Brand New are band who have always forged their own path, both in terms of their own career and their live performances.
They do what they want to do, how they want to do it. You can see as much in the trajectory of their career, the way the Long Island wholly reinvented themselves and evolved from being a bitter and caustic pop-punk band into a highly acclaimed experimental art-rock act. They’re happy to be confrontational, to take the path less trodden, to ditch hooky choruses for abrasive and scathing feedback. They haven’t released an album since the blistering Daisy in 2009, yet here they are on tour, playing venues that, really, are much too small for them.
Tonight is the third and final date in Florida, all three of which sold out in minutes. It’s easy to see why. Jannus Live is a strange outdoor cage of a venue. Apparently, capacity is 2000, but it feels much smaller than that. Which means, when Brand New walk out – to the throbbing, late-’70s pulse of Olivia Newton John’s Please Don’t Keep Me Waiting, no less – the anticipation for what’s about to happen is so high you can actually feel its physical presence in the air. The band don’t disappoint, either.
It begins with Jesse Lacey alone onstage and playing Untitled 01 (Found A Good Man), an unreleased song from the leaked demos of The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me. It’s a slow, slightly countrified, acoustic lament, a lugubrious mood setter which soon gives way to the brooding darkness of You Won’t Know and Degausser, both of which shudder with tension before exploding, along with the crowd, into a torrent of soul-destroying torment and eardrum-lacerating noise. What’s remarkable is that, although each Brand New album is its own unique entity, all the songs tonight run into each other perfectly – creating a perfect storm of a set that ebbs and flows with melody and madness, fear and faith, harmony and histrionics, and everywhere in between.
The high-octane energy of Sic Transit Gloria…Glory Fades is followed, as it is on Deja Entendu, by I Will Play My Game Beneath The Spin Light, a road story that crosses borders and boundaries both thematically and musically, the foreboding light show igniting the band as the song twists and turns, spins and churns and then gives way to the frenzied hit of The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows, which causes the crowd to break out in a huge, unifying singalong. And then it’s another demo from the Devil And God sessions, a flurry of abrasive and acerbic Daisy tracks and then a few select cuts from Your Favorite Weapon. Yet while on record, its songs seem like they belong to another band and another era, tonight they shimmer with a dark and disturbing atmosphere – even the naïve and youthful schmaltz of Mixtape.
Interestingly, it does feel like the band, perhaps to play as many songs as possible, are playing truncated versions of songs that usually last longer, but their charge is in no way diminished. Limousine (MS Redbridge), for example, lasted almost ten minutes at their recent New York gig, but flashes by in an instant tonight, though it’s no less powerful or poignant. It’s the first of four songs from Devil And God that play out the set proper, which ends with the sad, resigned and plaintively gorgeous lilt of Jesus. As the other members walk offstage, Jesse Lacey addresses the crowd for the first time that evening, a brief hello, thank you and goodbye before an acoustic melancholy Play Crack The Sky reaches deep into the soul of everyone present. As a clearly overwhelmed crowd shuffle slowly out, an invisible trail of blood is left on the streets of St Petersburg, this quiet, lazy Sunday in this quiet, lazy town turned into something extraordinary and exquisite, beauty and pain and life and death all wrapped up into one unforgettable, incredible evening.