It was John O’Callaghan’s birthday, but the way The Maine’s frontman tore around the Central Park Summerstage venue – leaping onto monitors, whipping the mic cord through the air, pulling an unsuspecting front-row fan up to sing with him – sure made it feel like it was New York’s special day.
The five-piece band – composed of O’Callaghan, Jared Monaco (lead guitar), Kennedy Brock (rhythm guitar), Garrett Nickelsen (bass), and Pat Kirch (drums) – is celebrating a decade of performing together and is touring this summer in support of their new record, Lovely Little Lonely. The set started with one of the singles off the album, Black Butterflies and Deja Vu. The propulsive percussion conjures a sense of the reckless, off-kilter feeling of being lovesick, “searching for the right words.”
The band’s infectious energy combines a subversive punk edge with an upbeat, pop-y vibe, encapsulated by the moment when O’Callaghan strode to the edge of the stage, scowling and flipping his middle finger at the crowd, only to break out a dazzling, impish grin. He thanked the audience for coming out early for their set and singled out one fan holding up a “happy birthday” sign.
And if that wasn’t enough feel-good fuzziness for the audience, during “Girls Do What They Want,” O’Callaghan called up a front-row fan to sing along. The fellow didn’t know the words, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm or the cheers from the audience.
After an all-too-short set, The Maine cleared the stage to make way for The All-American Rejects. It’s been more than a decade since the release of their self-titled debut studio album, and through the intervening years and Billboard-charting hits, the group has honed their live performances into a sophisticated pop-punk ‘n roll tour de force.
As they strode on stage – Tyson Ritter (wearing a pinstripe vest, sans shirt) and bandmates Nick Wheeler (guitar); Mike Kennedy (guitar); Chris Gaylor (drums); and touring member Scott Chesak (keys) – and launched into “Dirty Little Secret,” we were transported back to those high school days, traversing unfamiliar landscapes of love and loss.
The All-American Rejects are set to release their fifth studio album, and Ritter commented on the intervening time period, saying, “We grew a bit wiser and maybe a bit more poisonous. We’ve come back with a couple of rattlesnakes – we’ve missed contributing to the rock ‘n roll that we love.” One of these seductive poisons is the song “Sweat,” which feels tailor-made for those end-of-summer road trips. And perhaps as a nod to that venerable rock ‘n roll history, their set included a cover of “Where Is My Mind,” Ritter’s angular dance moves accentuating the jagged edges of the Pixies song.
The sun had set fully by the time Dashboard Confessional started their set on a stage lit in saturated red and orange strobes. Frontman Chris Carrabba was equal parts fierceness and charm, and for the unconvinced who dismiss the band as the quintessence of emo, see them live and you’ll realize that these guys – Carrabba, Scott Schoenbeck (bass), Armon Jay (guitar), and Ben Homola (drums) – are a full-on rock band and not simply some reductionist sad-poet-boy stereotype. Think of it as rock with genuine vulnerability – less bravado, more connection, plenty of leaping and shredding. (They’ve stayed relevant through more than a decade of making music – no small feat.)
The set started with “Vindicated” and “The Sharp Hint of New Tears” (the band’s name is derived from a line in the latter). Before the main set ended with “Screaming Infidelities,” Carrabba took a moment to ask, “Has anybody felt like you weren’t you, until you find your music? And then when you did, did you realize it didn’t make any damn difference at all, whether the people you were at shows with are white or black or straight or gay or trans – that it’s about finding a way to belong in a place where you aren’t weird?” He acknowledged these strange, tumultuous times, reminding us that if we want things to be better than they were yesterday, we have to fight for it. Coming from anybody else, it would risk sounding like performative wokeness. But with these guys, the authentic desire to connect, to heal through music, shines through.
Introducing a new song from their forthcoming album, Carrabba told us, “There are mics set up all around. We’re recording your voices on this tour. You brought us from basements to Madison Square Garden, just by being here and telling your friends about us. You changed our lives. And we wanted to thank you, and wanted to find a way to let all of you be part of the new album. So this is the chorus, and I want you to sing along.” His voice washed over us as the stormclouds cleared out, revealing a clear summer night: Let your heart beat here. You’ve been running far and wide, doing what you hope is right…
It’s been a decade and counting, but none of these guys shows any sign of slowing down. And judging by many hundred people crowding the Central Park field – staring in glassy-eyed rapture, arms slung about the shoulders of their friends – so long as these bands are making music, fans will be packing venues to sing along.
Catch Dashboard Confessional on tour this summer with All-American Rejects and The Maine.
Article: Vivian Wang