Alkaline Trio at Nile Theatre, 7/24/11

Alkaline Trio
The Nile Theater
July 24, 2011

After 15 years, the guys in Chicago punk staple Alkaline Trio still rock as hard as ever. It just may be a bit harder to hear them over the roar of their boisterous fan base.

From the moment the band took the stage at the Nile Theater in Mesa, the crowd went nuts. The crowd knew the words and sang along, so much so that lead singer Matt Skiba and bassist Dan Andriano could easily have went the entire set without uttering a single word.

But Alkaline Trio was not the only recipient of the crowd's love. Opening acts Andrew Jackson Jihad and Smoking Popes each put on excellent performances and the hundreds of fans jam-packed into the humid venue responded in kind.

Jihad, a last minute replacement for Dead Country due to a van breakdown, showed no signs of the jitters after being thrust on the bill, and the hometown act put on quite a show for the crowd.

After opening with "Brave as a Noun," the local two-piece continued to spit their acoustically driven sardonic folk-rock into the theater. For a fill-in opening act the band killed it by giving the show their all and just coming off as really genuine, funny guys.

"The 14-year-old me would be freaking out right now," bassist Ben Gallaty said about playing with Alkaline Trio. "If the 14-year-old me could get in a time machine and come here right now he would be freaking out."

As the Nile grew more and more jam-packed with people, The Smoking Popes seemed happy just to be there. The band really responded to the positive crowd reactions grew stronger as their set went on.

The guys in the Popes, who originally formed in 1991, make fellow Chicagoans Alkaline Trio look like young pups. The band's age showed during the first couple songs, which felt stiff, but soon enough lead singer Josh Caterer was jumping around on stage and dropping to his knees to shred guitar riffs.

Fans especially enjoyed the Pope's "Megan," an old-school staple that really shows of Caterer's chops. Although, the lead singer doesn't even think his band plays the song the best.

"You might recognize this song from a Bayside CD from a few years ago," Caterer said. "Their version might be better than ours."

For a band that formed two-decades ago and went through a six-year breakup from 1999 to 2005, the Popes had an awful lot of the audience members singing along with Caterer's harmonious crooning. The crowd's involvement in the set proves that the band's influence on pop punk extends beyond the confines of Chicago and Chicago-based bands.

But the audience members were really just getting warmed up with the opening acts and they proved that by out-shouting the PA system from the moment Alkaline Trio took the stage.

The guys opened up with an old favorite, "Cringe," that immediately set everyone in the place into a fervor. From time to time, Skiba would step away from the mic and let the crowd take over on lead vocals.

A song later, the Trio blasted into another classic with "Private Eye" and the already screaming crowd managed to send the decibel level even higher. There were points in the song when I could not even hear Skiba or Andriano's voices coming out of the speakers.

And that is the way it should be. After 15 years of non-stop rocking, a band that takes care of its fans deserves to reap the rewards. For over an hour, the Alkaline Trio got to watch as its fans showed their support, not through CD sales or the like, but just by giving their all to the band they love.

The set list included several more hits from the past decade and a half, like "Another Innocent Girl" and "Mr. Chainsaw," but it also included lesser-known fan favorites like "Blue Carolina."

The Alkaline Trio just seemed comfortable on stage, knowing that they have nothing left to prove. This allowed for some lesser-seen concert moments like when Skiba and drummer Derek Grant left the stage in the middle of the set while Andriano played the solo accoustic track "If You Had a Bad Time."

The song quieted the crowd a little, but a few people still sang along with Andriano's rough, deep voice.

The rest of the band returned to stage following the track and played a few more songs with the acoustic guitars before mixing things up again to close out the night.

Skiba called a couple of Popes, drummer Neil Hennessy and guitarist Eli Caterer, out on stage to help out on the last song while Grant picked up an acoustic guitar of his own.

The whole group then performed an amplified, energetic rendition of the Violent Femmes' "I Held Her in My Arms," a track also included on Alkaline Trio's new album, Damnesia.

Halfway through the song, Josh Caterer ran on stage and grabbed the mic from Skiba and the two finished the song together in an awkward man-hug.

The song was a somewhat sloppy and very fun end to an experimental and chaotic night that was as much about the fans as it was about the bands.

That is until, the members responded to the obligatory chant for "one more song" by running back on stage to perform an encore.

Honestly, I think the crowd was pretty tired by that point, because the chant was hardly that. It was more of a collective yawn. A couple "one more songs." A few misguided cheers when a roadie took the stage. And finally, everyone went crazy once again when the boys eventually returned for an encore.

"It's raining out there and it's beautiful," Skiba said. "How about we play one more?"

The band then closed out the night for good by playing "My Friend Peter" before trotting off stage.

I enjoyed the original ending to the night, personally, but it seems every half-hearted chant from the crowd gets an encore nowadays and such is life.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Alkaline Trio at the Nile Theater

Personal Bias: I am a pop punk kid at heart and I kind of geeked out for the Smoking Popes.

The Crowd: Mostly 20-30 somethings. But there were a few young kids with their parents.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Drink the sugar, it's good for you," from a father to a young child.

Random Notebook Dump: With the addition of Andrew Jackson Jihad, this has got to be one of the best/most unique vocal lineups in a while.

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Wayne Schutsky

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