Anyone who knows me would think that this isn’t going to be a review. It’s going to be a fanboy going on about how amazing The Wonder Years are and how they should be playing stadiums 365 days a year. Furthermore, it should be law to have their mascot Hank the Pigeon tattooed on you (I do… what’s stopping you?). Our national anthem should be the entire album ‘The Greatest Generation…’ which is the album we are here to celebrate tonight.
Well, I’m sorry to add a bit of unpredictability to proceedings. As much as I’d die for this band… my love only holds their live shows to a higher standard than I would any other band. It’s like not really caring what grades other people’s kids get in exams but by God mine better get an A. I wasn’t the greatest fan when they got rid of the on stage amplifiers and montiors during the ‘Sister Cities’ tour. That decision took something away from the live experience. Yes… I bought a hoodie tonight… but I’m also being honest in what is being said.
Opening the show is Kississpi. A poppy, indie, outfit fronted by a girl who has something that draws you to like her. Nervous at their first time in the UK and telling the crowd about the song they play that’s her mum’s favourite… it’s a lovely innocence and realness. We don’t have rockstars here. The music is soaked in reverb and dreamy lead guitar lines. The vocals are like a soft Karen O. They came on the stage with no fanfare or pomp and left the same way. Once they were done, the backing track of choice happened to be super evil death metal which amused a few in the crowd.
The main support for tonight is Origami Angel. And here is where I – once again – get on my soapbox.
First off… the music is great, so if you’re reading this, guys… don’t worry. I’ve just got a major bee in my bonnet about two-piece bands relying on backing tracks rather than a full compliment of musicians. The issue isn’t with authenticity or what a real band should be… it’s to do with the energy. If you have a drummer stuck behind a kit (as is traditional) and your other member is stuck to a mic stand – or at the very best can’t stray too far from it – then you have zero movement on the stage. I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t dance until someone else does and that’s hard to do when the band themselves can’t dance to their own music. Even if you grab a few mates for touring… even a bass player who can jump about the stage a bit… then the show is so so much better.
Now that I’ve ranted… this band are actually really good. They start with a bit of pop punk with the occasional math rock twiddle here and there but then explode into heavy riffs and breakdowns. There was one song with ska chords throughout and a poppy beat but still somehow kept that sauce that is Origami Angel blended through it. This is a delicious musical stir fry where it all tastes great but you get the odd crunchy, interesting thing popping into your sound holes. You’re kept on your toes and try to anticipate the next bit of spice or bamboo shoot that’s going to make you smile. It sounds amazing live but I really miss that movement on stage.
The morning of this show, the venue was upgraded to the biggest room in SWG3 which released 200 extra tickets. That might sound like an insane move on the part of someone. I originally thought the tour manager must have got into the TV Studio where the show was originally billed for and given the promotor a rollicking for such a small space – which was alluded to being the truth by the band on stage. But it seems that they’ve had no problem selling those extra tickets tonight. The Galvanizers is packed from barrier to fire exit and a lot of the fans are wearing last year’s tour shirts. This fanbase would die for The Wonder Years.
As with all anniversary shows, discussing the set list is pointless. It’s the album in full, in order. What we should be discussing is how from the first note to the last – every single fan tore their throats out singing along. The voice of Dan “Soupy” Campbell was better than on the record… he has had ten years to practice. Musically, everything was spot on. Yes… they’ve still not got a backline on the stage, but the gaps are filled by risers for guitarist Nick Steinborn to get his grove on behind a thick mist of stage fog. This works slightly more in their favour as last time the lack of amps made the stage look empty. The mist on the stage was so heavy that it was hard to see the band for the first five or six songs until it floated across the audience. Once we could see the band’s faces it got a bit better in terms of the connection between artist and fans.
Between some songs we’re treated to a lot of sincere chat from Soupy about the band and the songs. As always with this band… there’s a lot of emphasis on the pop punk scene and welcoming everyone inclusively with open arms. That’s a common theme at Wonder Years shows and one that’s universally loved. For ballad ‘Devil In My Bloodstream’ the band are joined by Kim from Kississpi as she performs the vocal part originally done by Laura Stevenson on the album. There’s something special about the chemistry between Soupy and Kim during this song as he encourages her to stand on the riser and take the spotlight.
Once the band get through the album, there’s a second set – or extended encore – of seven songs. Each song is a fan favourite, although there’s plenty that a fan could say was missed out. Personally… ‘Don’t Let Me Cave In’ is a favourite that was left out tonight. But I did get ‘Local Man Ruins Everything’ and ‘Cardinals’ so plenty to dance and shout about. Finishing off with ‘Came Out Swinging’ was a predictable but excellent cherry on the top of the show.
There is a couple of things I could nitpick about tonight but that’s me deliberately finding faults in the name of impartiality. If I was going without the burden of having my opinion undoubtedly critiqued, I’d have loved tonight and would have said it was perfect. Missing track aside… tonight was a historic show that won’t be repeated and everyone who was there tonight knows it.
Photos by Catching Light Photography