There was a special kind of nostalgic sadness that swept over the scene when one of its forefathers, The Academy Is…, decided to call it quits in 2011. The Chicago rock band was part of the mid-2000s “rat pack” – alongside Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, Cobra Starship, and Gym Class Heroes – that helped skyrocket Fueled By Ramen to be the major label it is today. With Fall Out Boy on a hiatus, Gym Class and Cobra leaving the scene for top 40 radio, and Panic!’s lineup thinning, 2011 was a rough time for the group. The Academy Is… breakup seemed to be the nail in the coffin that ended the Decaydance era once and for all.
“It was us and like Midtown [Gabe Saporta of Cobra], Cobra, Panic!, Fall Out Boy and Gym Class. We were all a true family, and, at that point, we never really saw that music camaraderie outside of hip hop,” The Academy Is… frontman William Beckett said in a recent interview with AbsolutePunk. “It was about Decaydance, about best friends doing what we love the most… there was something about that time frame where it was happening so organically and genuinely. Nothing’s like it now, and I hope one day it’ll happen again to some other group of friends. Nothing can compare to what we had in comparison to camaraderie.”
However, 2015 seems to be telling a different story from just a few years prior. Fall Out Boy are selling out arenas and Brendon Urie is taking Panic! to new heights. Even The Academy Is… are bouncing back from the brink. The previously separated band played a 10 year anniversary set at this year’s Riot Fest to celebrate their first album Almost Here. Soon after, the quartet – now Beckett, drummer Andy “The Butcher” Mrotek, bassist Adam Siska, and guitarist Mike Carden – announced a full Almost Here anniversary tour, which kicked off in Orlando this past Friday at the House of Blues.
“Being the 10 year anniversary of the album, I think it was on each of our minds that doing a tour would be a possibility. Once we began discussing it, we found that the pros outweighed the cons,” Siska wrote in a recent AMA on Reddit. “We were able to see past any of the bad blood and became excited to celebrate the Almost Here record as something that changed each of our lives.”
“We’re not going to do this for any other reason than ourselves, celebrating an album that changed our lives, and the fans,” Beckett said in the same AbsolutePunk interview. “If we all weren’t on that same page, we wouldn’t have done it.”
Orlando was also where The Academy Is… recorded Almost Here in 2004. Released the following February, Almost Here’s a contemporary sound and refreshingly honest lyrics won the newbies instant acclaim in the scene.
“It’s really humbling because actually we had no idea what to expect because honestly – no ego – that album did well. That 2005 – 2009 era of bands did pretty well for quote unquote ‘scene bands,’ but for us our expectations in 2005 were just five friends in a basement trying to write the best songs we could,” Beckett said about the success of Almost Here. “We wanted to get out of our town, and not like every pop punk band, but we had a vision for our futures to make an impact doing something that we love more than anything. So our expectations were exceeded daily back then and even now ten years later.”
From there, The Academy Is… approached indie stardom and went on to release two more albums and multiple EPs, tour with everyone from Kiss to Something Corporate, and amass a devoted following.
Announced at the last minute, rambunctiously eccentric PARTYBABY opened the show. The Californians’ set was entertaining and unique to say the least, and – don’t get me wrong – I was happy to watch them.
However, PARTYBABY was an interesting choice for many reasons. Their high-pitched colorful punk clashed with The Academy Is… ‘s smooth indie rock. Before the show began, a fan explained PARTBABY’s sound to someone who never listened to the band before.
“Remember when Fall Out Boy made that punk album featuring Courtney Love?,” the person explained. “Well, PARTYBABY seems like they listened to that and really liked it.”
If The Academy Is… choose to officially reunite, they are poised to surpass any success from their first round as a band. Unlike other scene bands, The Academy Is… possess support from older fans who listened to them a decade ago, younger fans who found them through the member’s solo projects, and new fans who will easily be attracted to their refreshing and original hooks alike.
Capitalizing on this diverse and potentially lasting fanbase, I wished The Academy Is… were more strategic with their opening act – stacking their bill with trending bands that would have advertised their name to the new scene generation. All I could think about during PARTYBABY’s set was what would have been the perfect lineup. (I landed on ex-A Rocket to the Moon frontman Nick Santino’s new irresistible outfit Beach Weather and The Downtown Fiction, an exciting pop-punk-infused indie band.)
However, PARTYBABY’s underwhelming performance made the crowd just that much more excited for The Academy Is… Despite basically being the only band on the bill, The Academy Is… played to an almost full House of Blues.
“This tour is selling extremely well. I never, ever expected that at all. We really didn’t care about all the ticket sales or, if everything will sell out or, how much money was involved,” Beckett explained. “For us it was all about, let’s make this a celebration of this album that changed so much for us. I mean no other album we made changed our lives like that. Because of that record, it made it possible for Santi, Fast Times, and the other EPs and us touring the world over and over again.”
The Academy Is… played Almost Here in full. Almost Here’s pristine flow shaped a perfect, hearty set – starting fast with fan favorites like “Attention,” “Slow Down,” and “The Phrase that Pays” and ending softly with “Down and Out.” During the last track, Beckett – boasting a nostalgically long mane of hair – jumped from the stage and immersed himself in the crowd. The performance was flawless, despite the fact Beckett took a tumble on the barrier right in front of me.
Recovering gracefully from his spill, Beckett pounded into favorites from their sophomore release and arguably their best album, Santi. The set continued in chronological order with tracks from their last full length Fast Times At Barrington High. Ending with “After the Last Midtown Show” provided the performance a tasteful and roundabout finale from Fast Times that mentions Almost Here in the last verses.
From my humble position as a fan from Beckett’s solo material, I deduced that The Academy Is… were a band that got too famous too fast. Exhausted by touring and the fame that came along with it, the kids, then still in their 20s, seemed to just need a break – from the road, from each other, from the whole band scene. Now, five years later, the members exude this pure kind of excitement, something rare in a scene of tired, overworked bands. They have this fresh energy, instigated by mutual eagerness from the crowd and the band, pushing their decade-old songs to sound newer than anything recently released.
“There’s no talks of new The Academy Is… music. Our main goal here is to just do this tour the best we can and have a blast,” Beckett said in the AbsolutePunk interview. “If more music does come out of it, you just never say never.”