The Starting Line / Valencia / The Dangerous Summer @ Philadelphia 12/29

December 29, 2009

Since disbanding in the spring of 2008, members of The Starting Line have taken to other projects. Bassist and lead singer Kenny Vasoli and keyboardist Brian Schmutz formed Person L; guitarist Matt Watts and drummer Tom Gryskiewicz play in The Seventy Six; and guitarist Mike Golla is part of The Traded Series. After issuing their farewell live album (Somebody’s Gonna Miss Us, recorded at their final hometown show at the Electric Factory in April 2008), The Starting Line made plans to play a few holiday shows at the end of 2009. The first of two nights featured support from The Dangerous Summer and Valencia at South Street’s Theatre of the Living Arts.

The Dangerous Summer vocalist AJ Perdomo.

The Dangerous Summer frontman AJ Perdomo.

Maryland’s The Dangerous Summer opened the evening, beginning with “Settle Down”. Sticking to their recently issued debut full-length, the Hopeless Records four-piece band ran through seven songs of heartache and hope. Clearly following in the steps of the night’s headline act, the band’s frontman coincidentally plays bass and swoons with a boyish charm last seen on Say It Like You Mean It. Rounded out by two strong guitarists (Cody Payne and Bryan Van Czap) and a capable drummer (Tyler Minsberg), the band likely captured a whole new set of fans through their solid performance. Despite less-than-acceptable quality sound from the venue’s PA, it’s hard not to appreciate the band’s ability to both write a catchy song and pull it off live. The full set:

Settle Down
Permanent Rain
Northern Lights
Where I Want To Be
Never Feel Alone

Valencia guitarist JD Perry.

Valencia guitarist JD Perry.

Hometown favorites Valencia provided direct support, beginning with “Free”, the last song on their latest album, 2008’s We All Need a Reason to Believe. The emotionally distraught “Away We Go”, an old song penned by frontman Shane Henderson for Promise of Redemption, followed and set the tone for the rest of the band’s set. Vasoli came out to sing on “Listen Up”, a song that namechecks The Starting Line’s biggest hit: “I’d better hold on if I want to survive because this could take the best of me”.

Terrific drumming from Maxim Soria kept the band together, allowing bassist George Ciukurescu to run around and engage the crowd–even leaping into the audience when necessary. Songs like “Wake Up” and “Better Be Prepared” sounded great, thanks to strong riffs from guitarists JD Perry and Brendan Walter.

It’s hard to find a better song to engage the crowd than “Holiday”, with its infectious chorus: “We all need a reason to believe..we all need a reason”, but closer “The Space Between” always gets the Philadelphia kids in a frenzy with its pounding intro and its own hook-laced chorus which finds Henderson pondering, “Is it in me to put the bottle down?”. The excellent nine-song set, including the brand new “Wake Up” from their forthcoming full-length:

Away We Go
Where Did You Go
Listen Up (With Kenny)
Safe To Say
Wake Up
Better Be Prepared
The Space Between

The Starting Line frontman Ken Vasoli.

The Starting Line frontman Ken Vasoli.

For the first time since May 2008, The Starting Line took the stage. The Philadelphia five-piece opened with “Up & Go”, the leadoff from their debut full-length, Say it Like You Mean It. Two more lead tracks followed (2005’s “Making Love to the Camera” and 2007’s title track, “Direction”), and the band sounded as good as they have ever sounded. “Are You Alone” and “21” from Direction were welcomed additions to a setlist that spread itself fairly well over the band’s three-album discography.

Things exploded for “Given the Chance” with Vasoli calling out the home town crowd: “The minute before we play I’m pacing waiting anxiously, I can’t wait to hit the stage and say hello to Philadelphia.” Recent single “Island (Float Away)” was warmly received and executed flawlessly; “Somebody’s Gonna Miss Us” was dedicated to the band’s return from their hiatus. “The Best of Me” was easily the night’s biggest song, and the band walked off stage before returning with “Something Left to Give”. Vasoli and friends said their final goodbyes and offered the crowd a chance to sing their own farewells with “Leaving”, the final track of the night. The full set:

Up & Go
Making Love to the Camera
Surprise Surprise
Inspired By the $
Are You Alone
A Goodnight’s Sleep
Need to Love
Artistic License
Way With Words
Given the Chance
Island (Float Away)
Somebody’s Gonna Miss Us
The Best Of Me
Something Left to Give

While certainly capable in the studio, The Starting Line’s strongest aspect has always been their live show: big choruses, soaring hooks, and non-stop energy. Hitting each of those three marks during their nineteen song setlist, The Starting Line sounded as if they’ve never been gone at all–partially because the band’s “hiatus” lasted just over a year. Though no album plans have been announced, and frontman Vasoli is committed to Person L, the band has hinted at some more shows in the near future. While Valencia is probably the best active band executing the “pop-rock inspired by punk-pop” formula, The Starting Line paved the way, and fans of the genre should not miss out on the band’s future dates.

All photographs by the extremely talented Catherine Powell.