For the first time since 2003, John Nolan and Shaun Cooper returned to the stage with Taking Back Sunday, performing on a warm New Jersey evening at Starland Ballroom. With their “original lineup” in tact — note that the band actually shuffled members a few times before releasing a full-length album — the expectation was that the band would return to their roots, sticking heavily to their excellent 2002 debut, Tell All Your Friends. The show sold out immediately, packing 2500 rabid fans into the fairly small Sayreville venue.
Person L, the new project from The Starting Line’s Kenny Vasoli, provided lone support for Taking Back Sunday. Beginning at 8PM with “Goodness Gracious”, the band’s eight-song setlist dragged along for thirty-five minutes, failing to ever capture any purpose with their songs. On tracks like “Wooden Soldiers”, from the band’s 2008 debut, Initial, boredom quickly boiled into frustration with Vasoli simply repeating the phrase “when wooden soldiers catch their breath” over and over across the song’s five minute duration.
Playing in front of few who knew Person L’s catalog, the band took the opportunity to debut a brand new song, which sounded at home alongside cuts home on the band’s sophomore effort, The Positives. A few interesting hooks and some varied percussion — the five-piece employs two drummers — kept things somewhat lively, but ultimately Person L failed to secure anything memorable with their time on stage. There’s no doubting Vasoli’s heart, but it makes sense to question how his once-solid pop-songwriting has dwindled towards directionless jams.
Following an uninteresting set from Person L, the lights dimmed and Michael Rapaport’s brief Beautiful Girls speech played through the PA. Most well known to those in attendance as the introduction to Taking Back Sunday‘s “Great Romances of the 20th Century” demo, a feeling of anticipation rushed through the venue. The first chords of “Cute Without the E” quickly cut the formidable tension, and the entire crowd rushed towards the stage, screaming the song’s opening accusation en route: “Your lipstick, his collar — don’t bother, angel, I know exactly what goes on.”
And like that, the “old school” Taking Back Sunday was off to the races. “Set Phasers to Fun” followed, and the crowd hungrily digested the 2004 Where You Want to Be opener. Brief, yet warranted, boos came from the crowd when the band began playing “Liar” from their 2006 effort, Louder Now. Luckily for Taking Back Sunday, the song’s soft introduction was quickly overpowered with distorted guitars and the displeased crowd was drowned out, but the message was clear: the older fans didn’t want to hear the band’s foray into mainstream alternative rock. Frontman Adam Lazzara introduced the long-absent “Bike Scene” by it’s original demo title and noted that that song is one of the oldest written by the lineup on stage. Power-chords slammed as hard as the crowd up until the song’s slower break during which the audience finally stopped moving. Lazzara took the moment of near-silence to acknowledge that co-writer John Nolan urged him not to record the word “silly” as part of the song’s bridge, but he laughed it off and went along: “You’ve got this silly way of keeping me on the edge of my seat.” Louder Now‘s “Error: Operator” was wholly unnecessary, but thankfully a tremendous cover of “Existentialism on Prom Night” followed. The entire crowd, most of whom followed Nolan in 2004 to his new band, Straylight Run, roared to the song’s signature riff. “What’s it Feel Like to Be a Ghost?” was introduced as a dance-number, but the band received considerably more crowd movement to the subsequent song, 2004’s “A Decade Under the Influence”.
The lone New Again cut of the evening, “Everything Must Go”, was a near five-minute document of Taking Back Sunday gone wrong. It’s not surprising, then, that the next song, the brand new “The Best Places to be a Mom”, was similarly disappointing — it looks like little has changed from the Long Island’s disastrous New Again songwriting process. “You’re So Last Summer” put the band back on the right track, though, even if it is one of the lesser cuts from Tell All Your Friends. In contrast, “You Know How I Do” was a home-run and possibly the highlight of the evening. The song captured everything good about Taking Back Sunday in a three minute, power-chord driven romp: diary entry lyrics, dueling vocals, and a simple why-didn’t-I-think-to-do-that musical composition.
“Baby Your Beard Hurts” returned for the first time since 2004, with a new subtitle, “Why Not a Sexy Pirate”, to boot. The song was enjoyable, even if much of the crowd was hearing it for the very first time, too young to have seen the band on their original Victory Records tours. “Great Romances of the 20th Century” and “Timberwolves at New Jersey” back-to-back were extremely solid, and the band closed things with “MakeDamnSure”, a disappointing end to an otherwise generally exciting set.
Luckily, Taking Back Sunday returned to start their encore just a few minutes later. With just Lazarra and Nolan together on stage, the reunited duo acted like old companions who finally realized that petty differences shouldn’t destroy friendships. After acknowledging the Bruce Springsteen influence that lead to hanging up a giant American flag behind the band, Lazzara played a few chords of The Boss’s “Atlantic City” before moving onto “Your Own Disaster”, originally recorded for the band’s five-song demo before Tell All Your Friends. A few tempo issues and some missed lyrics aside, the song was generally a success and a welcomed addition to the “throwback” atmosphere the band cultivated all evening. “There’s No ‘I’ in Team” appropriately concluded the night with Lazarra and Nolan trading line-after-line about heartbreaks and hatred.
Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut from the Team)
Set Phasers to Stun
One-Eighty by Summer
Monterey Peninsula Bike Scene
Existentialism on Prom Night (Straylight Run cover)
What’s It Feel Like to Be a Ghost?
A Decade Under the Influence
Everything Must Go
The Best Places to be a Mom
You’re So Last Summer
You Know How I Do
Why Not a Sexy Pirate (Baby Your Beard Hurts)
Great Romances of the 20th Century
Timberwolves at New Jersey
Your Own Disaster
There’s No ‘I’ in Team
Tell All Your Friends cuts “Ghost Man on Third”, “The Blue Channel”, “Head Club”, and “The Ballad of Sal Villanueva” were unfortunately missing, but the band still played a solid nineteen song setlist. Lazzara’s vocals were surprisingly strong, and the rest of the band sounded tight and appeared genuinely happy to be playing together once again. Taking Back Sunday successfully executed their reunion show; the band now needs to prove that they won’t rely purely on nostalgia by writing their first worthwhile album in more than five years.
All photographs of Taking Back Sunday by the incredible Michael Dubin.