Of all the bands I was kinda into in high school, Taking Back Sunday and Coheed & Cambria are definitely two of them. I feel like it was nearly impossible to be 14 in 2000 and not at least hear of either band. Based on how many times it’s been re-issued and the percentage of their set which it composes, Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends still stands as one of the most iconic – if over-dramatic – takes on what it feels like to be young and “misunderstood.” Coheed was always the band with the irritating vocals I couldn’t get past and would later penalize The Mars Volta and The Blood Brothers for sounding too much like. That was about as far as my interest got with either of them before I abandoned feelings in favor of preserving the integrity of the genre by exclusively listening to street punk.
18 years later and it turns out I’m the asshole once again because both bands are on this massive, outdoor venue sized, co-headlining summer tour. Conversely, I’m reeling in shock that the singer from The Casualties turned out to be a gross creep… said no one ever. Thanks to Riot Fest, I’ve seen TBS and Coheed a whole bunch since high school as well as hung around people who aren’t complete shit heads. As a result, I have developed a deeper appreciation for both bands that far surpasses my dipshit mentality of many years ago. Neither are anywhere near my favorites, but they are hella fun to catch live. I set out for another summer throwback show at one of the most inaccessible venues in the city with the hopes no one would get stabbed this time around.
Kicking things off was The Story So Far. I thought this was the first time I was seeing them. It turns out, it was them I took pictures of at Riot Fest last year and not Story of the Year like in my head. Clearly they made a significant impact on me. Even as I sit here typing this, reading the band’s name all over the place, I have to remind myself who I’m talking about. They seemed like a pretty appropriate band to open a show like this. They’ve got that mid-2000’s pop-punk sound that people who have been listening to Taking Back Sunday for 18 years would probably like. I didn’t think much of them, but that makes sense given my TBS listening history. The singer performing with his hands in his pockets or occasionally swinging a tambourine didn’t help alleviate that much. At one point, the band started taking requests and a few people started yelling songs, but I have no idea if they ever were played. Only a handful of those who showed up before the sun went down were into their set and the energy never really escalated until the last number. Yelling about how great Led Zepplin is after playing one of their songs was the last thing I needed before deciding the best thing this band could be was “fine.”
It’s a pretty rare thing for Taking Back Sunday not to be headlining a night Riot Fest, but when it does happen, it’s usually for a pretty good reason. Touring with longtime contemporaries Coheed & Cambria is as good of one as you need. Despite not writing a record that tops anything they wrote in their first three attempts, Taking Back Sunday has grown more and more popular over the years. It helps that as long as high school keeps being shitty for most kids, the band will always have fans.
Composed largely of songs from their early releases with a heavy dose of their latest album peppered in, TBS knew what their fans wanted to hear. Adam Lazarra was as chatty as ever, telling nonsensical stories about The Smashing Pumpkins and the legal limit they can mention Victory Records. He seemed as drunk as ever, but still quite capable of swinging his mic and catching it with his neck. There weren’t as many guitarists as the last time, but Taking Back Sunday delivered a solid set. The new songs were fine and the crowd sang along most to “Cute Without the E,” so no real surprises there. The well orchestrated lighting show worked great to elevate their performance and few take their set up as seriously as Taking Back Sunday. I have a feeling it was a big reason to get together with Coheed & Cambria.
Following an exodus of most of the pop-punk kids, the remaining Rush t-shirt donning folks and 40+ year old metal fans out with their kids either pushed to the front or settled into their chairs. While I never fully understood the appeal of science-fiction/fantasy influenced rock anthems, I do enjoy the enthusiasm with which Coheed & Cambria approach it. Over the last 20-ish years, the band has crafted this elaborate universe with numerous characters and written lofty prog-rock albums around their story arcs. On top of that, there are extensive volumes of graphic novels that Claudio has authored continuing the narrative. It’s perfect for nerds into obsessing over literature and drama who like a killer soundtrack around it.
What’s great is how well this all translates to a live setting. This night was definitely about Coheed as they immediately drew the crowd in with the opening rippers from their upcoming record, The Unheavenly Creatures. Unlike Taking Back Sunday’s set, Coheed focuses more on their contemporary work. It helps that they come off as the kind of artists who thrive on creating something new. I don’t know if it will ever be enough to win me over to being a true fan, but it’s kind of working so far. I really like that one song that had on Rock Band and decided it was going to be worth waiting to leave with everyone else to hear it close the show. That’s gotta be worth something, right?
On top of the exuberant display of musicianship and A+ lighting, Claudio’s hair has been as much a star of their shows as any other part of the actual fanfare. For someone to flail around and leap about onstage the way he does without a single tangle or strand of hair out of place is nothing short of a miracle. I’m losing most of mine and never gave too much of a shit about a good hair care regimen, but I would love to know how one is capable of walking around with a do that is capable of its own gravitational pull.
All in all, it was the perfect night to be out seeing a show. The moon was full and the sky was clear. If not for the excessive light pollution in the city, it would have been a perfect cliche under the stars. There is something to be said about being able to enjoy the things you loved in high school without the shame that comes from other people shitting on you for it. While I don’t feel things with quite the level of gusto I did 18 years ago (thanks maturity), I do appreciate being able to look back and reflect on that time. Sure, things were tough. But, the story of these bands imparts an important lesson: if you find something people love and keep doing it well enough, you’ll eventually be able to attract them an outdoor venue that charges $15 for a Strawberrita. It’s something I think the kids of today can relate to.