Live Review: Brand New, O2 Academy Newcastle, 16/02/2012
Oh what I'd have given to see Brand New two years ago... It's not that I think they've gone downhill, or that they've even grown off me, but nowadays I just don't feel the ritualistic need to listen to their music every single day as I used to. Each of their songs still lies permanently ingrained inside my head, and although the love affair continues it's fair to say that the phase where I was completely reliant upon them has passed. Still, two years late or not, Thursday night finally marked my first live experience of one of my favourite bands - although I must admit I went into it with more than a little pessimism. Would their performance still have the same effect on me as it would have 24-months ago? Would their setlist place too much emphasis on certain corners of their discography, and most importantly, would they be able to match the immense emotional impact of their studio recordings?
With regards to the second question, the band spent much of the night travelling back in time, charting in reverse their transformation from a run-of-the-mill pop-punk band to the magnificent alt-rock outfit they are today. Beginning with a quartet of songs from The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me, they set their bar spectacularly high, but by and large the rest of their set followed suite and provided just as many thrills. Arguably best received were the cuts from Deja Entendu, with the irresistible grooves of 'Sic Transit Gloria... Glory Fades' drawing a great response from the sold out crowd, while 'Okay, I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don't' and 'Me Vs. Maradona Vs. Elvis' provided an equally potent bounce and emotional punch respectively. Even the material from notably inferior debut outing Your Favourite Weapon went down a storm, with the fantastic 'Jude Law And The Semester Abroad' belted out with just as much zest as their more fulfilling moments.
With the backwards evolution complete, Jesse Lacey was then left alone on stage for a short solo run, and that's where the problems started to mount. There was nothing wrong with his renditions of early numbers 'Moshi Moshi' and 'Soco Amaretto Lime' - indeed their stripped back nature provided welcome relief from the overly distorted PA which had been prevalent from the off - but they began a run which saw he and his band lose a lot of their momentum after such an intense and purposeful start. 'Limousine' and 'Jesus Christ,' which followed when the rest of the band returned continued this cycle, with both falling victim to poor placement. There can be no doubting what astounding compositions they are, but in the midst of such a downbeat succession both seemed strangely flat, sucking energy as opposed to filling one with a sense of life-affirming vigour as you'd perhaps expect.
Thankfully, they not only managed to arrest the fall, but did so in some style by employing a one-two punch of 'Degausser' and 'You Won't Know' to close the show. Both were absolutely stunning, and beyond mere redemption proved a fine way to cap off what was overall a strong showing. There were plenty of blips along the way, but when they hit their stride the sheer majesty and emotional weight of their music was in full evidence, precisely what you'd want from a Brand New live performance. With three years having passed since the release of Daisy (from which only 'Vices' and 'Sink' were aired), it was maybe a little disappointing that no new material was introduced to the set, but when you've got such a strong back catalogue to fall back on, such nitpicking counts for little. More telling was the fact that the band - and Lacey in particular - displayed a generally positive attitude throughout the night, suggesting that their claims of a more positive future direction may have held a little more substance than they initially seemed. Whichever way they go, it's sure to be among their most eagerly awaited releases yet, and given their past form you get the impression that another masterpiece may not be beyond them.
Finally, a special mention for Brooklyn quintet I Am The Avalanche, who occupied the second support slot of the evening. Their visceral and anthemic brand of pop-punk made quite an impression on most of those who had turned up early, with their infectious hooks still memorable long after the focus had switched to Brand New. All of their songs impressed, but it was 'Gratitude,' the closer to new album Avalanche United which proved the undisputed highlight. That number alone was enough to outshine Scottish trio The Xcerts, who had put in a passionate, if ultimately mundane shift prior to their appearance.