Talk about a loaded tour. A few days ago I hopped onto the Greyhound and traveled over to Birmingham, Alabama to catch a show that initially sounded too good to be true. It was a three hour bus ride with typical southern heat and a broken air-con, so by the time I reached the venue around 6:30PM I was ready to be invigorated, and rejuvenated I was. Featuring two scene heavyweights in letlive and The Wonder Years, preceded by two smaller (but my no means lesser) bands in Microwave and Tiny Moving Parts, there were a band on the bill for everybody, and I was there to see each of them. I can’t say that I was disappointed by any of them.
Zydeco is a venue sitting just outside of downtown Birmingham, and on the 28th March 2016 it hosted four bands across roughly four hours, and let in probably a few hundred people for an evening of live music, somehow not sold-out despite the quality of the bands playing. Looking at the line-up, this was a generous tour to say the least, particularly when considering the higher-listed bands, and it’s a shame that a good portion of the crowd only seemed particularly interested in The Wonder Years and letlive. That being said, there was strong support for openers Microwave [7.5], potentially because of those in the crowd who’d traveled over from Georgia (the bands home state), like I had done earlier in the day. The Atlanta four-piece were well received, and their set was an enjoyable one, the band playing a cathartic blend of emotive rock which was good enough to land them a place on Side One Dummy’s roster last year. Across the nights shortest set they definitely delivered, with tracks such as Something Right and Labor Day suitably big in the low-ceilinged room. They ended with the title track from their most recent LP Stovall, and in doing so closed out a memorable set which surely won over some new fans in the audience. I was one of them, having only heard of the band in passing or when skimming through the tracks on their 2015 split with Head North – But Not Often being one of those tracks, as well as one they played.
I knew more about Tiny Moving Parts  though, who followed after a quick gear change and the sounds of jazz bleeding through the speakers in between sets. Compared to other gigs I’ve been to these transitions between bands did feel a little long, but they gave the audience some time to recharge / check Instagram / message friends. Taking to the stage and introducing themselves in typically cheerful fashion Tiny Moving Parts tore their way through a frantic set full of energy and enthusiasm. Frontman / happiest guy in alternative music Dylan Mattheisen’s guitar theatrics were entertaining to see in person as he pranced and played around the stage, while songs such as Sundress provoked passionate sing-along responses from the crowd, who seemed to know these guys better, like myself. The band were having a good time on stage, and that energy carried over to the audience for the most part, with songs like new track Happy Birthday ending up sounding jubilant and triumphant, with older songs such as Clouds Above My Head ending up the same. Speaking of ending, closer Dakota was an excellent way to finish things off; it’s a song that’s meant a lot to me over the last few years, so hearing it in person was very cool. It’s a song which is about coming to terms, and it very much carried that feel when played live, where it’s clear that these songs also matter a great deal to the guys performing them. That makes it even more of a shame that some of these tracks ended up losing a little something because of the audio setup, because the band certainly gave it their all. As was the case with Microwave, Tiny Moving Parts certainly did enough to win people over, their brand of twinkly, emotively emphatic emo easy to enjoy if a little overly abrasive in transmission. The band were promoting their upcoming record Celebrate, which drops May 20th, and it’ll be a release well worth picking up if their discography and live shows are any indication. Hey, I’m excited about it, you should be too.
On paper, letlive  may seem like odd supports for a band like The Wonder Years, their music quite far removed from the pop-punk of the headliners. Then again, The Wonder Years aren’t exactly a pop-punk band anymore per se, and letlive are a band who seem to defy labels all together. Either way, the crowd loved their chaotic and intense live show tonight, from opener Banshee (Ghost Fame) to closer Renegade ’86. From the offset the four-piece are brimming with expected energy, ripping their way through their set, encouraging the crowd to dance during Younger and then opening up a circle-pit during 27 Club, which frontman Jason Aalon Butler observes crouched atop the bar, after working his way to the back of the room. It was the first time I’d seen the band live, but I’d certainly heard a great deal about their live shows prior; their reputation very much precedes them. This reputation certainly seemed to be justified by a set bristling with ferocity as letlive moved from one explosive song to the next, Butler throwing himself around the stage and howling in trademark madman fashion. The audience were treated to new song Good Mourning America, which bounced with a heaviness the rest of the night’s bands couldn’t match, and following the savage nature of that song things slowed down for a crooning coming-together during set-highlight Muther, the band letting the fans do some of the work towards the end. Le Prologue, into The Sick, Sick, 6.8 Billion, into Renegade ’86 end the set with a string of solid selections from the bands excellent debut LP Fake History, and somewhere in there there’s a moment where Smooth Criminal by Michael Jackson features before a crushing breakdown, possibly the strangest, but best moment of the bands forty minute set. It’s a forty minute, ten song, set because the band are second on the bill, and being second makes them a Hell of a tough act to follow.
The Wonder Years , thankfully are more than up to the task though, and take to the stage during rapturous applause after a teasing, green-lit build up, launching immediately into I Don’t Like Who I Was Then, the fourth track from their latest LP No Closer To Heaven. Their sixteen song setlist features seven tracks from the record, but as a whole it’s a set which spans the bands backcatalog, with old favourites such as Washington Square Park and Local Man Ruins Everything more than welcome additions. The former is halted midway through as the band address some stagedivers, marking the only real lull in an emphatic set, but they pick up where they left off, and things resume pretty smoothly. I’ve been lucky enough to see The Wonder Years a few times during the last few years, and at each of their shows I tend to notice the same thing, and it’s that the band seem to promote a crowd response unlike many others in the scene are capable of. At their shows things become increasingly communal, and for the duration of the set it’s easy to feel like you’re part of something bigger, something that matters. At a Wonder Years gig you’re never just another member of the crowd, you’re a part of that crowd, operating in a collective body united by music. This is what makes The Wonder Years such a great band to see, and they’re reached the heights now where maybe 90% of a crowd will know the words to 90% of the songs, and will insist upon yelling those they know at the top of their lungs, together. No other song in the bands discography seems to typify this joint mindset as well as Living Room Song does, and its sung with gusto by the band and the crowd, who clap during a chorus and jump during the verses. Came Out Swinging sparks a similarly enthusiastic response, one of those songs catered for fan involvement, as was also the case with Dismantling Summer and it’s call-response lines ‘If I’m in an airport and you’re in a hospital bed… well then what kind of man does that make me>’ In the low-ceilinged room The Wonder Years raised spirits, and the show only adds to the notion that right now, this band is unstoppable, speeding from one success to the next. I Wanted So Badly To Brave and Passing Through A Screen Door sound suitably huge, while the simmering starts to The Devil In My Bloodstream and Cigarettes & Saints see a contemplative calm descend upon the venue as front-man Dan Campbell becomes a somewhat solitary figure on stage under shifting lights. The Wonder Years are a band who know how to hold a crowd, and they do from the offset, even sparking a response during between-song soliloquies about the upcoming election and dodgy barbecue food. They’re an outfit who know what they’re doing, and they do it very, very well. Of course, one of the main perks of seeing letlive and The Wonder Years tour together is the opportunity to see Jason Butler join the band for encore Stained Glass Ceilings, arguably the best cut from No Closer To Heaven, and the collaboration ends the evening in exceptional fashion, leaving those who’ve witnessed it content yet longing for me. As the band leave the stage for the second time the cheers and applause rings loud, capping off a night that will live long in the memory for all of those able to experience it. Talk about a loaded tour.