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The Wonder Years Live in Pennsylvania

Discussion in 'Article Discussion' started by Melody Bot, Apr 6, 2016.

  1. Melody Bot

    Your friendly little forum bot. Staff Member

    This article has been imported from for discussion. All of the forum rules still apply.

    When Jason Aalon Butler of Letlive. came out howling his incendiary guest vocal bridge on “Stained Glass Ceilings,” I finally realized what I found so fascinating about The Wonder Yearsʼ most recent headlining tour. While the band had been called pop-punk for years now, I had never really thought of them in the same tradition of the punk bands of bygone eras. You couldn’t connect The Wonder Years back to the unrest and revolution promised within the words and sounds of The Ramones, or The Sex Pistols, or Black Flag. But in a subversive way, the modern, populist version of punk that The Wonder Years symbolize has finally found its voice. And one could argue that The Wonder Years have planted themselves into the punk tradition of political protest songs.

    Over the past few years, and especially on this tour, vocalist Dan Campbell has taken to preparing rehearsed speeches about a topic or issue that has been bothering him. While it’s not uncommon for bands to delineate breaks in between songs where they will talk to crowds, often at moments where guitars need to be switched out or tuned, Campbell’s rhetoric was much less off-the-cuff at these shows. I attended two dates of the tour (Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania and Huntington, New York) and at both dates the speeches he gave before songs “I Wanted So Badly To Be Brave” and “Cigarettes and Saints” were near-identical. This comes in part, I believe, out of his experience with the performance art from his side project, Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties, and the way that this practiced oration impacts the crowd is incredibly visceral.

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    When Campbell rips into those who advocate for hyper-masculinity, those who say it isn’t masculine to show emotion, and those who try to justify laying a hand on a woman — his words became agitated, his delivery dripping in disdain. The crowd responds with uncomfortable, hushed silence and sideways glances. “Your hatred, your anger does not make you a man. And your violence sure as shit does not make you a man,” he snarled, as the band launched into “I Wanted So Badly To Be Brave.”

    Campbell addresses this concern in the audience head on, as he joked before he began his political stump for the Bernie Sanders campaign that he knew people wouldn’t want him to discuss politics too much, they just wanted to hear him sing. He promised he would only make brief remarks on the subject, but he promptly launched into monologue about New York’s upcoming Presidential primary.

    When you go to the polls, when you go into the booth, when you close the curtain, I want you to think about one thing for me. I want you to think about which candidate gives a fuck about you. I want you to think about who’s looking out for you, who’s looking out for your brothers and sisters, not some heartless corporation, that is more than happy to keep lining their pockets with your blood money.

    The performance of “Cigarettes and Saints” that followed carried an entirely different weight when preempted by this sermon. The refrain “You can’t have my friends, you can’t have my brothers,” takes on something of a communal protest mantra.

    But it’s “Stained Glass Ceilings” where this all comes to a head. The song works as something of a prequel to Letlive.’s new song “Good Mourning, America.” Campbell has said he wrote the song after a moment in which he was mugged at gunpoint by a young man. The callous disregard for the sanctity of life displayed by the responding officer is addressed in the lyrics to the bridge: “John Wayne with a God Complex, tells me to buy a gun, like shooting a teenage kid is going to make a difference, like it’s an arms race, like death don’t mean nothing.”

    Jason Butler’s vocals kick in just a moment later and assert this song in the protest tradition. He addresses the policy initiatives which disproportionally affect households of people of color.

    If everyone’s built the same, then how come building is so fucking hard for you?”

    He addresses his own heritage, and the horrifying tradition white politicians have had of treating black men and women as subhuman, including the 3/5ths compromise, a deplorable piece of the United States’ legislative history.

    “Now I know what’s in a name, not just my father / three-fifths a man makes half of me.

    His verse goes on to address the American Dream: “I can’t reach far enough to touch those fever dreams they call America.” The idea that the American Dream is a meritocracy, attainable by anyone who works hard enough, is quite simply a myth. As Butler notes in his building metaphor, we aren’t all built the same. Some are born solid foundation, set firmly within the ground, others are left stumbling to place a cornerstone in a muddy foundation. There are those of us who are privileged from the start, and the sooner we begin confronting that privilege and working towards eradicating it, the sooner we can reach equality. Most importantly, when you are speaking from a place of privilege, as The Wonder Years are, amplifying one of the voices of a less privileged group than you is vital to progressing the conversation towards equality. Campbell seems acutely aware of this, as he shuffled back towards the drum set, out of the spotlight, while Butler came front and center to deliver the beginning of his verse.

