Skinny jeans, gray Vans, dyed hair. “I haven’t looked like this since high school,” I said, cranking my head around to my little sister – the tie-dye Set It Off shirt-clad high schooler who smirked in satisfaction at my nostalgic dismay. We were preparing to see The Wonder Years, the patron saints, the guardians of modern day pop punk, a band whose records – a catalogue of both quantity and quality – will steal a place next to the forefathers of the genre’s canon years to come.
Other bands have to be jealous of The Wonder Years. Their classy sound gets approval from everyone, attracting angsty teenagers, nostalgically angsty twenty-somethings, ironically snobby punk bloggers, middle-aged Green Day fans, magazines, critics, other bands, and my high school’s guidance counselor – who stood just a few places ahead of us in line. This diverse conglomeration met at the House of Blues Orlando last Friday, forming a neat line with an organized order that quickly dissipated as we piled on the venue’s floor.
You Blew It!, a name New College should be familiar with, opened the tour. According to the band’s guitarist, the Orlando natives played the Bike Shoppe a few years back and often return to party at the Center of the Universe Parties (COUP). I don’t know how they actually formed, but You Blew It! posses that “a group of friends who started a band in their backyard” vibe, exuding this “normal kid” aura. However, their average Joe style isn’t the full story. You Blew It! boast something special, perhaps a mixture of talent and charm, that separates their emo punk from similar groups and skyrockets their name on bills with The Wonder Years. Combining a nice array of songs with verses that allow for crowd participation and a frontman who rejects the traditional arrangement by standing stage right, You Blew It! exceeded expectations and are poised to continue their inclusion on big tours moving forward.
State Champs, second on the bill, are in a weird spot. A strong frontrunner in pop punk that oddly enough just opened for boy band 5 Seconds of Summer in Australia, State Champs are embraced underground while also accumulating a fair share of more mainstream radio-ready fans. Either way, the band’s talent in taking traditional pop punk archetypes and doing them better than most counterparts shined in their performance. Frontman Derek DiScanio’s voice is one of the strongest in the scene right now, commanding the stage and conjuring an undeniably powerful presence that pushed their set to the next level.
Entering with a Star Wars-themed intro, Motion City Soundtrack – yes, they are still alive and kicking – followed State Champs. A nerdy feel, represented by frontman Justin Pierre’s thick-rimmed square spectacles and spiked up Jimmy Neutron hairstyle, stuck to their performance through tracks like “The Future Freaks Me Out” and “Capital H” – the latter about a superhero. While the tour boasted a tastefully cohesive lineup, each band attracted its own cohort of overzealous fans. This observation was emphasized during Motion City. A more established and therefore seasoned act, Motion City knew what its fans wanted and provided, leaving the performance to be the most fun I’ve had during a set when I didn’t really know a band’s material.
The Wonder Years frontman Dan “Soupy” Campbell announced two anniversaries that occurred in 2015 on stage – one was the tenth anniversary of his band and the second was the tenth anniversary of Motion City’s album “Commit This to Memory.” This was no coincidence – without that genre-defining album, The Wonder Years would have never existed. However, how does a band follow up its primary inspiration’s set? Well, if you’re The Wonder Years, you release an album like “No Closer to Heaven” and open with the anthemic intro “Brothers &,” which gracefully flows into “Cardinals,” an epic sing-along that bleeds more emotion than the scene has heard from a song in a while.
The Wonder Years’ performance emphasized passion and pride in music. While some bands take a more lighthearted approach to their live shows, The Wonder Years is much more grounded and serious – not in a boring way, but instead in a sincere and genuine way. The Wonder Years were able to gather their expansive collection of music into one concise set, spanning from their early album “The Upsides,” through “Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing,” and their last two releases “The Greatest Generation” and “No Closer to Heaven.” The latter two records prove that nowadays pop punk is more than just three chords – each song, while still staying true its roots, tells a story about coming-of-age trials and tribulations, making their translation to live concert an experience.
As soon as The Wonder Years plummeted into their first chorus, I was completely separated from my sister, clinging to a spot in the center third row and trying not to be crushed by the wave of people fervently singing the lyrics back to the band. Fans were in tears during the tragic “Cigarettes and Saints.” By The Wonder Years’ last song “Came Out Swinging,” a “crowdsurfer jam” dug a massive hole in the floor as fans collapsed under the arms of their peers. Like fans holding up crowdsurfers, The Wonder Years balance pop punk’s future on their shoulders; however, their performance last week proved that they are not letting the responsibility collapse to the venue floor.