Ten years of ‘A Lesson In Romantics’ was as sad, as beautiful and as explosive as you could expect.
In an already crowded and musky 170 Russell in the heart of Melbourne city, at exactly eight o’clock, three youthful looking gentlemen took to the stage with acoustic guitars and a bass. This, was, of course, This Wild Life, normally an acoustic duo who had added an additional live member to up their live performance. Now, this was a pop-punk gig but this wasn’t just ANY pop-punk gig. It was Mayday Parade’s 10th Anniversary of ‘A Lesson In Romantics’, one of the saddest pop-punk records around that’s defined the modern alternative zeitgeist. So we were prepared for a night of sad and melancholy music and as such, we welcomed This Wild Life’s particularly unwild and sombre songs with open arms.
Opening with the euphorically bright ‘Concrete’ was a brilliant way to set the mood at a not too depressing stature. Kevin Jordan’s silky smooth and dandelion delicate vocal timbre wafted through the venue with ease alongside Anthony Del Grosso’s tight fingerpicking.
The band moved through an eclectic set of songs from their catalogue, ranging from more recent tracks that had been released this year right back to the beginnings of when This Wild Life went from a full band to an acoustic duo. I was really taken aback by the newer material played from ‘Low Tides’, the band’s sophomore record as I hadn’t really resonated with that album as much as I’d hoped. I found myself truly feeling the presence and the soul of tracks like ‘Pull Me Out’ and the closer of ‘Falling Down’. This stripped back and intimate way of performing is where the band can truly shine it seems; where the layers are all peeled away and you can begin to see the heart of the song.
I was happy to see them play their most recent track, ‘Break Me’ which is a stunning example of the melody work these guys can concoct up. Easily one of their greatest songs both live and on the record. The tension in Jordan’s voice is amplified when in the live setting as he pulls at your heartstrings with desperate pleas of “I wish you would just leave!”
Earlier work like ‘Ripped Away’ and ‘No More Bad Days’ serve as great examples that this band have been great from their early beginnings what with their fantastic guitar lines and the way that the songs themselves can have so much dynamic with only two guitars and a bass to build things up and take them down. My heart, however, belongs to ‘Puppy Love’. The band’s happiest and most upbeat song is whilst not their greatest compositionally, it overall elicits an incredible feeling. It’s bubbly and bright and that whistle melody is stuck in my head even as I write this!
The lights went dark as I made my way to the back of the room to gain a vantage point for Mayday Parade’s set and I couldn’t help but notice the crowd tonight felt surprisingly… old. It seemed filled with young professionals all easing nicely into their careers as lawyers and doctors and accountants rather than the wild, unruly university type I’d expected. Maybe I’m losing my touch with what was cool when. Maybe I never had the touch. Maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about. Probably that last one, I’d say.
But before long, the darkness was lifted and like a choir on cocaine we broke into rabid singing of the classic opening line, “I had a dream last night!” from ‘Jamie All Over’. What followed was forty minutes of five guys from Florida referencing as many iconic cities in America as possible in single songs as they could over catchy fucking melodies and simplistic yet purposeful pop-punk drum beats. This was ‘A Lesson In Romantics’ live and in full.
The first thing I could think of was how goddamn easy singer Derek Sanders (no relation to an old socialist rebel) has it. Half the time I couldn’t even hear his voice over the sound my own and everyone else’s beautiful off-key singing. The first moment to come when we truly overtook the band was when the whole instrumentation of ‘Jamie All Over ’ falls away and our voices took the lead of the vocals and brought the song to its epic conclusion.
We popped on our dancing shoes for ‘Black Cat’ as its infectious beat got our hips swinging from side to side whilst we once more gave our lungs a solid workout on that chorus. These guys were sounding as tight and a refined as the record itself, almost better I would say and think most would agree. Similarly, ‘Jersey’ was an easy contender for loudest and most intense sing-along of the night despite it being the most on the nose reference to a city nowhere near where the band actually live. Though I was on the edge of my seat (I was standing but don’t look into that too much) the whole time waiting for that heavenly key change for the song’s final hurrah and my, oh my… was it beautiful. The band shifted the tone of the song without skipping a beat and sent me to heaven. In all honesty, the song should have been written in ending that key to begin with but I’m about a decade too late on that critique.
We all gasped and screamed as the bass for ‘If You Wanted A Song…’ sounded through the PA, despite the fact we knew it was coming as was the order of the record. I won’t gush too much on this song and its simplistic beauty but all I’ll say is that when Sanders sings, ‘I hope this makes you happy now’ he can rest assured we were all incredibly happy at this moment in time.
