This past Tuesday night, April 10, the band Say Anything headlined Rochester’s very own Water Street Music Hall, with supporting acts Kevin Devine, Fake Problems and the Front Bottoms (who I ended up missing), as one of the first shows on their Say Anarchy Tour, touring in support of their most recent album, “Anarchy, My Dear”.
Although the show wasn’t sold out, it was packed even when Fake Problems were setting up, and rightly so – Say Anything is a popular multi-genre band, and although they tend to be lumped in the “emo” category (which I personally don’t see), the band’s discography encompasses many different aspects of punk, indie rock, pop-punk and alternative, making their fan base broad.
As we arrived, Fake Problems brought a short but sweet set of songs covering various genres (as you can see, bands encompassing several genres is going to be a theme, here) including folk, punk, alternative and even some country – somewhat reminiscent of people like Frank Turner and the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn. They gave a solid opening set, and I definitely enjoyed them.
Following Fake Problems was Brooklyn’s Kevin Devine. Devine’s sound is very hard to label, as he draws different aspects of acoustic, folk and punk into his music, but he, too, gets lumped into the “emo” category, although I see him as more of the singer/songwriter type. My friend actually made a good comparison between him and the multi-talented Ben Gibbard, most famous for his role as lead singer/songwriter of Death Cab For Cutie. The two have very similar vocal styles and songwriting tendencies of heartfelt lyrics. I enjoyed Kevin Devine’s set but was more than ready for Say Anything.
Say Anything is legendary within its selected scenes and thus has a vast fan base, consisting of everyone from the hipsters to the punk and emo kids. After a few EPs and a self-released album, the band’s most popular record, “…Is A Real Boy,” an album atop many music enthusiasts’ favorite albums lists, marked their major label debut, as well as the beginning of their cult following. The record was written and recorded as then-tortured Say Anything mastermind Max Bemis was dealing with mental health issues and drug abuse, which translated as genuine, raw emotion into his lyrics. Bemis was thankfully admitted for psychiatric treatment following “…Is A Real Boy” where he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
After “…Is A Real Boy,” the band released three more critically acclaimed albums, though none reaching the status of its major label debut, including “In Defense of the Genre,” “Say Anything” and their latest, “Anarchy, My Dear.” On 2007’s “In Defense of the Genre,” the band experimented with more electronic sounds and showed a much more mature side of Bemis, albeit more theatrical and pomp in his lyrics and arrangements. And although great albums, the band’s self-titled release and most recent “Anarchy, My Dear” are a bit more on the conservative side of the Say Anything spectrum, with little experimentation and raw emotion, but with more maturity and, of course, Bemis’s unique sense of humor.
Part of the appeal of Say Anything is Max Bemis’s humor he incorporates in his music. My personal favorite track of theirs, “Admit It!!!”, off of “…Is A Real Boy,” pokes fun at hipster culture and is filled with sarcasm and lyrics like “Despite your pseudo-bohemian appearance and vaguely leftist doctrine of beliefs” and “Well, let me tell you this, I am shamelessly self-involved, I spend hours in front of the mirror, making my hair elegantly disheveled.” For “Anarchy, My Dear,” although more conservative than their major label debut, the band released a track entitled “Admit It, Again,” picking up where the previous track left off, which includes one of my favorite lines: “Defining your own self-worth by the opinion of a stupid website with Satan as it’s figurehead,” which refers to the hipster culture-defining website, Pitchfork, for which I and many others are guilty of reading on a daily basis.
The band’s set consisted of a nice mix of songs from each of their four major releases, relying most heavily on their debut rather than their latest release, with seven songs from “…Is A Real Boy” (including a B-side), three from “In Defense of the Genre,” four from their self-titled release, four from their newest record and their toned-down, poetic “Walk Through Hell” from their EP “Menorah/Mejora.” Highlights include their opening number, “Spidersong,” eliciting an enormous crowd response, followed by their latest single, “Burn A Miracle,” “…In Defense of the Genre’s” “Shiksa (Girlfriend),” and their biggest hit off their self-titled record, “Hate Everyone,” a track oozing with Bemis’s wretched humor. For “Anarchy, My Dear’s” “So Good,” Bemis brought out his pink-haired wife, Sharon, to sing backup vocals. “Alive With The Glory Of Love,” arguably their most popular song, came with great crowd response, followed by an encore consisting of the more acoustic “Ahhh… Men” and the greatest one-two punch of “Admit It!!!” into “Admit It, Again,” before which Bemis told the crowd “We’re going to play the ‘Admit Its,’ and then you guys can get out of here.”
It was my third time seeing these guys, and Max Bemis was animated and theatrical as ever. His onstage persona performs with such pomp and exaggeration, putting emphasis and enunciation on every word. He sings with such genuine emotion, making his songs all the more moving, while getting so involved in the lyrics as he runs around the stage, causing the crowd who’s already singing every word to every song to go nuts for the entire show. That overwhelming enthusiasm is what makes for an incredible performance.
Scheinberg is a member of the class of 2014.