Last Night: Streetlight Manifesto at the Meridian

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Streetlight Manifesto
November 26, 2007

Better Than: Hitting yet another quiet, boring acoustic hipster act with zithers and sitars and homemade psalmodicons, standing around basting in your own smug because you think you’re above something as energetic and fun as ska, but really you’re just dead inside. You will die alone and angry.

Download: “Everything Went Numb” or really, anything else you can find. Throw their name into a YouTube search for more examples.

Without much of an introduction or banter of any sort, Streetlight Manifesto took the stage Monday night and launched into “We Will Fall Together,” and instantly the entire floor erupted in a skanking mosh pit. Not a tiny section up front, mind you; literally the entire floor.

“Enthusiastic” and “devoted” don’t even begin to describe Streetlight’s fans. Select any random audience member at one of their shows, and chances are good they’ll tell you a Streetlight Manifesto album saved his or her life. That’s not an exaggeration, that’s a direct quote from a young fan named Katy who kindly let me copy the set list from her.

Frontman Tomas Kalnoky’s lyrics seem to dwell on three themes: fighting (and sometimes dying) for what you believe in; learning and drawing strength from life’s tragedies; and finding love and acceptance in an often bleak and harsh world. It’s not hard to see how someone in their teens might relate to such themes, particularly when the lyrics are backed by up-tempo, catchy, crashing, instrumentation that’s more complex than we have any right to expect from a third-wave ska band. Although it’s set in a gritty, realistic world, Streetlight’s music refuses to wallow in darkness for very long with allowing some light to break through the clouds a little. Imagine: hope, in modern music. And it’s not cringe-inducing, pseudo-Christian radio pop. I can hardly believe it myself.

This fervor did not stop for the length of the band’s set. Mostly a blast of pure energy, Kalnoky switched to his acoustic guitar for a brief interlude featuring two songs from his side project, Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution. The positive energy in the room was not defused even a little, however, and in one of his infrequent addresses to the crowd, Kalnoky proclaimed it “the most punk rock show of the tour so far.” The crowd roared in approval, and my faith in today’s youth was officially restored.

Featuring mostly songs from the New Jersey band’s 2003 debut Everything Went Numb and this month’s Somewhere in the Between, Streetlight’s set had the audience vigorously singing along to old and new songs, while the band played and sang with genuine, gleeful enthusiasm. When they left the stage, Streetlight was immediately chanted back for an encore, which they delivered promptly and with uncustomary gratitude. It’s rare to see a band these days that means so much to so many people, especially people so young. I have to think it’s because they’ve found something that acknowledges their difficulties but doesn’t try to fix them, just gives them hope and reassurance.

Imagine: the kids are all right, and Streetlight Manifesto knows it even if you don’t.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I went for five years without listening to any ska whatsoever until I heard Everything Went Numb.

Random Detail: Putting the singer off to the side and the horn section/chorus dead center stage makes any show feel like a gospel revival.

By the Way: It’s starting to look like we might finally be done with emo. In a year or so you can probably start listening to the radio again. -- John Gray

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