South Street may harbor a certain flare for the fringe lifestyle, but the Theatre of Living Arts was packed front to back April 15 with young adults and teens preparing for anarchy. Fueled by the power position of no. 17 on Billboard’s Top 200, Say Anything commandeered the venue en route of the band’s tour promoting its latest release, “Anarchy, My Dear.” Like its title implies, the concert performance and audience response were not aggressive but rather passionately ardent.
The band kept concertgoers on their toes with not two but three opening acts: Tallhart, Fake Problems, and Kevin Devine & the G–d— Band. Say Anything had a super quick setup before plunging head first into the heart of its highly revered repertoire, starting with “Spidersong” from its best hitter, “…Is A Real Boy” , released in 2004.
Though the tour endorsed their most recent full-length, the guys only chose to present a select few tracks, including their first single, “Burn A Miracle,” as well as “Slumming It With Johnny” and “So Good,” to which frontman Max Bemis requested that the crowd sing along, only to be surprised by Sherri DuPree, Bemis’ wife and vocalist of Eisley, joining in on stage. Keeping newer tracks to a minimum, the packed house rumbled with frantic jumping and dancing and shook with each lyric, shouted in perfect time.
Say Anything shows make for a very special concertgoing experience, as the crowd in each city doesn’t just sing along but actually takes the lead from Bemis, matching and even topping his fervor. Bemis often drops his lines to hold out the microphone to the audience, who get not only each lyric but also the speaking parts and fillers between verses. After years of touring smaller, more personal venues, this enthusiasm is expected by both the band and its fans, who slip comfortably into the role of lead or backup opposite the group when polyphony strikes. This was especially true for fan favorites like “Shiksa (Girlfriend),” “Woe,” which was the first time the track had been performed on the tour, and “Hate Everyone.”
Even the smallest person in the room took on an intimidatingly fearless persona when the audience began with the repetitive ending of “Belt,” yelling, “So what say you and all your friends meet all of my friends in the alley tonight?”
The consistent presentation of popular songs like “The Church Channel” and “Every Man Has a Molly” kept the audience from dwindling any of its excited energy. Even the band noticed, as they commented with surprise on Philadelphia’s unwavering knowledge of unreleased tracks, including a B-side from “…Is A Real Boy” and especially of “Walk Through Hell” from the unreleased “Menorah and Mejorah.” Bemis laughed, “This song isn’t even real,” after receiving thunderous applause at its close.
The quality of sound throughout the night was not at all clean but gave the impression of an unrelenting jammed machine, forever punching out background noises. The effect was somewhat fitting, though, behind the lashes of lyrics from Bemis’ tongue and the never-ending commotion from the stage floor. At the very least, everyone was having far too much fun to notice a lack in sound quality.
The set list brought few simple surprises, like DuPree’s debut and a performance of “Property,” during which the crowd ate up every word in the song’s sarcastic spoken narrative, which separates the track. While the set began and ended with the expected selections, “Alive With The Glory of Love,” of course, ending the show, Say Anything’s encore delighted with “Admit It!!!” and “Admit It Again” playing back to back.
On the band’s part, the concert went flawlessly. For the audience, it was over too quickly. As one of the greatest fan favorites in the “emo” and pop-punk genres, if you haven’t given Say Anything a listen yet, I would highly suggest taking this next year to educate yourself on the band’s catalog. This is a band that time and again churns out clever writing matched by fantastically original production, and their next stop to Philly can’t come soon enough.