The spring concert, ska-syndicate Reel Big Fish and moody alt-artists Brand New, hit the Kuhl Gymnasium hard with vitalized highs and torturous lows. The result was a night of rivalry between silly and somber entertainment ending with a raspy, tired voice held over an acoustic guitar.
Reel Big Fish piled onto the stage like a group of kids with ADHD who had just downed a case of Red Bull. Jumping, running and flailing their limbs about, the band members played into the crowd fervently. The band seemed in-tune; it was an on-stage epic, each member with his own poise, but all with the same hardened desire to perform.
As the band played their hour-long set, the ska-kids of the crowd danced. The skank (ska dance), for those unaware, is something of a joyful, bobbing skip - a Crip Walk for suburban kids. The more RBF played, the bigger the dance party became. At one point, there was a ska conga line which laced through half of the crowd. RBF was impressive, being perhaps the only band to cover Metallica and Phil Collins in the same set.
After RBF, the gym thinned out a bit. This was not a bad thing, but rather the self-progressive weeding out of the crowd from ska fans to punk destructionists. Eventually, the lights went out and the sound of the instrumental "Welcome to Bangkok" hummed the crowd into a craze. As the song leapt into its frantic maelstrom, the lights blared and the stage revealed two drummers, two bassists and two guitarists.
Brand New went into a musical frenzy from that point forward. No "hi," no hugs, just balled-up emotion wrapped in wanton snare rolls and whining guitar riffs. The boys had come to play with sticks and picks, their music saturated in woeful misery. Beautiful to the ear, captivating to the eye and unfiltered, it entered the brain.
They subsided only briefly, playing three acoustic songs to give singer Jesse Lacey's voice a rest (his voice was almost gone due to previous strain). Even those songs, like "Coca Cola," were frigid yet comely. What made them so? The answer is Lacey. His supporting cast, which ranged anywhere from one to five musicians throughout the night, was spotless in their transitions and synchronization, but Lacey was separate.
The deeper into the set, the deeper became Lacey's somber appearance. It was as if every word, carefully constructed, was a knife in his heart when sung, a grave musical death over and over as the crowd cheered longingly. It was the kind of pain-driven performance one would not normally see.
The stage theatrics and the shuffled performers built the show up, but at the end of the night it was only the shadowed crowd and the handsomely destroyed singer that remained.