“I was getting all nervous, like it’s my first time.”
Which “first time” Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz was referring to, we don’t really want to know, but the mortar attack of announcements that came from the Chicago four-piece the morning of Feb. 4 would make anybody nervous--new album ("Save Rock and Roll"), new single (“My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark [Light Em Up]”), new tour. Ending a more than three-year hiatus, Wentz, guitarist/vocalist Patrick Stump, guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley returned home to Chicago for an “intimate” show at Subterranean Feb. 4, announced the morning of and sold out minutes later. Fans scrambled to beg the Craigslist masses for tickets, and the lucky ones who snagged them waited hours in below-freezing temperatures to get a spot near the stage once doors opened. RedEye, too, braved the cold and made it into the show--here’s what you missed.
It made me reconsider my career path a little. I only spent an hour waiting in the line that eventually stretched all the way to the Blue Line entrance on Damen Avenue, but I’ll just say that my toes were still numb when Fall Out Boy started playing an hour after I made it indoors. Some fans curled up in blankets at the front of the line said they waited eight to 12 hours in the 20-degree weather.
Considering the last time we saw this band they were playing arenas like Allstate with stages the size of a Chicago block, it’s a miracle they were able to contain themselves on SubT’s mini-stage without someone busting a nose. (There were a few close calls, though, when fans would rush the stage and bump Stump’s mic: “If you run up on stage don't run into Patrick's mic. It bashes him in the mouth,” Wentz requested.) With all of the twirling and spinning we usually see from Wentz and Trohman at a jumbo-sized venue, it was nearly distracting how static the band seemed when confined to a small space. This might sound like a no-brainer--of course they don’t move around much in a small space!--but I’ve seen plenty of bands who have worked the SubT stage to their advantage. Stump himself had no problem keeping his energy and movement alive on small stages during his solo tour last year. Dare I say it might actually be better to see Fall Out Boy in their natural, spacious arena environment?
Here’s the thing: Over the course of an hour-and-a-half, the band played one new song--the one that was released Monday. While “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)” was definitely a high point of the set, and despite the reminder that Fall Out Boy isn’t technically reuniting as they never actually broke up, this show was absolutely a reunion. It was more about reminding fans of the awesomeness that Fall Out Boy once was to them than it was looking ahead to a new album and a new direction for the band. I wouldn’t call it misleading--most of us were there to see the band of our teenage dreams play at one of Chicago’s best small venues and dance, really--but is it the best move for a band whose members throughout the hiatus years have mostly tried to distance themselves from the pop-punk sugar they became labeled with? Not really.
The set bounced around the band’s discography, focusing mainly on favorites from “From Under the Cork Tree” and “Take This to Your Grave.” Regulars like “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race,” “Dance Dance” and “A Little Less Sixteen Candles...” were high points during the set, while “Sugar We’re Going Down” (to close the set), “Chicago is So Two Years Ago” and “Saturday” (encore closer) managed to shake SubT’s foundation.
Though all of the mechanics are still there and the band seems to remember chords just fine, there was a sense of “Let’s just get through this” at times. Sure, Stump wailed on “I Don’t Care,” Wentz shined on “Saturday,” Hurley commanded the drums on the “Thriller” opener (and poor Trohman kept on playing while getting backed into the wall by stage-jumpers). But the band focused too much on driving through as many hits as possible in the short time frame, sometimes at the expense of the song’s original pacing and melodies fans grew to love them for. While you can appreciate trying to squeeze in everything possible in a set as anticipated as this one, after a few songs sped up for timing purposes, it leaves you feeling more whiplashed than blown away.
First, bravo to you, Mr. Wentz, for managing to keep mum on this endeavor, even when we asked you about it a few days ago and then ran a full page about it in our newspaper the day you announced that the hiatus was over.
In true Wentz fashion, he seized the opportunity to take the mic in between songs, lecturing fans about holding up their phones (“This is an experience, this is not for your Facebook”), offering up a preview of what’s to come on “Save Rock and Roll” (“Patrick wrote some [bleep] that’s just [bleep]ing compelling [...] I have a lot of [bleep] to talk about my personal life”) and even recapping the Super Bowl in case you missed it (“Beyonce definitely won”). Though many see Wentz’s personality as something that has overshadowed the band’s talent over the years, fans take to his on-stage antics and especially appreciated his encouragement this night to hop on stage or crowdsurf.
Once the soft-spoken lead vocalist who put more work into his pipes than small talk during shows, Stump has clearly stepped up his game as the frontman to one of the most watched bands of 2013. Just a year ago, he was crafting an incredible stage presence for himself on his solo tours--Blonde hair! Fingerless gloves! So much clapping!--while battling criticism from hardcore Fall Out Boy fans who expected Fall Out Boy Part Deux from his “Solo Punk” album and went on the attack when it was revealed to be anything but. The backlash to his self-funded solo project seemed crushing, as he spoke about on his website and social media. All of it seems to have shaped him into a more engaging, commanding presence with this post-hiatus Fall Out Boy, however, and it came through the most during “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up).”
Every fan seemed to leave SubT satisfied. Everyone danced. Sing-alongs were had. Fall Out Boy can still play the songs that made them Fall Out Boy when they were teenagers 10 years ago. But if the band wants to maintain another wave of staying power, this mini-tour capitalizing on the band’s return before the release of “Save Rock and Roll” in May needs to incorporate more new material. Is it asking too much of a band to play another new song after releasing one earlier in the day, when their previous full-length dropped in late 2008? Maybe, but if “...(Light Em Up)” is any indication, the new material will hold up well and create a more well-rounded “reunion” experience for Fall Out Boy fans.
See them again: Riviera Theatre, May 16.
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