Garden State Headache: The Wonder Years Live

bobby olivier is wonderstruck …

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Blood spilt across the filthy linoleum floor of a sweaty VFW hall in Delaware is about as punk rock as punk rock gets.

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Proving they still aren’t too big for the small stage, pop-punkers The Wonder Years finished off their latest tour close to home on Friday, riffing up the lowly Harmony Grange venue in Wilmington, Del., less than a half hour from their native Philadelphia.

The cheap wood paneling of the room that housed less than 400 people seemed better suited for bingo than bass lines, but it was beautifully appropriate for the band that got its start playing terrible places like this damp hole in the wall. Coming down from a U.S. tour than spanned the nation – and several larger venues — the guys seemed more than content to play in front of the small, but manic crowd.

The set began with “Local Man Ruins Everything,” but kicked off is probably the better term considering some teenage girl got kicked in the face by a stage diver, got blood all over the stage and was carted off to receive stitches after only a few seconds of Wonder Years love.

After “Local Man” finished, lead singer Dan “Soupy” Campbell gave a warning to the crowd that when stage diving, which was prevalent from start to finish, to make sure you jump into the crowd, because if you don’t you will likely smash someone in the noggin.

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Besides the bloody girl and a few audio troubles (sound problems at the Grange? Psh.), the set went on without other issues. The band played nearly every track from its latest release, 2011’s Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing, and most of 2010’s whinier The Upsides. As a fan, I was disappointed the anti-club anthem “This Party Sucks” was left off the list, but I can’t stay mad at the little bearded guy in the middle, singing like his head is about to explode.

Campbell’s command of the stage, even on such a small chunk of raised wood with six sweaty, bearded dudes on it, was fantastic. Any time I feel the need to question a singer’s mental stability, I know we are both having a good time. The general consensus in the pop-punk world is The Wonder Years are really hitting their stride with their writing and subsequently, their popularity. Friday night’s performance was a showcase of all of that.

Highlights included a passionate “I Won’t Say the Lord’s Prayer,” a “My Last Semester” sing-along and killer version of “Summers in Pa.” But what really sold me was the encore. After the group left the stage, only Campbell and a guitarist returned at first to play the stripped down Suburbia… bonus track, “Living Room Song.” As the rest of the guys returned, fan favorite “All My Friends are in Bar Bands” was played and “Came Out Swinging” closed the show, with the singers from tour-mates Fireworks and the other openers coming out to sing along as the chaos of the set’s end took hold — stage divers from all angles, including one last dive from Campbell himself.

All in all, the show was all that pop-punk performances should be – loud, fast, dirty and a whole mess of fun. And sure, the venue was shitty, but The Wonder Years guys didn’t seem to mind. They get by with a little help from their friends.

The group’s new album on Hopeless Records, The Greatest Generation, drops May 14 and the first single, “Passing Through a Screen Door” is available now on iTunes.

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.