Holly Cruise 10/02/2007
Picking the setlist and running order for a gig must be one of the most arcane arts a band can master. Get it wrong and even a group with a set of surefire stormers can run the risk of killing the crowd's mood. How much new stuff to include, and how many of those songs that the punters love but bands have grown to mildly despise through the mind numbing repetition? Too many new versions of old songs? Such is the strength of convention that, even if you couldn't concoct a general rule to drawing up a setlist, it's obvious when a band isn't playing by the expected rules.
Meet Brand New. They're one of the standard bearers of emo on the basis that they released one album, several years ago, which was a bit emo. They then released one which wasn't very emo, much, before following up, last year, with one which wasn't emo in the slightest. You need only listen to Your New Favourite Weapon, Deja Entendu and The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me to hear this. They kicked off their set with 'Jude Law and a Semester Abroad', their hit from that first album, and a textbook emo song about a boy spitefully throwing his feeling at his ex who has gone to England for the semester. It's done in the same way Taking Back Sunday normally do - generic emo yes, but they at least manage to attach a decent tune to it. Except tonight it was reimagined as an infinitely more mournful solo piece for singer Jesse Lacey and his guitar. Not that this stopped the 14 year olds with angular hair from throwing themselves around the venue like dangerous tumbleweeds. It's a good way to start a set, the old hit, get the crowd in the mood for the old favourites and new songs to come?
But Brand New didn't take the easy route. Or rather they did. Following 'Jude Law...' was three more tracks from that bratty emo debut, each sending junior crowd surfers hurtling overhead, and each played with an admirable teenage energy from the men in their mid-to-late 20s. And then the debut was done. Completely. The stage went dark and when the light crept back we were on to album two, starting with opening track 'Tatou'. What followed was almost the entirety of Deja Entendu in order. The only jolts in the set came from when they left out certain songs. It was bizarre, each era was being performed perfectly, with grace, energy and honesty, but each was separate. It was as if Brand New felt that they could only give their past a fair showing by keeping each era amongst its own kind. It made their evolution brutally obvious. From the pop punk of the debut, through more complex alt rock, to the incredible, dense, inventive leap that is their latest, this was a band who wanted to show how far they had come.
It's not an unreasonable request. The thrill of 'Sic Transit Gloria... Glory Fades', (one of the best basslines of the decade meets one of the most sinister vocals) seemed that bit more thrilling when it burst from the more obvious three minute pop songs which had proceeded it. And the step up to the dark tones and captivating guitars of The Devil... came more sharply after the traditional song structures of the previous two albums. 'Sowing Season' and 'You Don't Know' are immense slices of musical angst. Proper grown up angst, all abstract phrasing and the band's recurring obsession with the sea and death by waves. It certainly cut down on the number of crowd surfers without losing their enthusiasm.
But it wasn't perfect. Once the trick had been guessed it became almost a little too obvious. Knowing that 'Sic Transit Gloria...' would be followed by its on record successor 'I Will Play My Game Beneath The Spin Light' removed any surprise, any sense of excitement and adventure. The rarity of bands doing it this way made for sufficient novelty to keep the attention, but a little surprise, a little variety would have been nice. It was as if they were three separate bands, rather than acknowledging that each album is related to the one before. What's evolution without a few missing links to raise eyebrows? Still, this was a band on form, and the heights were breathtaking. Brand New have enough back catalogue to claim a place as one of the greatest of the unsung acts around today. They also have the sort of fans many bands would crave. And they can put on a show, the lights behind them rippling and sweeping elegantly in time to the shifting sounds in front of them.
It's like your favourite coastline. You know it well, but when the water's this lovely you might as well swim.