, a brief acoustic set where everyone in the band sat on stools like they were Extreme or something. They also assembled a bill jammed with their crossover-emo peers. Gym Class Heroes managed to push an album full of risibly unthreatening emo-rap to gold status even though frontman Travis McCoy makes Will.I.Am sound like Kool G Rap. (How many actual rappers have managed to go gold this year? Five? Six?) Plain White T's managed to turn a nice, unassuming puppy-love ballad into an unstoppable Starbucks-pop juggernaut. Judging by the sheer volume of T-shirts they evidently sold last night, openers Cute is What We Aim For are creeping on a come-up. Apparently, that's a stacked enough bill to fill Madison Square Garden full of starry-eyed fourteen-year-old girls who sang along loudly with the videos that ran between bands and who unleashed Scream Tour-level screams at every indication that Fall Out Boy might be about to walk onstage.
I'd been interested to see how all those openers would translate to the big stage, but I ended up missing all of them save for the final thirty seconds of Gym Class Heroes' set, which featured berserk laser-lights, FOB singer Patrick Stump giving a histrionic guest-spot, and a fat dancing mascot-thing. I missed those openers because I tagged along with Ryan Dombal to a meet-and-greet thing that Fall Out Boy's handlers set up somewhere in MSG a few minutes before the band was set to take the stage. The meet-and-greet thing was weird. All these industry-types sat around a dorm-lounge-looking room, eating cold pizza and drinking beer and waiting for the band to show up. When they did show up, a publicist escorted all the band members over to our table one-by-one for a few seconds of awkward conversation. (All the band members, that is, except ostensible frontman Pete Wentz, who opted to go to the bathroom instead.) Those couple of seconds of awkward conversations offered a tiny, infinitesimal glimpse into what a pain in the ass it must be to be in such a famous band: all three of the non-Wentz guys seemed totally decent and normal and overwhelmed from a few years of people telling them to be somewhere and talk to some random assemblage of strangers every few minutes.
I'd hoped to give Stump some sort of pep talk, to tell him to man up. He is, after all, the band's singer and the guy who writes all the music, but he's constantly playing second-fiddle to Wentz, the self-obsessed megalomaniac bass player who writes all the band's self-obsessed megalomaniac lyrics. But it's hard to give someone a pep talk in two seconds, and I said pretty much nothing to Stump. And after all, that one megalomaniac is probably the main reason that Fall Out Boy is big enough to headline Madison Square Garden in the first place; normal, polite guys don't get to that level without some asshole forcing them. (And unlike Poison or Motley Crue, Fall Out Boy only has one megalomaniac, and he can't sing well enough to go solo, which says good things about their long-term viability.) All I can really tell you about Stump is that he's perfectly polite, extremely short, and nowhere near as ass-ugly as he tends to look in the band's videos; maybe Wentz bribes cinematographers to make Stump look like a herb. Also, drummer Andy Hurley was wearing a Wu-Tang shirt, and he says he's got like ten Wu-Wear shirts at home. I wonder what he thinks of Gym Class Heroes.
When the band got to the stage, they opened with their one truly great song, "Sugar, We're Going Down." That's a risky gambit, especially when audience screams actually threatened to drown out the band during the first few minutes of their set. The band wasn't at a hundred percent last night; Wentz broke his foot a little while back, so he couldn't do any of the jumpy-spinny stuff he usually does, and the absence of that stuff actually made the band a whole lot more boring to watch. And with "Sugar, We're Going Down" out of the way, the band didn't have a whole lot of surefire tricks left for the rest of the night. Their songs are fast and vigorous, but they come weighed down with turgid, samey melodies and precious little in the way of internal dynamics. Jets of flame shot up from the floor every few minutes, but the band's songs don't actually have any moments big and cathartic enough to justify those jets, and it almost looked like they were playing arena-rock dress-up. Someone I didn't recognize kept running out to do the screaming on a few tacked-on screamo moments, but those were the only indications that this music had even a tangential relationship to hardcore. They're a band in a different universe right now, but they don't seem quite able to fully occupy that universe. Stump's nasal yowl can get a bit irritating at times, but he's also an authentically powerful rock singer; last night, he even tried out a few little melismatic mini-runs, which totally worked. At times, he looked like he was trying to will his choruses into Journey territory, but Fall Out Boy just don't have the songs for that. Near the end of their set, the band played a snarky-not-snarky cover of "Mr. Brightside," a song from their labelmates and sometime press-feud opponents the Killers. If that cover was intended as some sort of oblique dis, it didn't quite work. "Mr. Brightside" is a better song than virtually anything Fall Out Boy have ever written.
Still, every time I looked over my shoulder, I saw a mob of thirteen-year-old girls absolutely transported with happiness, and I felt sort of like a dick for not feeling the same way. Fall Out Boy may not be arena-ready quite yet, but at least they're fucking trying. What the fuck have you done?
Voice review: Mikael Wood on Fall Out Boy's From Under the Cork Tree