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    Moments like this are what punk music should be about: freedom from oppression, striving for the equality of mankind. While The Wonder Years may never write a song with as obvious an agenda as a “God Save The Queen” or “Police Story,” they certainly seem interested in building upon the conversation those punk legends left behind.

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    KidLightning and slickdtc like this.
  2. Turkeylegz


    Dan's speeches and passion is why their live show is something special.
    I remember being so upset during TGG tour when the only talk he gave was about the soon to be released taco bell breakfast.
    I was so upset haha
  3. slickdtc

    Regular Supporter

    Songs like the ones described in this piece are exactly why the most recent TWY album is so good.

    I don't listen to them like I did during the Upsides and Suburbia era, but when I need my TWY fix I find myself increasingly going back to No Closer to Heaven. The messages they deliver on that album align more closely with my favorite music then the more introspective Upsides and Suburbia albums. Don't get me wrong, those had their moments, but they don't touch Stained Glass Ceilings. The feature for Butler is just the icing on the cake and lends credibility to the message.

    Great breakdown and perspective, Craig. TWY aren't the punk rockers of generations past, but they're carving/carved their own niche.
    Turkeylegz likes this.
  4. Cola.

    I was such a looker in the old days Prestigious

    Suburbia is still one of my favorite albums. It's weird though because I definitely don't think of this band as "pop punk" they were always just their own thing in my mind.
  5. Craig Ismaili

    @tgscraig Prestigious

    I should note that I'm dumb and when I was writing this up I didn't realize it the entire time, but these photos were taken at the New York date i wrote about a bit, but the title says Pennsylvania. This is because I attended two dates in the same weekend and both blurred together. The writeup is more accurate for my thoughts on the PA show though since I was definitely more all there mentally at that show.

    But yes, the photos were taken in Huntingon, NY at The Paramount.
  6. Craig Ismaili

    @tgscraig Prestigious

    I mean, they're pretty unquestionably pop-punk. And don't seem to have any interest in dissociating with the term. Their Twitter handle is literally @twypoppunk
  7. zachff Prestigious

    Great article. The discomfort of the audience in situations like these is a good thing. Music should not only be fun and enjoyable but it should stand for something and those moments of self-reflection are important.
  8. zachff Prestigious

    Just goes to show the evolution of the term "pop-punk" as a whole.
  9. GhostOverground


    Great article Craig. I've always felt like TWY didn't really fit into pop-punk and it is refreshing to read your post. They're one of my favorite artists, yet I can't name another pop-punk band that I really have gotten into.
  10. fluffyjdawg


    Great article. I felt the same way when I saw them on this tour cycle. I also had the privilege of hearing Jason preform Stained Glass Ceilings for the first time and was informed by Soupy right before the encore Bernie Sanders had won our state, Michigan (the show was on election day). He didn't want to politicize it, but the crowd broke out in a Bernie chant anyways. It was a very special moment me and I think the band too.
  11. parkerxcore

    Somebody's gonna miss us Supporter

    TWY first records hold up, but I don't think I'd still enjoy the same record over and over. NCTH is just a great progression
  12. Selkies

    That guy looks familiar

    They were amazing in Stroudsburg. Put on a helluva show. The passion they put into their performance just fucking blows me away. Before this I had only seen them during the TGG acoustic shows (saw them on release day as well). So good.

    Letlive. sold me as well. Their live performance really put me on to them. Where should I start? I really dug everything I heard.
  13. Craig Ismaili

    @tgscraig Prestigious

    I would start with Fake History. Once you're into that (if you are, move on the THe Blackest Beautiful). The Blackest Beautiful can be difficult to get into because the production is incredibly raw and messy, like local garage band terrible. The songwriting is pretty good on there but it sounds like ass, so I would start with Fake History
  14. Spencer Young

    Don't ask me why.

    Missed this show when they came around near me. Sometimes, I hate America's education system... Scratch that, I always hate America's education system. Maybe Soupy can write some lyrics about that, if he hasn't already.
  15. Selkies

    That guy looks familiar

    Will do, thanks. I came late; how were Microwave and Tiny Moving Parts?
  16. Craig Ismaili

    @tgscraig Prestigious

    Microwave might be the best currently active emo-punk band, not named The Hotelier. They're just a great band. Check out Stovall if you haven't. But yeah they were awesome to see again.

    Tiny moving parts just made me smile the whole time. They're a bundle of energy on stage.

    More info on that, since I'll be posting a review of TMP set shortly.