July 27, 2013 (Check out the complete slideshow for more photos.)
Ten years ago, a local band selling out a venue the size of the Crescent as convincingly as The Maine did Saturday would be on its way to a major label deal. The Maine, of course, are now two albums removed from one, separating from Warner Bros. despite the success of 2010's Black & White
If Saturday night is any indication, they aren't the worse for it.
It was the last night of a tour that began back in June, with a free show in Tempe, and it felt like it -- everyone on stage was just a little more keyed up than usual, more ready to go off-script and, in lead singer John O'Callaghan's words, "get fucking weird together."
Together, in this case, meant the band, and the fans, and their openers -- particularly A Rocket to the Moon, who are all but disbanding after this tour. (They've got five August shows left -- two in Massachusetts and three in East Asia.)
The electronic, high-gloss pop sound of On Your Side was absent, even though the songs weren't -- on this tour A Rocket to the Moon are playing a restrained kind of pop-punk that seems to diverge from Fall Out Boy at that moment it becomes necessary to either indulge your pop-star instincts completely -- and become something less than totally relatable -- or put on nice shirts, conclude that the rest of the world isn't all bad, and remember that guitars are neat.
Which was a good call on their part (particularly about the guitars.) They closed their set with "a slow, sappy song about how girls suck," which the mostly female crowd was very into. Which might seem weird, at first, but it's like anything else: It's always flattering to hear about how everybody who isn't quite you sucks and is terrible, and is making A Rocket to the Moon unhappy like you absolutely would not.
Then came The Maine, whose set began with a dramatic concept-car reveal of the giant, color-changing M they play in front of. Their live show, as it turns out, is exactly like people describe their live show. The Maine -- crowding the stage with instruments, blacking out the lights before their first song, bouncing off each other in ballads -- are hyperactive on stage, sprouting echoes and weird passages from songs everyone in the crowd is trying his-or-mostly-her-damnedest to sing along to.
O'Callaghan, unable to hide behind a guitar, is totally self-possessed as a frontman; he doesn't need to ask the crowd to sing along and he knows it, which makes them want to sing along even more.
Which isn't to say he wasn't involved -- several times he asked fans in front what they needed, whether the band could do anything for them, a bit of stage business that concluded every time with someone throwing bottled water into a crowd packed so tight they couldn't really lift their arms to catch it. Later on, he leaned back into the crowd, tethered to the stage like a fishing bobber by his microphone cord.
At another point, leading into "These Four Words," he asked if anyone in the audience listened to Tom Waits. After scattered yeses -- "Don't fucking patronize me," he warned -- he suggested that the people who'd bought Forever Halloween buy The Heart of Saturday Night, and the people who'd downloaded Forever Halloween "get on [their] fucking pirate ship and go illegally plunder" it.
But all the jokey bluster was a prelude to an affecting paean to their hometown -- "This is where we were born, it's where we will die" -- and leavening for a tight set that gestured toward every evolutionary step as a band. (It's both a terrifying reminder of time's icy hand and a little funny that our first coverage of the band, back in 2008, began "Tempe's The Maine has MySpace tweens and teens eating out of their hands. And can you blame them?")
When you bring a prop on stage at a venue the size of the Crescent Ballroom you're always taking a risk. But it was clear from the start that their giant M wasn't in lieu of a stage presence so much as a confirmation of it -- it was a reminder that their live show is as inextricable a part of the band as their albums. When they closed the set and the show and the tour out with "We'll All Be," with every musician on the tour huddled around microphones and drums in giddy crowds, it was obvious why.
With major-label validation already tested and rejected, it's harder than it used to be to guess at what a band in The Maine's position should be doing next. But they'll certainly be doing something.
Click through for more photos and the setlist.
Critic's Notebook: Last Night: The last stop on The Maine's 8123 Tour. Personal Bias: I'm fascinated by how popular these bands appear to be in the Philippines and Singapore. The Crowd: Mostly young girls, but not entirely -- plenty of guys striking rock poses at the appropriate moments. Overheard: The riff from Papa Roach's "Last Resort," for some reason. Better Than: You'd think from that preview that opens with MySpace tweens eating out of their hands.
Setlist: Love & Drugs Misery Inside of You We All Roll Along Into Your Arms (with self-esteem-boosting spoken-word interlude and "I'm Like A Bird" outro) [Everybody quits the band / impromptu reenactment of the "Gay Witch Hunt" episode of The Office] Right Girl Happy Some Days Kennedy Curse My Heroine These Four Words Whoever She Is Identify Girls Just Wanna Have Fun Count 'Em One, Two, Three Like We Did (Windows Down) We'll All Be
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