Is This The End Of Modern Baseball?

Last weekend, Philadelphia’s beloved Modern Baseball played three sold-out shows at Union Transfer, a gorgeous 1200-capacity room in the North region of the city. The venue used to be an old trolley barn, leaving its walls and ceilings with much reclaimed wood, an aesthetically pleasing concert hall of impressive acoustics, a sense of power and purpose. While venues continue to shutter with increasing speed, non-studio music spaces that feel alive are increasingly rare to come by — at Union Transfer, there’s magic in the walls, amplified by those who perform there, leaving with it a piece of their own. Modern Baseball (MoBo to the loyal) chose to perform three back-to-back nights at UT, Philly’s favorite emo band where the three-letter word is used loosely and lovingly, to essentially say goodbye, not to the room but to the people standing in it, and to themselves.

To my knowledge, no one in Modern Baseball has publicly remarked that this is the end of their tenure. No media outlet has announced with definitive assurance that those 3000+ friends, fans and family in the room those three nights saw the end of a very personal and beautiful story, but it certainly felt definitive — the gigs arrived as a surprise after months of canceled tours and an indefinite hiatus — though those two soul-crushing words were never used, they’re not far removed. I entered MoBo’s Union Transfer Saturday and Sunday night and it felt like closure for a particularly wondrous and pure entity, short-lived but satiating.

The ugly truth for fans but necessary reality for all artists is dissolution: good things end, and with music, the expiration date is often more obvious than other creative endeavors. There’s burning out or fading quietly, and the latter is unsettling, a forced continuation of something that perhaps only needed to be in the world, actively, for a limited amount of time. The promise of records is that they are real tracks, documentation to be discovered and rediscovered forever. As long as there is interest in them, records live on. I, like thousands of others, walked into the venue with limited expectation, but realizing that if this is the last time, it’ll be a beautiful time. They didn’t disappoint. There was no danger of that.

Saturday night felt the most rambunctious of the two — the band played their debut LP, Sports, front to back, followed by a series of various hits from later albums “Broken Cash Machine,” “Fine, Great,” and “Mass.” Co-frontman Brendan Lukens told me they added “my song” of “Just Another Face” to the set list and considered removing it when I said I was coming back for the final night — a sweet and accommodating gesture directly reflective of his generous personhood. The set ended with the band’s most universally known track, “Your Graduation,” from 2013’s You’re Going to Miss It All …three times. Twice, to much confusion then immediate delight from attendees, and a third time for the encore. If it were any other song in their repertoire, or, in that moment, on earth, the joke wouldn’t have landed. It was unadulterated joyful, an eternally underrated verve within the Modern Baseball camp. They’re in the business of hope.

Something slowed on the last night — still shoved to the brim with attendees of all MoBo generations, a strong group of young girls glued to the Union Transfer barricade — the air was a bit somber, exhausted. The band opened with and played most of their third and final record, 2016’s Holy Ghost, a not so opaque gesture towards a final chapter. They ended with their now famous cover of The Killers’ “When You Were Young,” bassist Ian Farmer on vocals, and “Your Graduation,” played only once.

After leaving the stage to await an encore, I saw the band look at one another as if deciding to even go back out or not — everything guided by sensation, nonverbal communication. There were brotherly shoulder rubs, shared nods and a slow walk back up the stairs, slower than their usual stride. They launched into “Just Another Face,” the last song of their last record. Lukens closed its final chorus, “If it’s all the same, it’s time to confront this face to face / I’ll be with you the whole way, it’ll take time, that’s fact / I’m not just another face, I’m not just another name / Even if you can’t see it now, we’re proud of what’s to come, and you.” They were done.

Most bands don’t get to exist to become ineffable healing properties — MoBo did. These four guys wrote masterfully human songs of gargantuan size and had the bravery to press pause where warranted. It was impossible not to look out and see a crowd of smiles replaced by hard, focused stares, the tight, wrinkled foreheads of faces trying to really memorize a moment. Being a Modern Baseball fan isn’t and wasn’t and will never be a casual endeavor. It’s easy to love these records as an extension of identity, an aspect of listenership not uncommon but crucial and always, always special.

It’s everywhere: from kids who found camaraderie where and when they needed it most, to the father who used their music as a means to reconnect with his daughter, who’d go on to adopt the musical moniker Harmony Woods and open for the band at the first of the three final shows. We’ll mourn Modern Baseball, but there’s no loss here: There’s appreciation for the records that exist, pride for what’s to come, and you.

Maria Sherman is a music and culture writer living in Philadelphia. Find her on Twitter at @mariasherm.