Whenever I speak to others about my return to the great Garden State after briefly residing in Pennsylvania, I always say that when I officially crossed the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border for good, it was almost felt as if I never left. Sure, Central Jersey was more or less the same as I left it the last time I visited, but that feeling of home was something that I never really left behind.
It’s been three years since I returned to New Jersey, and because I was technically home, I never really thought that I’d experience this unless I left the state again. So it was to my surprise that feeling came rushing back once I walked into the Starland Ballroom for Say Anything and The Front Bottoms on Friday June 27th. I then realized that it’s been a good year and a half since I temporarily abandoned my second home, the New Jersey pop punk scene, but again it was as if nothing changed. It felt so damn good to be back in the crowd, obnoxiously singing and dancing along to some of my favorite songs with complete strangers.
Though the environment was more or less the same, there was one noticeable difference: the scene has multiplied. When my friends and I saw The Starting Line’s Say it Like You Mean It reunion tour way back in December 2012, we couldn’t stop commenting on how the crowd consisted of kids our age. There weren’t that many new fans and in a way, it felt like the scene was slowly deteriorating with only nostalgic mid to late 20 something kids keeping it afloat. The Front Bottoms are living proof that this theory was completely false.
It’s AMAZING to me how far this band has come. Right after my friend FIRST introduced them to me way back in 2011, we went to see them at Vintage Vinyl in Fords, New Jersey. They were playing in front of at least 30 people then and it was so easy to go up and ask them to record a session for the Rutgers radio station, 90.3 the Core. It was almost as if they were our little secret, and now it seems like the secret is out. I can’t even begin to describe how mind-blowing it was to see them playing to a sold out crowd, the majority of which cleared out before Say Anything hit the stage.
What was especially cool was seeing kids going crazy during their entire set, not just the bigger singles “Maps,” “The Beers,” and “Twin Size Mattress.” I really expected a lot of the people around me to just bob their head to some of the songs off the Rose EP, but to my surprise they were already so well-recepted. For the first time, I felt like I was the only one not familiar with all of the words, something I never really experienced going to shows in the old days.
After The Front Bottoms left the stage, it was hard not to feel anxious about Say Anything. There has been so much material that came out in between the last time I saw them and now, so the setlist was pretty much up in the air for me. I did expect a good handful of tracks off of Hebrews and their self titled since those were the last two albums that released, but I was pleased that they played a lot of older songs. “Spidersong,” “Burn A Miracle,” “Spores,” and “Cemetery” were the four that really caught me off guard because I always felt like those were hidden gems. I think if I had to pick two favorites of the night, they would be “You Can Do Better” and “Hebrews” with Brian Sella. “You Can Do Better” was a big anthem for me for at least a year and a half and “Hebrews” is my favorite song off their new album, so hearing them both in a live setting was just incredible.
Say Anything and The Front Bottoms were sources of support during my formative years and all of the struggles they helped me through greatly shaped who I am today. I’m so thrilled that they are collaborating and even more happy I got to see it in both a recording and a live setting. As for me, I left Starland Ballroom promising myself to never leave the pop punk scene again. Like New Jersey, this music is part of my blood and that’s something I will never take for granted no matter how old I get.
The Front Bottoms Setlist:
Au Revoir (Adios)
Funny You Should Ask
Twin Size Mattress
Say Anything Setlist:
Six Six Six
Burn a Miracle
Baby Girl, I’m a Blur
The Writhing South
Surgically Removing the Tracking Device
A Boston Peace
This Is Fucking Ecstasy
She Won’t Follow You
Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too
Spores (Max Solo Acoustic)
I Want to Know Your Plans (Max Solo Acoustic)