Nobody moves. The cavernous Aragon Ballroom in Chicago is a pitch black void and inside, 5,000 Brand New fans hardly breathe as a large metal fence descends from the rafters. Out of the shadows, six figures wander out onto the elevated stage to the thrill of their mesmerized acolytes. A low, instrumental rumble cuts through the expectant silence, followed by singer Jesse Lacey’s unmistakable croon: “It’s where you live, but you don’t know how it’s built.”
Even as the audience sings along, pouring all they have into every word of the first song of the show, “Lit Me Up,” they remain absolutely still. You can’t even see the band from behind the massive wall of steel and flaming LED lights, but hardly anyone shifts this way or that to get a better look. We stand as one, totally transfixed by the words and the foreboding music. It’s actually incredible. All of us have fallen deep under Brand New’s spell. All of us are yearning to open our hearts and say goodbye.
Brand New have made several allusions over the past few years that they have no intention in carrying on past 2018. Every show, every action they take could be their last, and those who’ve followed them since the beginning, back around the turn of this century, are sharing in their last act with an almost defiant sense of celebration. If you’re holding onto a ticket to their current tour expecting to partake in a funeral, you’ll almost certainly leave disappointed. Brand New seem more intent on giving their devoted following the intense, and triumphant wake that they deserve.
Brand New is the kind of band who inspires almost cultish-levels of devotion. Their infrequent album release schedule combined with the fact that they’ve almost totally removed themselves from the promotional side of the business, rarely, if ever granting interviews, has caused to create this swirl of mystery around themselves that some find patently irresistible. It doesn’t hurt the cause that their discography is jammed with genre-defining, catharsis-rendering, emo masterpieces like Deja Entendu and The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me.
The depth of passion that Brand New inspires was on full display throughout the 90-minute set. Men and women alike belted out the choruses to cherished favorite tracks like their very lives depended on it. Crowd-surfers were frequent. Right in front of me, a girl with a shaved head burst into tears and began sobbing just as the guys onstage broke into the fourth song of the night “You Won’t Know.” Her friend wrapped a consoling arm around her and asked, “Are you okay?” She sniffled and responded “Not really.” Next to her a large, tough looking dude looked over and offered, reassuringly “It’s a totally reasonable reaction.” The girl glanced at him and smiled. “It’s been 16 years for me,” she replied while drying her eyes. “16 years,” she repeated.
Here’s where I make my confession. Prior to 2017, I wasn’t really all that into Brand New. I was aware of them in high school and beyond sure, but while so many of my peers were scrawling the lyrics to “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows” on their arms in sharpie, I was simply in to other things. Some stuff just kind of falls through the cracks, what can I say?
Then, a couple of months back they unveiled what is purportedly their last album Science Fiction. I was intrigued, but waited a weekend before giving it a proper listen and then, ho-ly sh*t! I was hooked. From the disconcerting tape recordings, the slow-simmering melodies, the laconic vocal delivery on the verses, the bombastic throat-shredding fury through the choruses, and the twisted melange of unsettling imagery, I fell deep in the throes of a full-blown love affair. At the time of my writing this, there’s no doubt in my mind that Science Fiction is the absolute, number-one, best rock record of the year. It suddenly became extremely important for me to see them before the opportunity slipped away forever.
Fortunately, while Brand New paid a good amount of attention to some of their most-beloved older material throughout the show, songs like “Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades” and “Jesus” for example, almost half the set was filled out by tracks off Science Fiction. This suited me just fine. I actually admired the gumption it takes to stack the deck so heavily toward newer material at this stage in the game. The crowd rewarded their efforts by going nearly word-for-word on newer cuts like “137,” “Can’t Get It Out,” and “Out Of Mana.” The 11th song of the night, “In The Water” drew a particularly enthusiastic response.
Lacey made mention of the finality surrounding the show during one of the few times he deigned to address the crowd. While introducing the “Same Logic/Teeth,” he revealed the purpose behind it all, saying that “It’s pretty freeing that this will probably be one of our last pieces of music.” There were no tears then. Everyone cheered and the band blasted us into another dimension one more time.
Farewell Brand New. I hardly knew ye.
“Lit Me Up”
“Out of Mana”
“You Won’t Know”
“Can’t Get It Out”
“Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades”
“I Will Play My Game Beneath the Spin Light”
“At the Bottom”
“In the Water”
“Soco Amaretto Lime” (Jesse Lacey Solo)