Brand New At King’s Theatre, Thursday, October 19th, 2017, Reviewed
Brand New, a Generation Z, band for nerds and manic depressives of all ages, is approaching their 20th anniversary in 2018, after which they plan to break up. Earlier this year they released Science Fiction, the first new album in eight years, and last night they reached King’s Theatre in Brooklyn where they performed a 90 minute set of Z bonding self-defeat, personified by the “Not just a manic depressive, sometimes I can’t get it out…” chorus of hopefulness in the face of, well, the god’s honest truth: that Brand News are nothing if not the face of post-teenage anxiety that sucks as bad as teenage hopelessness, even as their 40s beckon.
At King’s Theatre, the line for merchandise was as long and winding as Harry Styles’ at Radio City Music Hall, it looped around and around and when opening band Nada Surf hit the stage, nobody left their place to catch em. The trio, a sort of somewhere between alt and indie 90s phenom still working it, were a little boring at first and when their popular “Popular” failed to ignite I hung out in the lobby for awhile and apparently I missed that place where they caught fire, but catch fire they did with a tremendous penultimate song of their evening, “See These Bones” (from a minor 2008 release, Lucky) that was so gorgeous it took me by surprise, and lived to make me regret my impatience, I should have waited the 45 minute set in.
I didn’t know what to expect from Brand New, until this year I had never much bothered with them. What I got was a stage presentation luminous in its beauty, and powerful in its loud/soft grunge aesthetic and emo deliverance, a sad captain dream show with the hardly loquacious band, Jessie Lacey, the thirty-nine year old poster boy for distaff barely spoke a word in the 70 minutes of a 90 minute set I caught (nothing personal, I was in the middle of Brooklyn with work today, I’d have stayed if it had been the weekend) didn’t go much further than a “This is the most beautiful place we’ve ever played.” King’s Theatre is gorgeous and Jessie was right to enjoy it. He was right about a lot of things. It might have taken nearly a decade for Science Fiction to see the light of day but it is undoubtedly a masterwork, a sublime and strange act of post-nihilism, where dreams and waking life vie for more or less studious concerns. I was expecting a boring performance and that isn’t what I got. With two electric guitars, and an acoustic guitar ,and a bassist, on the frontlines, and two drummers (at first I thought it was only one and couldn’t believe how hard the beat was being held) and a keyboard player right behind, the sound was full and yet simultaneously thin. It wasn’t full the way so much modern rock is full, the way, say, Royal Blood are full: the overcharged riff up to 11 with whining vocals, it had space in it, and the space was filled with an audience singing along to it, though in so many ways it doesn’t lend itself to the singalong.
Brand New have grown from pop-punk to emo to post-emo to a classicist folk rock without the folk or the rock. Everything about Brand New is on the verge of destroying itself: from the red flames covering translucent screens during “Gasoline” to the nuclear exercise film behind “137,” the terrifyingly prescient meltdown song (“Let’s all go play Nagasaki, we can all get vaporized”). The title refers to isotope Caesium-137, and the song is beautiful and spooky and if the audience thinks singing that hook is cool, and sharing, all I can say is we are heading towards a nuclear showdown and no one seems capable of stopping it so you might as well sing about it.
Visually, Kevine Devine, an artist on the band’s Procrastinate Music Traitors label, joins them on stage and he is awesome, a doubled over thin as a rake guy falling extendingly out of control and leading the entire band on and on. There is nothing stoic about him but neither are the other members, when they are quiet (Jesse performs the last song of the night solo) they are intense and when they are loud, the band roars. The set is all great, all fascinating and always with a sense that you are seeing something big. rock nyc writer Jacob Fishman is my go to guy for all things post-emo and hates them but I saw The Wonder Years and Brand New within two weeks of each other, and Brand New is a much better band. All of it was great, every song was ace, midset they hit a height of sublime intensity and power, going from “Can’t Get It Out,” to “Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades” to “I Will Play My Game Beneath The Spin Light,’ with its sophomoric yet for some strange reason overwhelmingly sorrowful “I realize that everyone who lives will someday die and die alone”. The band must have been in their early twenties when they wrote that and it was childish even then, yet filled with a direct meaningfulness and a catharticism when sung together.
Brand New are what they appear to be in real life as well as on stage, I sat next to a pleasant and smart woman, Sadiya Abjani , who noted they were painfully shy in person, I think she meant they were rude but was too nice to sock it to em, and that diffidence mutates on stage: it is like they are the anti-country stars, if they appreciated the audience, as Jesse claimed, they appreciated them from a distance. As a man many years their senior, I think their vision of the world has fallen into step with the USA of 2017, if singing about the attempt to become whole is an act of being whole, they keep searching for the lit of the light over and over again. “Lit me Up” uses the petrol emotion of “Gasoline” to enflame the idea of oneself. It is quite in keeping of Generation Z, who have taken Generation X’s we are all in this together and doused it with individuality: like social media: alone, together. Yes, we are all in this alone, together with Brand New.