Something Corporate | 1.17.06

The new project from ex–Taking Back Sunday members John Nolan and Shaun Cooper, Straylight Run’s performance was low-key but riveting.

w/Straylight Run, Hidden in Plain View, & The Academy Is…
Mississippi Nights, St. Louis

The heart of any emo band is a battle between two competing elements: irony and sincerity. Go too far in one direction and you become a joke. Go too far in the other direction and you become, well, Dashboard Confessional. The Orange County, Calif., quintet Something Corporate manages to hit that combination right in its juicy middle. Their piano-driven music oozes the classic ’70s Elton John/Billy Joel aesthetic, incessantly catchy and instantly memorable. The lyrics somehow wield both the wit of fellow piano-rock purveyor Ben Folds and the heartbreaking intensity that’s launched a thousand Live Journal entries.

Even having shorn his trademark leonine mane of hair, singer/pianist Andrew McMahon was still melting the hearts of the sold-out (and, not surprisingly, largely high school–aged and female) crowd. It’s got to be tough being in a band with this guy; not only was he front-and-center onstage, but his vocals and piano were higher in the mix than all the other instruments. The rest of the band still fired off each song with unbridled energy—with most of the highlights coming from the band’s latest, North—particularly a full-on rock take on the anthemic lead single “Space.” “21 and Invincible” and “The Astronaut” were noteworthy, but nothing brought the house down quite like “If You C Jordan.” Something Corporate’s biggest hit single had the crowd chanting along, “High school’s over, high school’s over,” a statement that was untrue for a big chunk of said crowd. How’s that for irony?

The Academy Is… ably opened the festivities. It says a lot about how far online promotion has gone that the crowd was singing along to their songs despite the fact that their album won’t hit store shelves for another month. The band isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel; it’s fairly obvious that the last albums from At the Drive-In and Thursday are getting a lot of play on their tour bus. Fortunately, great use of stop-start dynamics and some captivating melodies helped keep things interesting.

The next band, Hidden in Plain View, didn’t fare nearly as well. Generic doesn’t begin to describe this New Jersey fivesome, a bland pop-punk outfit with generous bits of Used-style screamo. The band kept the energy up through the faster numbers, but even their fans began to get restless during their one slow song, a sappy, over-the-top ballad that felt tailor-made for the scene in every teen romantic comedy when the couple that you’re really, really hoping will get together have had their first fight and are thinking about each other even though they’re apart. Unfortunately for Hidden in Plain View, there aren’t going to be any more American Pie movies. Fortunately for those in attendance, they only played five songs.

Once Straylight Run hit the stage, however, all was forgiven. The new project from ex–Taking Back Sunday members John Nolan and Shaun Cooper, Straylight Run’s performance was low-key but riveting. It’s hard to fathom why the band was included on this tour—their mature, melancholy pop strikes a much different chord than the decidedly more upbeat Something Corporate. Just about the only thing the two bands have in common is a piano. Despite the slowed tempo, Straylight Run still captivated with dreamy, atmospheric ballads formed from layers of swirling guitars and perfectly placed synths. The set wasn’t all downbeat, however, with a fantastic lead vocal turn by keyboardist/bassist Michelle Nolan (sister of lead singer John) on “Tool Sheds and Hot Tubs,” a delicious slice of dancey new wave worthy of New Order, providing the pinnacle of an already fantastic night.

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