I have a friend who loves “emo” music. For years, he’s tried to force my interest in the genre and insisted that The World Is A Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die is near the peak of “emo” music. I listened and listened and just couldn’t understand the appeal — until this month, that is. I’m a strong believer that music requires some element of emotional context to be enjoyed, and I suppose I wasn’t in the right mindset to like their music until recently, and man was it a treat. So when I heard that they were playing at the Theatre of Living Arts Sunday, April 24, I knew I had to be there. Four bands filled out the bill for the show: Pinegrove, The Sidekicks, The World Is, and Into It. Over It.
Pinegrove kicked the night off with a bang, delivering possibly the most enjoyable performance of the night. From Montclair, New Jersey, Pinegrove is headed by vocalist Evan Stephens Hall and they have been making music since 2012. Their early music is solid, but the band has really come into their own on their record “Cardinal,” which released February 2016. At times leaning alt-country, other times traditional pop punk, the album is an accomplishment that is overwhelmingly likable, even for those who do not listen to punk or emo. Because they performed mostly from “Cardinal,” they were decidedly less punk than the other artists on the bill. That being said, I think they stole the show from the beginning, particularly when they performed “Aphasia,” my personal favorite from “Cardinal.”
The Sidekicks followed Pinegrove and had lofty expectations to live up to which were mostly reached. They performed music from their newest album, “Runners in the Nerved World,” and also a selection of songs from older records. Their frontman, Steve Ciolek, was an inspiration. Endlessly energetic, Ciolek brought the house down, jumping and screaming throughout the stage. He spent a few songs on the ground for most of the runtime and was charmingly strange. More traditionally punk, The Sidekicks rocked the small venue and prepped the audience for the bigger acts to come.
The World Is performed next, and where the openers played for 30 minutes, they had a full hour set. According to my friend, who has seen them three times, they typically fill out an hour set with a large smattering of their music, jumping from song to song throughout. They did not do that in this case. In the hour, they played around 10 songs, often adding lengthy adlibbed jam sessions to the ends of songs without any vocals. They mostly played from their recent record “Harmlessness,” and the highlights were “January 10th, 2014,” a powerhouse of a song that is unique in prominently featuring a female vocalist and “Ra Patera Dance.” Though they didn’t play my personal favorite song “I Can Be Afraid of Everything,” the set was incredible, rising and falling as expertly as their recorded music does. They also brought out an old member of the band to sing on one song, which was exciting for everyone in the crowd that understood the gravity of that situation, which unfortunately did not include myself. Though they only got through about 10 songs, the set was a blast and lived up to my high expectations.
The headliner, Into It. Over It. played another incredible show. Less dark than The World Is and headed by Cherry Hill, New Jersey product Evan Weiss, a lot of the performance was dedicated to Weiss’ love for the city of Philadelphia, the city he calls home. Weiss is a huge player in the emo rock scene but behaved like he was just another guy on stage. Between songs, Weiss cracked jokes and thanked Philadelphia for everything that he received from the city. He brought a fan up onto the stage that had been to six shows on this tour and delivered a wonderful story about how he and his longtime girlfriend lived in Philadelphia and travelled west to follow their dreams. Musically, Weiss was gripping and is an insanely talented singer. The supporting band rocked the venue for over an hour, leaving little to be desired. The personal highlight for me was “Pinky Swear,” the song about him moving west, which was delivered with just a little bit of extra zeal than the others that set it over the top for me.
All four performers rocked the small venue an unbelievable amount and I can’t recommend seeing any of these bands enough.