Brand New shows are not known for their subdued nature. To call the Long Island quartet’s fanbase fervent would be an understatement, and the group’s hotly anticipated tours conjure images of fans pinned to the rails and crowd-surfers screaming their lungs out. It’s simply in the nature of the band’s intensely cathartic strains of post-hardcore, alt-rock and, yes, emo.
To see Brand New bring a show that typically churns huge general admission crowds into a frenzy to a stately theater — as they did at The Wang Theatre in Boston Friday night (October 20) — is an unexpected move. But it’s not the first time Brand New have surprised us this year. The August release of Science Fiction, the band’s long-awaited fifth LP, came swiftly and suddenly. In the eight years since the noisy and divisive Daisy, LP5 had taken on certain characteristics of an emo Chinese Democracy, but on a sleepy Thursday afternoon it arrived, and exceeded expectations. The record’s slow-burning, contemplative sound signaled the beginning of another chapter for Brand New — one where the band feels comfortable trading in the oversized rock club for the seated room.
It was this matured Brand New, settling into the role of elder statesmen, that greeted the sell-out crowd of 3,500 on Friday night, and their choice of openers in indie rock veterans Nada Surf reflected that as much as the venue itself. The long-running group, currently operating as a trio, focused their fog-drenched set on the breezy melancholy of tunes like “Killian’s Red” that were a perfect fit for the night, even if they, too, were unaccustomed to performing in such ornate spaces. “We’re Nada Surf and we usually play The Paradise,” vocalist/guitarist Matthew Caws offered as a band introduction.
For Brand New’s carefully orchestrated headlining set, the band emerged in darkness as the ominous vocal sample that begins Science Fiction opener “Lit Me Up” rang through the room. An enormous screen of shape-shifting LED lights largely obscured the members from view for the song’s duration, and for Daisy’s “Gasoline,” before raising to dramatic effect for the fiery second half of “Out of Mana.” From the outset, visuals were an integral part of the show. The elevated screen provided a Jumbotron effect of band member closeups during some of the set’s more conventional rockers, illustrated the apocalyptic nuclear imagery of Science Fiction standout “137” and later sequestered band from audience once more, silhouetting frontman Jesse Lacey against the bars during a wrenching “You Won’t Know.”
But that’s not to suggest that the visuals overshadowed the songs themselves. Expanded to a six-piece touring lineup, which included singer/songwriter Kevin Devine, Brand New tore into their back catalog and did justice to some of Science Fiction’s denser arrangements. Devine’s backing vocals and third guitar proved particularly indispensable at moments like the harmonized conclusion of “Same Logic/Teeth.” And while the expanded membership filled out songs old and new, they did so without overshadowing the core talents of the band. Lacey was in fine form, and guitarist Vinny Accardi’s kinetic playing was a joy to behold throughout the night. The setlist naturally went heavy on the new songs, but also delivered clusters of the essentials from Daisy, Deja Entendu, and 2006 opus The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me, greeted by sing-alongs of sometimes startling intensity.
Only for a one-song encore did Lacey reach all the way back to the pop-punk days of 2001’s Your Favorite Weapon, choosing its sentimental acoustic strummer “Soco Amaretto Lime” to end the night. With the lights raised, the screens gone once and for all and Lacey alone on stage, the crowd stepped up to fill out the original’s layered vocals and carry its concluding “you’re just jealous ‘cause we’re young and in love” refrain. It was a tender communal moment to end a powerful night — one that saw Brand New transcending subgenres and proving themselves among our finest touring rock acts, period. If the band really is slated to disband in 2018, as they’ve hinted in recent years, they’re executing a damn good final act.
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