Brand New and Nada Surf
Aragon Ballroom // Chicago, IL // October 16, 2017
Photos by Anam Merchant
The first time I listened to Science Fiction was on YouTube, forwarding through an hour and one minute long video trying to figure out what exactly it was that Brand New had sent out to fans. The ever-illusive band sent out burned CDs in handmade packages seemingly to people who had pre-ordered their very limited copies of LP5 on vinyl, which had sold out in less than half an hour on August 15th. Less than two days later, Science Fiction was officially announced, along with a fall tour. Just like the vinyl pre-orders, these shows sold out several dates in minutes.
There’s been this impending feeling of “the end” of Brand New for a while. What was just a feeling essentially turned into reality in June of 2016 when the band put out shirts and put up backdrops at the end of shows that said “2000-2018,” letting fans know that the end is near. That gave people a timeline of at least 18 months to get the most out of the time that was left.
It’s now October of 2017, and that timeline has seemed to have quickly dwindled down to two months. It’s a weird feeling to be walking into a venue thinking that this might be the last time you ever get to see this band live. For some people I spoke to, it was their first Brand New show, and they admitted that they were scared it may be their last as well. Nonetheless, the excitement was palpable in a room of 5,000.
Opener Nada Surf began their set around 7:30 pm, allowing everyone ample time to set in and find a spot in the venue to watch them from. The floor filled up quickly as they played “Believe You’re Mine” off of 2016 release, You Know Who You Are. Now playing to a nearly full room, they continued with “Cold To See Clear” and “Killian’s Red”. They played six more songs from all over their discography, including “Popular”.
When Nada Surf’s set ended, the house lights turned on, and eager voices melded together waiting for Brand New to take the stage. It wasn’t until simultaneous screams from all sides of the room were heard that people began to notice that the band’s signature flower-covered mic stands had been placed on the stage.
Around 8:40 pm, the lights went down and a screen was lowered on stage in front of the band. As the therapy tape intro of Science Fiction‘s “Lit Me Up” began, the four-piece, joined by Kevin Devine, took the stage. As he sang the first verses of the song, Jesse Lacey’s vocals echoed through the room, followed by Garrett Tierney’s entrancing bass, Vin Accardi’s haunting piano, and Brian Lane’s drumming tightly tying it all together, creating the first instance of Science Fiction being played live in this city.
The band didn’t skip a beat when transitioning from the mellow “Lit Me Up” to the faster paced “Gasoline” off of 2009’s Daisy. One of the most effective things about Lacey’s vocals are the seamless transitions between yelling and singing at a little above a whisper, and “Gasoline” exemplified just that. Next up was Science Fiction‘s “Out of Mana”, followed by “You Won’t Know” off of The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me and “137”.
Following “137” was one of the songs off of Science Fiction that stands out to me, “Can’t Get It Out”. The song seems to be a reflection of Lacey’s struggles as a human being and a songwriter and attempting to convey those struggles to the audience. On some level, the people singing along either have felt the same way in their own lives (indicated by how much louder the room got when the pre-chorus began: I really hope the shame is less/ For what we feel in times of stress/ But, I guess that’s just depression/ No sense in fighting it now”) or can sympathize. The honesty and vulnerability in this song came to life tenfold in the room when it was sung by thousands of people together.
The band sprung back into their older work with “Sic Transit Gloria” off of 2006’s Deja Entendu. With this being arguably their most popular record to date, the crowd erupted when the bass came in to start the song. The vocals of the crowd matched those of Lacey’s in resonance and were almost louder when screaming the song’s most heavy lyric, “Die young and save yourself!”
Immediately after “Sic Transit”, the band played “I Will Play My Game Beneath The Spin Light” off of Deja Entendu, and then brought the tone down a bit with the beginning of Daisy‘s “You Stole” and “At The Bottom”. The next three songs were the last they were to play off of Science Fiction for the night: “In The Water”, a song with seemingly similar sentiments to those of “Can’t Get It Out”; “Same Logic / Teeth”, which Lacey said they loved when they wrote and recorded twelve years ago – it’s one of Lacey’s favorite songs of the band, and it took them twelve years to put it on a record but it’s fitting that it’ll be one of the last pieces of music they put out; and “451”.
Next up were three songs off of The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, another fan-favorite record, to close out the set. They began with “Degausser”, “Jesus”, and then into “Sowing Season”, with one of the loudest and most visceral moments of the night being the ending of the song when Lacey screams, “I am not your friend/ I am just a man who knows how to feel/ I am not your friend/ I’m not your lover/ I’m not your family/ Yeah”. As the extended outro ended, the screen above them went completely red and the room was ringing with screams.
A few minutes later, Lacey came back out alone to end the show with “Soco Amaretto Lime” from beloved debut full-length from 2001, Your Favorite Weapon, but not before saying, “I imagine, over the next 14 months, we’ll see a lot of you again. But if by any chance we never do, through our own devices or the devices of crazy people in the government, I do thank you for the past 18 years.” He continued to thank everyone, those who supported them and saw them when they were playing much smaller venues in the city and thanked Nada Surf for playing with them as they’re an important band to him and the rest of Brand New. The night ended with voices echoing the last lines of the song, “you’re just jealous cause we’re young and in love” over and over, a fitting song to end the night and to reminisce about the band’s career with a song about youth from one of the first records they ever put out.