“Brand New is Back” Live at the Skyline Stage

Brand New returned to Philadelphia last Saturday for the first time in 3+ years and it was just about as perfect an event as they deserved.

The weather was absolutely flawless. A cool breeze wrapped through the stage area, leading to a more electrified atmosphere. Not like it needed much help; people were lined up at the gates at 3:30pm when the doors didn’t open until 6 and the first band didn’t start until 7:30. Everyone was excited. Brand New was back to play at a venue that exceeded any prior expectations.

The Skyline Stage at the Mann is one of the coolest venues in the city. Taking up a swath of area in west Fairmount Park, the stage area sits on a hillside, giving audiences a perfect view of the Philly skyline (go figure) as well as an easily accessible stage that has unlimited vantage points. It’s beautiful, it easily accommodates a huge crowd, and on a night as perfect as this one, complete with the supermoon rising directly above the city, it’s easily the best place to have a show for miles around.

The opening bands, Dinosaur Pile Up and Man Man, made the wait for Brand New much more palatable. Dinosaur Pile Up from the UK got everybody dancing with infectious grooves and a very heavy yet dance-y style. Jesse Lacey even joined them onstage for a song or two to the crowd’s delight. Man Man, local boys from Philadelphia, was just off the charts nuts. The lead singer came out with a Jedi robe on and it only got weirder from there. The instrumentation seemed to be completely random – they had a horn section, pianos, and auxiliary percussion that consisted of household objects and car parts among other things.

After Man Man finished up, the crowd swelled as the stage was prepped for the headlining band. Ever the jokesters, the venue played (at what I can only assume was the band’s request) Olivia Newton-John’s hit “Please Don’t Keep Me Waiting”. It had its effect. This was happening. We were close.

Feedback started to flow from the stage, mixing well with the ending of the Newton-John song, and in a literal flash of their blinding stage lighting they were off, screeching into their Daisy (2009) opener “Vices” with unparalleled ferocity. These guys are a force to be reckoned with in a live setting. Frontman Jesse Lacey has the least showiest vocalist you’re ever likely to see, but what the man lacks in showmanship he makes up for in pure performance. It’s almost a statement: during the heaviest parts bassist Garret Tierney and lead guitarist Vincent Accardi flail all over the stage without missing a beat, but Jesse stays front and center, standing tall with his flower-adorned microphone, screaming his head off and his heart out.

They worked their way through their hits album by album, starting with their most recent and heaviest work from Daisy that they capped with a beautiful rendition of “You Stole”, the softest jam on the record. It was here that the full quality of the stage production started to take effect. Using blinding floodlights in different color tones of red, orange, and blue with dry ice blown all over the stage, it all fit perfectly with the stark cathartic beauty of their sound. A lot of the time they looked like nothing but pure silhouettes on stage.

From there they went into some Deja Entendu (2003), their critically acclaimed sophomore effort. “Sic Transit Gloria…Glory Fades” might have been the highlight of the evening, with the crowd matching Lacey’s verbose lyrics word for word and hitting another gear when the chorus came up. The final phrase die young and save yourself! was shrieked by souls young and old, all finding a different reason to shout it.

After working their way through a handful of Deja tracks, including awesome performances of “The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot” and “Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t”, they played the lone number off of their debut Your Favorite Weapon (2001), “Seventy Times 7”. A huge crowd favorite, it’s really something to hear the bridge being sung by upwards of 9,000 people.

The band wrapped up with a helping of what many consider to be their best album, The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me (2006). They barged full steam ahead into “Sowing Season” and barreled through “Millstone” and a scorching performance of “Limousine” that ended with a new outro that had Jesse wailing I should be laughing right now over his solo rhythm guitar. It’s interesting that they saved their most cathartic performances of the night for the end; the single “Jesus Christ” was achingly melancholy and “Degausser” was wild, with a second drum set being put to thunderous use. They ended the night with an insane, 7+ minute performance of “You Won’t Know” that finished with the band jamming and then leaving one by one while keeping their instruments looping until there was no one on stage but the drummer Brian Lane.

Jesse stopped just once to speak to the crowd with the most rote and redundant speech I’ve ever heard from a band. “Thank you for welcoming us to your city,” he said. “We’re very grateful and we hope to see you next time we come around.” That’s it. The rest of the night they let their music do the talking, and the message was unmistakable: whether there’s new material coming soon or not, something that was (unsurprisingly) neither confirmed nor denied, one thing’s certain – Brand New is back on tour, and if they’re not better than they’ve ever been, they’re at least as good as they ever were.


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