Friday night at the Aragon Ballroom featured one of the best lineups to hit a Chicago venue this year. The emo punk band Piebald opened for three relatively large acts: Brand New, MxPx and Dashboard Confessional. As evidenced by his appearance on the cover of almost every major music magazine, Dashboard frontman Chris Carrabba has been crowned the king of emo. If this is true, then Jesse Lacey is the crown prince.
Lacey is the guitarist and lead vocalist for Brand New, a quartet from Long Island featuring Vin Accardi (guitar, backup vocals), Garrett Tierney (bass), and Brian Lane (drums). He has watched the band explode onto the pop punk scene since its second major release, Deja Entendu, in June. They've sold over 130,000 copies of Deja Entendu according to Billboard's website, been featured in The New York Times, had a successful stint on the Warped Tour, released a single getting significant airtime on radio and MTV, been named one of the hot new bands of 2003 by Rolling Stone, and will be headlining a national tour later this year. Brand New has also signed a deal with DreamWorks that is rumored to be worth over a million dollars. Carrabba loves them; he dedicated the song "So Impossible" to them, opening with "It's been a long time since I've been so inspired by a band," and ending the song by changing the closing words to "So yes, I love Brand New."
Brand New came out after Piebald to a sold-out crowd. Bassist Tierney evidently left the tour for a wedding and was replaced by Todd Weinstock of Glassjaw. Brand New opened in a relatively short set with the second track off Deja Entendu, "Sic Transit Gloria Glory Fades." This anthem of lost innocence, with a simple yet catchy bass line, seemed particularly relevant as Lacey exhorted the sizable high school crowd with the refrain, "Die young and save yourself!" "Sic Transit," like many other songs off Deja Entendu, features somber verses alternating with aggressive choruses and an instrumental interlude thrown in. The cookie-cutter structure of their songs could get old, were it not for Lacey's imaginative lyrics that make it difficult not to like Brand New.
The band quickly moved into their current single "The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows." Featuring Accardi's catchy riff that underpins the entire song, "The Quiet Things" is the most energetic song on their new album and sounds more like it should belong on Your Favorite Weapon, the band's 2001 release. Accordingly, the crowd on Friday night, while clearly enjoying the entire set, seemed most alive when Brand New performed their older, more energetic material.
The third song of the set introduced the crowd-pleasing older material with the second song off YFW, "Jude Law and a Semester Abroad," an angry ode to a girl who (presumably) broke Lacey's heart while studying abroad. The spirited crowd screamed one part of the chorus while Lacey promised, "No more songs about you. After this one, I am done." At one point in the song, Lacey played up his rock star image by taking off his sport jacket and swinging it around before throwing it to the ground, much to the delight of teenage girls in the crowd.
They slowed it down a bit with a return to Deja Entendu with "Jaws Theme Swimming." This song fits the mold of most of the songs from this album, but as with the others, Lacey and Accardi's lyrics keep this one from being just another forgettable emo ballad. The high point of the set was their fifth song, "Okay I Believe You But My Tommy Gun Don't." The nonsensical title aside, it features several catchy hooks and amazing lyrics that make it one of the best off Deja Entendu. Unfortunately, Lacey swallowed the first line of the second verse, usually one of the most memorable parts of the song as he stutters the word "controversial." The reason that this song was the best of their set was that Carrabba came out and belted out the chorus along with Lacey, nearly causing the crowd to go into convulsions. Lacey returned the favor by singing part of Dashboard's cover of the classic "Teenage Dirtbag," much to the same effect.
Their sixth song, written about Lacey's grandfather in the hospital, was "Guernica." The combination of the powerful drum beat and the passion with which Lacey sang conveyed the song's emotions to the crowd. As the band thanked the crowd, they closed with a return to YFW with the obscurely-titled "Seventy Times Seven," one of the angriest emo songs I've ever heard. It's not often that one hears an emo song that wishes that the heartbreaking girl would die in a drunken car accident.
After an extra-long instrumental part, Lacey started singing part of Dashboard's "Rapid Hope Loss," before closing the song.
The crowd ate up the mingling of two of emo's reigning heavyweights on a single stage in what was definitely a memorable night for anyone who likes this type of music. It wasn't a perfect night, as Lacey's voice faltered at times, and the style of the band would be better fit to a venue such as the Metro, but it still was one of the better shows of the fall. Brand New are more subdued onstage than most of their musical brethren, as they resist a lot of hyperactive jumping around the stage, but there were still moments when you could catch Accardi dancing around to the music.
If by any chance you are of the emo/pop punk/rock persuasion and you missed this incredible show, you still have a chance, as the bands will swing back into Chicago Wednesday night at the Congress Theatre with a closing show. So don't do your homework on Wednesday, head over to the Congress to see Dashboard Confessional or MxPx (whichever you prefer), and take in all of the inevitable tour-closing antics. But get there early for Brand New.