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REVIEW: Taking Back Sunday/The Used, Live in NYC

Best Buy Theater, April 21, 2014

Post-hardcore heavyweights team up for storming Big Apple show.

The Used are not known as a particularly political band, but at tonight’s co-headline show with Taking Back Sunday – the last of three in New York – Bert McCracken is riled up. At various points in the evening, the singer urges the crowd to stand up and be counted. He tells us to stop following people on Twitter and start leading in real life. He denounces his parents and grandparents as racist homophobes – though in a hilarious Freudian slip (of sorts) he accidentally announces that “my grandparents are homosexual retards.” He even encourages people to steal his band’s new album, Imaginary Enemy, from those who are richer than them.

This is all during an energetic set that takes in the entirety of their thirteen year career, the whole of which is infused with this newfound sense of radicalism. New song Revolution - no guessing what that’s about - is full of fire and fury, while The Taste Of Ink (you know, that song) is delivered with a passion that fills the room all the way from the moshpits at the front to the seats at the back. There’s a moment of calm reflection during an acoustic rendition of On My Own, before which McCracken explains how music literally saved his life. It’s a tender, moving few minutes, but they’re soon blown away by what comes next.

“This is the best song ever written,” announces the singer, as the beginning riff of Smells Like Teen Spirit is unleashed, causing the already avid crowd to get even crazier. But then, just as soon as it began, it suddenly morphs into their own song, A Box Full Of Sharp Objects, which closes their set with a throat-tearing urgency that seems even more intense than it did when that song was first released in 2002. It’s clear, as the band walk offstage, that they not only want to be taken seriously, but that they probably should be.

Tonight, as ever, Taking Back Sunday tug at heart strings rather than political injustices, but the effect of their songs is no less powerful or inspiring. The original line-up – which reformed in 2010 – recently finished touring the tenth anniversary of debut album Tell All Your Friends but remain armed with the bitter catharsis and plaintive rage that has defined their whole career. They, too, have a brand new album, Happiness Is, out – released the same day as The Used’s, as it happens – so the evening is a soul-searching, emotive journey into the shapeshifting nature of heartache and tragedy. Because even though both band and the crowd are older and wiser now, those songs still resonate. All you have to do is witness the carnage that ensues when the band launch into Cute Without The ‘E’ (Cut From The Team) – there’s not a throat in the 2,100 capacity venue that doesn’t channel every broken heart they’ve suffered in their lifetime. It doesn’t matter when they were or whether they’ve been forgotten or forgiven – for those few minutes, the crowd is united, their own individual, personal histories transformed into to universal experience.

But it’s not just that song that wields such power. Set Phasers To Stun, What’s It Feel Like To Be A Ghost? and new song Flicker, Fade all burn with impressive intensity, delving deep into the collective heart of the crowd and allowing them to wallow – albeit loudly and aggressively – for what once was and is no longer. Yet, ironically, as the band’s performance demonstrates tonight, nothing is really ever lost. The ache fades but it doesn’t ever truly go away. Rather, it’s always waiting to be recalled and relived. Few bands bring it back in the way that Taking Back Sunday can, and they do so with vicious force tonight. They finish with MakeDamnSure, and it’s suddenly as if nothing else matters except this moment and what it means to each and every person here. The cynical would say that Taking Back Sunday is music for teenagers, a soundtrack to bad romances that you should grow out of once those years and lost loves are behind you. But we were all teenagers once, we’ve all lost and loved, and there’s nothing remotely wrong with reliving it years, or even decades later. In fact, it’s positively life-affirming.    

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