I recently wrote a glowing review of the new album from pop-punkers Yellowcard, Paper Walls. It features some of their strongest music to date and a renewed energy that eclipses line-up changes, rumors of band dissention, and slow album sales.
It was with that in mind that I descended upon the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach recently, to take in a Yellowcard show. This was to be my 13th time seeing the band, having been a fan since they first began touring to support their album One for the Kids in 2000.
That first time I saw them was in Greensboro, NC at a place literally and most appropriately called Hole in the Wall. The venue was (and still is) on the back half of a building, with no good signage, and doesn’t even boast a stage. There were maybe 30 people total there that night, and only a couple of us were there expressly to see Yellowcard. They played third of five bands and they were excellent. It was one of those rare occasions when you see a band live and know that you are seeing something special.
It has been no surprise to me, over these past seven years, to see YC grow in popularity as a band. The Jacksonville, Florida quintet create some of the catchiest and most unique pop-rock around.
But before I launch into a detailed set critique, I should mention the other three bands that dropped sweat in Myrtle Beach. Opening the show was Ozma, who I have heard described as “Weezer-lite” on more than one occasion. They most definitely lived up to that description and played a good set, although an extremely short one with just six songs.
Next up was Shiny Toy Guns. I knew of this band only in name and in the short clip of their song “Le Disko,” featured in the new MOTORAZR2 commercial. What I know about them now is that they are an interesting young elctronica/rock band who translate well live. They have an interesting dichotomy with Chad Petree and Charah Faye Charnow switching off on vocals, all while Charnow and Jeremy Dawson take turns on bass and keyboards.
Both vocalists have outstanding voices, but a major problem is in their showmanship. I found that it is indeed possible to overuse a fog machine and flashing lights. We are probably lucky that no one had a seizure from it all. It was sad because it had a tendency to overshadow the exceedingly lovely music from a talented band. They ended things up with “You Are the One,” a track you should absolutely check out right this very minute.
Blue October were the headliners. This Houston, Texas band had made their way onto my mp3 player only in the form of their singles “Hate Me” and “Calling You.” I was intrigued about seeing the rockers live, because like Yellowcard, they feature a violinist (he also plays viola, mandolin, and piano).
They are a solid live band, sounding almost exactly like their album, but with if a ton of added energy. I was impressed with their on-stage dynamic, and the crowd clearly fed off of it. If you are a fan of their music, I highly recommend catching a live show.
Yellowcard were on third and got things started right with my absolute favorite track off of the new album, “The Takedown.” A fast-paced stunner, it features everything the band does best – frenetic drums, driving bass lines, Ryan Key’s vocals, and Sean Mackin’s classical tinged violin. When they hit the bridge and new addition Ryan Mendez shredded his guitar for a mind-boggling riff, it was magic.
Making the most of their time, Yellowcard speaks little and plays a lot. They made a point of playing many of the tracks from Paper Wall, including “Fighting,” “Keeper,” “Light Up the Sky,” “Afraid,” and the stirring “Shadows and Regrets,” which started with an acoustic guitar, violin, and Ryan singing, and then drew in the whole band during the first chorus.
I always speak of bands growing and of vocalists learning to use their instruments and finding their perfect range. Perhaps one of the best examples of this that I have seen over the years is Ryan Key. After many problems with his vocal chords, he is now at his absolute strongest. When he launched into “Breathing” off of Ocean Avenue, it was perfect. And his acoustic version of “Only One” is perhaps the best that I have ever heard him, live or otherwise.
The other growth within the band comes in the form of violinist Sean Mackin. He has always been the most energetic of Yellowcard, bounding around onstage, back flipping off of speakers, and generally acting like a crazy person. Unfortunately, in the past this often conflicted with the actual playing of his instrument. I am happy to report that he has now found a happy mix of energy and musicianship. He is truly a talented fiddler.
The set was rounded out with tracks from both Ocean Avenue and the slightly less popular Lights and Sounds, with “Way Away” serving as the crowd’s clear favorite. This longtime fan, though, found it appalling that no songs from One for the Kids were played. I understand that as a catalogue grows it becomes impossible to play every fan favorite. But to leave out “Big Apple Heartache” is a crime. And to leave out “October Nights,” well now…that is just heartbreaking.
Having been to well over 150 concerts in my short 27 years, I can honestly say that Yellowcard are some of the finest live musicians out there. Give them a shot. You won’t regret it.