|The Wonder Years/Trash Boat/Tiny Moving Parts – Belfast, Empire Music Hall - 29 January 2017|
|Written by Jonni D|
|Saturday, 04 February 2017 04:30|
On their extensive European tour to round up the cycle for their 2015 release ‘No Closer To Heaven’, The Wonder Years finally marked their first performance on these shores. It was only a matter of time; the band’s popularity within the pop-punk and alternative scene continues to grow exponentially from album to album, with each release garnering significant critical acclaim.
A quick glance around the Empire gives an indication as to the band’s growing demographic, but it’s clear that their older fan base has stuck with them throughout the years. It’s a testament to the quality of The Wonder Years’ recorded output of late. Beginning as a fairly run of the mill pop-punk outfit in 2005, the band soon eschewed the more stock and tired tropes of the genre, venturing into a sound that had more in common with melodic hardcore and early emo. Their two most recent records, 2013’s ‘The Greatest Generation’ and the aforementioned ‘No Closer To Heaven’, stand a cut above the fare offered by the majority of the current crop of Warped Tour bands. The strength of this material makes their first appearance in Belfast all the more appealing, as they ride this wave of creative and commercial success.
First to hit the stage tonight are Tiny Moving Parts, a three piece from Minnesota. With their set beginning 45 minutes after doors opening they manage to accumulate a modest crowd during their allotted time. It’s a loss for those who don’t arrive early enough to catch them, for their brand of pop rock with flashes of the complexities of math-rock is something to behold.
Frontman and sole guitarist Dylan Mattheisen is a revelation; playing with surprising virtuosity, he frequently delivers dextrous and proficient tapping leads and harmonics interweaved by jagged post-hardcore style riffing. That he performs with such technicality while singing is all the more impressive. The seemingly never-ending time signatures are held down excellently by the very competent rhythm section, especially drummer William Chevalier (who should be commended for having the most outrageous facial hair of the evening).
More so than the musicianship on display, the band’s enthusiasm is contagious and they clearly look like they’re having the time of their lives. Despite some occasional snags with the sound of the vocal mix, the band wins the crowd over with seeming ease. Presumably, most people will have come for The Wonder Years, but it’s certain that Tiny Moving Parts will have earned a few fans tonight.
Following such an explosive start isn’t an enviable task, and unfortunately for Trash Boat they pale in comparison to what came before. Decidedly less playful than Tiny Moving Parts, the St. Albans crew deliver a version of pop-punk akin to Neck Deep, but less tongue in cheek.
They stick so close to the increasingly homogenised sound of this style that they don’t really offer much of their own personality: the box for choreographed jumps is ticked, but there’s little in the way of charisma, particularly from hooded frontman, Tobi Duncan. Things aren’t helped by the sound issues, Trash Boat faring worse than Tiny Moving Parts. The crowd reaction momentarily spikes when Dan from The Wonder Years joins them onstage for their closing song, but otherwise it’s a fairly uninspiring performance.
There is little in the way of flashiness or ceremony as The Wonder Years take the stage, leading into the sombre, acoustic title track of their most recent album. It’s a stark change of pace to all of the music that’s gone on so far tonight, lulling the crowd into a false sense of security before they launch into one of their earlier singles, the more pop-punk influenced ‘Local Man Ruins Everything.’
So far so good, but it’s not until ‘I Don’t Like Who I Was Then’ that we get the first massive singalong of the evening. It’s apparent that the crowd reacts with much more vigour to the more recent material, and the band reciprocates it back to them tenfold. The few times they delve into tracks from 2010’s ‘The Upsides’ (‘My Last Semester’ and ‘Washington Square Park’) they get a comparatively muted response, but these deeper cuts reflect the band’s desire to accommodate even their oldest of fans. For the most part, tonight is all about ‘The Greatest Generation’, ‘No Closer to Heaven’ and to a lesser extent 2011’s ‘Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing.’
The band is on exemplary form, suffering none of the mixing woes of the previous two bands that adorned the stage tonight. In a live setting, The Wonder Years are more of a collective of musicians than a band with set roles: members jump from guitars to keyboards, or aid in percussion duties, returning to their associated instrument, sometimes within the space of the same song. The kineticism onstage is addictive; the band’s songs sounding much more massive and raw live than on record.
Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell has a reputation for being a captivating frontman, and lives up to it tonight. He commands the stage with a sense of effortlessness, while appearing wholly invested in the words he’s singing. Whether he’s hugging close to the floor during the bridge of ‘A Song for Patsy Cline’ or leaping across the stage to the monumental chorus of ‘Thanks For The Ride’, he is every bit the showman. His finest moment arrives with ‘The Devil In My Bloodstream’; tugging at his shirt during the piano led verses as if in some moment of angst-ridden religious fervour with the poise of a punk rock Morrissey, before leading the crowd through the refrain in the biggest sing along of the evening. His performance ranges from frenetically energetic to spellbindingly introspective, the latter best represented in the centrepiece trio run of ‘Cigarettes and Saints’, ‘Brothers &’ and ‘Cardinals’ (all thematically linked on the ‘No Closer To Heaven’ album). However, when it comes to the faster paced material, he’s equally adept, performing with an emotional intensity that is unrivalled in their genre: case in point is the furious build to the crescendo of ‘Passing Through a Screen Door’. It’s in this regard that The Wonder Years have much more in common with a band such as Touché Amoré rather than the overly sweet pop rock of a band like Waterparks.
The band returns onstage for an encore performance of ‘Came Out Swinging’, alongside Trash Boat frontman Tobi Duncan, to a flurry of stage-diving and crowd surfing resulting in an explosively triumphant close to their set. The Wonder Years have deservedly stolen the evening. It’s not hard to see why they have generated such goodwill among the alternative circuit; delivering the intensity of a hardcore band, but with bombastic melodies that complement deeply honest lyrics, there seems to be a good deal of catharsis going on for a lot of people in the audience. However, from down in the crowd, it seems there is just as much catharsis happening on stage as well.
The UK leg of the tour continues in Glasgow tonight (Saturday 4 February) and finishes at the O2 Ritz in Manchester tomorrow (Sunday 5 February).