Onstage, Fall Out Boy Reconnect With Their Punk-Rock Roots
Photos by Violeta Alvarez
Fall Out Boy, Wiz Khalifa
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
July 24, 2015
Let me start off by saying that in 2015, Fall Out Boy is, for all intents and purposes, a studio band. Listening to either of their two post-reunion records, Save Rock and Roll or American Beauty/American Psycho, you will immediately notice a host of issues that might come about with playing these songs live. So performing a set like the one the band did Friday at the Woodlands Pavilion required some retrofitting to make it all work.
Luckily, stripping the band naked exposed more strengths than weaknesses. With no studio trickery to cover up for any of their failings, and no synthesizers or lush atmospheric soundscapes to bolster their pop hooks, Fall Out Boy stood on their own and lived up to the job admirably.
The night started strangely, though, because rather than aligning with Fall Out Boy's roots in rock, it turned into a hip-hop extravaganza. DJ Drama, Hoodie Allen and a host of lesser-name rappers like Chevy Woods performed ahead of the big opener, Wiz Khalifa. His choice of set list was puzzling, coming right out of the gate with hits “Black and Yellow” and “We Dem Boyz,” which left about an hour of material I wasn't quite as familiar with. Most of this centered around your average “don't give up, be yourself, and smoke weed” kinds of anthems, which are Wiz's stock and trade.
But it still felt like he was perpetually selling himself short. I know the man can rap; when he came out with Fall Out Boy later to spit a verse over their massive hit “Uma Thurman,” he murdered the track. It was better than any verse he rapped during his entire opening set. Why does he wallow in the depths of trite, cloying garbage like “See You Again"?
Money, of course. The tween crowd was definitely into what he was doing. Tears were shed during “See You Again.” Tears! Like Jay Z once said, “If skills sold, truth be told, lyrically I'd be Talib Kweli/ Truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense, but I did five mill/ I ain't been rapping like Common since.” Enter Wiz.
Money is also the explanation for Fall Out Boy's turn towards pop and studio affectations. Be it the dance beats, the strings, the soulful way Patrick Stump sings outside of his range (corrected with Autotune and pitch-shifting), or the numerous guest appearances which could only be replicated live by way of pre-taped audio piped in through the PA, the band has created two pop masterpieces that can't faithfully be played live.
But neither are they strictly a “money” band. They're a rock band. So when they played their early, more pop-punk and rock material, it translated just as effectively as it did all those years ago. Opening with “Sugar, We're Goin' Down” was a stroke of genius, and rousing performances of “A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More Touch Me,” “Dance, Dance” and the closing “Saturday” popped off just as expected.
We all knew those songs work live, though; they're tried and true. My biggest question was how the new material would go over. Sure, the kids would cheer, but would it sound good? It was a rough start. The first post-reunion songs they played, “Irresistable” and “The Phoenix,” were boatloads of fun, but especially in the case of “The Phoenix,” it hardly resembled the studio version.
Retrofitted to work for a guitar, a bass, and drums, “The Phoenix” took on different life as a dance-rock song, and yes, it was a boatload of fun to sing along to. Nevertheless, Stump struggled mightily to hit the notes, and it came off sounding rather hollow without all the backing tracks they used in the studio. Other songs fared much better, though. “Alone Together” went from a ballad to an anthem about standing together through the face of adversity.
Then, after a short, creepy video segment which resembled Fall Out Boy starring in some kind of grainy snuff film and seemed more like something out of a Marilyn Manson concert, the band reappeared sitting in front of the lawn with acoustic guitars. Not only was it a nice gift to those who couldn't afford the best seats, but Stump sang the hell out of “Immortals.” Seated, playing acoustically, he shined and proved that yes, he can really sing like that under the right circumstances.
Andy Hurley, the drummer who just looks pissed off all the time not to be playing hardcore, even got to show off his stuff with a massive solo. Interestingly, it combined metal double-bass-drumming with the dance beats he's more famous for in Fall Out Boy.
The rest of the set played out equally as well. “American Beauty / American Psycho,” removed of its own studio trappings, came off like the punk-rock song it was always meant to be and became one of the absolute highlights of the set. Older track “I Don't Care” let Stump ditch the guitar, jump around and let loose with his most soulful singing and hip-thrusting of the night. It was easily the sexiest get-down moment of a night filled with them, and showed how great of a performer Stump is.
“Divide me down to the smallest I can be,” Stump sang during “Uma Thurman.” That's an apt way to describe the show Fall Out Boy put on. They may play venues like Cynthia Woods because of the band they are in the studio, but live, they perform like the punk-rock band they started out as, stripped bare for the world to see. They're maybe America's biggest rock band today, and live, they proved why.
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