But happiness is shit and sadness is the best as proven by our adoration and love for the saddest song on planet earth, ‘Miserable At Best’. Five minutes of piano chords and lyrics about getting your heart ripped out of your goddamn chest by Katie as she dances with other guys was both cathartic and soul-crushing. Once more, Sanders could’ve been singing out his shopping list and we’d have not a single idea for our voices overpowered both him and the piano he sat behind. The song in all seriousness is an example that you don’t need the fanciest spins and tricks when it comes to engaging songwriting; if you’ve got the heart and the sentiment then people will listen and people will care. And goddamn do we care about this song.
Now, coming out of this soulful and intimate moment the band launched into ‘Walk On Water Or Drown’, one of the best tracks on this album that still holds up today. Sadly, however, the next few songs I’ve always considered the hump-de-slump of the record, a dip in the middle if you will. So I sort of sat (I’m still standing but once more, you get what I mean) through ‘Ocean and Atlantic’ and ‘I’d Hate To Be You…’ and waited it out for what is the best song on this record to play:
‘Take This To Heart’.
Goddamn, that opening riff in and of itself is enough to get anyone’s eye misty and heart racing. The thing I love about this song is the exact thing that Mayday Parade were able to replicate and extenuate live: this song is huge. This was the band really pushing their limit on making a song with as much depth, ambition and scope as they could. From the layered guitars and soaring vocals to the way the song goes up and down and shifts in its structure, it was them trying something to push themselves and it worked. They captured that same excitement and intensity right here tonight and it was glorious. If you weren’t here you missed out.
The following ‘Champagne’s for Celebrating (I’ll Have a Martini)’ is a song I often forget is actually really fucking fantastic and standing there I felt like an ass not knowing all the words to this absolute banger. It’s always slipped my mind when I’ve returned to this record but no more, as the final chorus hit me and everyone else in the room like a bomb I made a vow to never forget this song.
One song I wish I could forget though is that ending track, ‘You Be the Anchor That Keeps My Feet on the Ground, I’ll Be the Wings That Keep Your Heart in the Clouds’ which holy fuck, can we just agree that song title is a bit much. (And this is coming from the guy who listens to post-rock on the daily). Like, it’s just a bit over the top. But also, the song always felt really lazily written and really shoehorned in. It just kind of plods along and doesn’t send off this album the way it should and it was sadly no different live.
Though thankfully, that was not the end to the night as the record closed off, the band worked into a set of “hits” for us. After a fairly alright acoustic cover of Something Corporate’s fairly alright song ‘Punk Rock Princess’, Sanders serenaded us with their second saddest song, ‘Terrible Things’ that begun as a soothing and delicate acoustic ballad before launching into a huge full band outro. Only Mayday Parade could do the oldest trick in a book and still make it feel honest and heartfelt.
For a brief moment, the band also dipped into their newer material with ‘Hollow’ from their latest offering ‘Black Lines’. Though a welcome progression for the band, there’s something about that song and album I couldn’t place until our photographer, Maddie Bell told me, albeit more kindly: it’s “diet You Me At Six“. I couldn’t have said it better myself. ‘Three Cheers For Five Years’ and ‘Kids In Love’ saw out the set before the encore, showcasing some classic Mayday; both in time and style. The two songs complement each other well back to back and remind us that the old Mayday, the ones who sing sugary sweet love songs about pretty manic dreaming pixie girls are still here and haven’t left us just yet.
After a brief disappearance to no doubt pee, hydrate and fix Sanders’ wristbands (I swear they’re wearing him at this point), the band returned for two final songs, both from their best and self-titled record. ‘Stay’ built itself into a tremendous fury as each layer of the song came in and continuously punched us in the heart with is longing and desperate lyrics that remind us all too well of memories and people we’d rather forget.
Though it was ‘Oh Well, Oh Well’ that stole the show. The song is a pure anthem. It is Mayday Parade at the height of their songwriting and performance abilities. The way the track blends it’s emotional and sombre tones and themes with its pop-punk energy and vibrancy is sheer brilliance and every fibre of energy and love that the band have put into this song can be felt when they play it live. We screamed and we cried, we shouted and we laughed, we smiled and we sung to our throats were sore; by god, they couldn’t have picked a better song to summarise the night than this. It really doesn’t get much better than that.
PC: Maddie Bell.