Neither Jake Ewald nor Brendan Lukens knew just how loved they would become when they were scouring Jake’s house looking for inspiration for their band name. Neither of them knew that the book “Modern Baseball Techniques” would change their lives forever. Neither of them knew that relocating to Philadelphia for college would grant them some of the best, but hardest years of their lives. Neither of them knew that while recording their first two albums “Sports” and “You’re Gonna Miss It All” in Drexel University’s studios and playing in Philadelphia basements that the end would come so soon. In the five years that Ewald and Lukens moved to Philadelphia for college and met fellow bandmates Ian Farmer and Sean Huber, Modern Baseball amassed a following that turned out in droves for the group’s potential final shows.
Modern Baseball is an emo and indie rock band originally composed of Lukens and Ewald. Hailing from Maryland, the duo moved from the small town of Brunswick to Philadelphia, where Jake attended Drexel University and Brendan attended Chestnut Hill College. They released their first album “Sports” in 2012 as a duo, and eventually met and added bassist Ian Farmer and drummer Sean Huber.
In just a few short years, Modern Baseball went from playing Philadelphia basements to having their third album “Holy Ghost” reach 53 on the Billboard 200 after being released by major label Run For Cover Records. However, the on-the-road lifestyle had recently been catching up with Modern Baseball, and after a cancelled tour in the summer of 2017 the band began an extended hiatus.
After months of waiting, the band announced three shows at Union Transfer over the Friday-the-13th weekend, stating that these shows would be “the last for the foreseeable future.” Fans clearly got the message that this could be the last time to see their beloved band live and all three shows sold out quickly. Tickets were clearly in high demand and everyone was excited.
I attended the Saturday night show, as I had a lab on Friday and did not want to deal with waking up on Monday after an intense and emotional Sunday night show. All three shows had different openers from local groups and friends of the band, so you got something new every night. Saturday night began with energetic sets from No Thank You and The Obsessives, who set the stage well for Modern Baseball.
However, when the headliner took the stage, the crowd’s energy began to climb. I arrived at 3 p.m. to get a prime spot, and it proved worth it as I was on the barrier directly in front of co-frontman Lukens. As the band took the stage, flanked by their friends and families on both sides, Lukens laughed and said “Should we tell them?” This foreshadowed what most fans there quickly realized when they launched into “Re-Do” and then into fan favorites “Tears Over Beers” and “The Weekend.” Why would the band play three of their most popular songs right off the bat? However, when Jake brought out an acoustic guitar and began concert rarity “achl03k,” most fans caught on — the band was going to play their debut album “Sports” in its entirety.
The band bounced expertly between slow emotional songs like “I Think You Were In My Profile Picture Once” and fast paced and angrier songs such as “See Ya, Sucker.” The band closed out “Sports” with performances of songs they had not performed in several years: “Look Out!” “Play Ball” and “Coals.” Lukens laughed and stated “that was our first record” before repeatedly playing the riff of Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down A Dream” and joking “That was our second record.”
After a memorable first set, the band launched into cuts from their more recent albums “You’re Gonna Miss It All” and “Holy Ghost” along with a song from their “A Perfect Cast” EP. The energy and excitement in the crowd from hearing “Sports” carried over into the next few songs, as they moshed and belted out the words along with Ewald and Lukens. Particular highlights included angsty anthem “Fine, Great” and “Holy Ghost” album closer “Just Another Face,” as the crowd jumped, moshed and screamed along with the band’s every move.
However, the undoubtable climax was when the band launched into their biggest hit to close the show, “Your Graduation.” The band and crowd put all of their energy into the angry breakup hit, but Modern Baseball had a little trick up their sleeve for that night. At the end of the song, the drummer counted off a beat and they started the song again from the beginning. With the band laughing their heads off, the crowd sang along even louder this time, pushing, shoving and dancing along.
At the end of the song, Brendan thanked the crowd as they left the stage. However, the fans demanded more, chanting “one more song!” The band obliged, but only slightly. They came out laughing, claiming “we haven’t played this one in a while” and launched into “Your Graduation” for a third time. Sensing this was the end, the crowd danced and screamed harder and louder than any time before. As the band dropped their instruments on the ground and walked off stage, the house lights came up and the crowd realized what they had just seen — possibly the greatest show of a band’s career, with one final show still to go.
At Union Transfer Oct. 13-15, Modern Baseball performed their swan song in the form of three straight sold-out shows. Fans lined up around the block to see the possible final shows for a legendary, but short-lived, pop-punk band from Philadelphia. And from all the local bands in the city still playing in basements, thank you for inspiring us and showing us the way to the world. If that was the end, it was truly a grand finale that I would love to relive in my head for years to come.