Alkaline Trio: House of Blues

By • Jul 19th, 2008 • Category: Concert Reviews

There’s a middle-aged man sitting in the bar during Alkaline Trio’s gig at Chicago’s House of Blues.

In his left hand he has two black T-shirts sporting the name of the pop-punk outfit’s latest album, Agony and Irony. In his right, he has a pair of cell phones. One – his work phone – he checks a few times throughout the night, grimaces, and hooks it back on his belt with nary a second thought. The second, however, he opens every five minutes and texts back and forth for the duration of the three-band bill. On the other end of the conversation is his daughter, … reassuring him that she’s OK, … from inside the mosh pit.

This all-ages feel permeated the Trio’s hometown performance July 9. And although the bulk of the sold-out crowd fell somewhere between this father-daughter combo, there was no denying that few – if any – felt uncomfortable surrounded by more than their own demographic. Everyone belonged.

It’s the reason Matt Skiba, Dan Andriano and Derek Grant looked more comfortable on stage throughout their 75-minute set than in recent years. Gone was the black eyeliner and matching nail polish. The black-red-white schemes were replaced by Skiba’s pink shirt, green shoes and newsy hat and Andriano’s white button-down. Now in their 30s, the songwriting pair seemed more inclined to just be members of Alkaline Trio than worry about the trappings that come with that role.

The calm goes hand-in-hand with returning to the city where you made a name for yourself. Despite members having left the Windy City – Skiba for California, Grant for Indianapolis, Andriano for Florida – the House of Blues isn’t a normal tour stop. It was Andriano scanning the VIP boxes and smiling when he noticed a familiar face, and Skiba taking a moment in-between songs to hug someone on the side of the stage. But maybe the band’s vibe comes from having the No. 13 album on the Billboard 200 chart. It was something that wasn’t lost on the guitarist.

“If you can’t be No. 1, you might as well be No. 13,” said Skiba, a card-carry member of the Church of Satan, of the album released July 1.

Despite the band’s first Epic Records release being their highest charting, the capacity crowd was treated to selections from the Trio’s entire catalog. In doing so, everyone from the teens down on the floor to the twentysomethings in the bar got what they wanted ­– to break a sweat, to shout, a release from their daily grinds. Thus, the all-ages show became quite literally that, with Skiba and Co. barreling through tracks dating back to 1998’s Goddamnit. There was a connection at the House of Blues that reminded everyone about the fun of guitar pop and sing-a-long choruses. From the teens seeing the band for the first time to the young professionals who dusted off the pair of Converse All-Stars that they wore a decade ago to see Alkaline Trio at Chicago’s famed Fireside Bowl, the 1,300 in attendance never felt out of place.

When the threesome launched into “Help Me” off of this year’s album, the younger fans could sing, “Help me, help me, somebody help me/ Save me from myself” with the same angst-ridden vulnerability that has been punk’s lifeline since the late 1970s. The older crowd could sit back and watch, remembering the way they felt about curfews, detention and homework when they first heard the band. It was the same way they belted out memories of their own during “Nose Over Tail” lyrics such as “Feel your mouth on mine/ you’re saving me” from that decade-old debut. Only now, the stress came from deadlines, rent payments and working overtime.

But regardless of age, everyone joined in the night’s final tune, an encore performance of “Radio.” With a certain we’ve-been-waiting-so-long-to-say-this smarminess, Trio fans young and old shouted their way through the line “I’ve got a big fat fuckin’ bone to pick with you, my darling.” In fact, everyone there did, even if they didn’t realize it at first. And it felt good to say it out loud. Whether doing so made you the cool dad, or conversely, the badass teen who could swear in front of her father. Or even for those who might have thought they were too old to crack open their high school music collection, chocking pop punk up as being cheesy or too predictable. There was something refreshing at the House of Blues that night.

Sometimes it just takes 1,300 pissed off people to have a good time – no matter what their ages are.

Soundcheck Magazine, July 2008

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