Taking Back Sunday perform on auto-pilot in New York City

Support: The Menzingers, letlive.

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This Times Square location has become something of a staple venue for Taking Back Sunday in the past couple of years. They were here for three nights in April 2014, on their tour with The Used, and before that also played one date of their ‘Tell All Your Friends’ tenth anniversary tour right here. Both times, the Long Island emo/rock band have been full of vitality and fire, yet tonight, the band seem kind of lacklustre.

Perhaps it’s because Los Angeles’ letlive. (above) are opening the gig, and do so with their usual fiery aplomb. It’s barely 7pm when the five-piece take to the stage, and the room’s not even full, but the adrenalin rush is immediate and infectious. Yet there’s much more to these song than just vicious energy and frontman Jason Aalon Butler’s wild and irrepressible energy – this is a band who want to make a difference, who need to try to change the world. As such, a ferocious, venom-filled version of That Fear Fever is dedicated to Eric Garner, who died last July after being placed in a chokehold by a New York police officer. A slowed down, soulful version of Pheremone Cvlt is just as powerful, while a stirring, sad version of Muther and its stirring, sad introduction, is almost heart-stopping. And yes, there are usual antics – lampshades on heads, flailing around, Butler diving into the crowd and hanging upside down from a balcony – but tonight those things seem surplus to the music, not the salient aspect of their set.

It’s a tough act to follow, and The Menzingers (above) struggle ever so slightly. It’s clear that the Philadelphia four-piece are playing with all their heart, but everything feels sort of like a record that’s playing a tiny bit too slow. Still, when the surge of their emotional songs takes flight, as on The Obituaries – its chorus of “I will fuck this up / I fucking know it” sung with passionate and joyful conviction by everyone in the crowd – and the urgent nostalgia of Casey, it’s clear just why this band are rising fast. Rousing renditions of Where Your Heartache Exists, I Don’t Want To Be An Asshole Anymore and Gates all become heartfelt, impassioned singalongs, but it’s certainly not their best performance to date. They can do better, and usually do.

Compared to Taking Back Sunday (above), though, they’re firecrackers. Perhaps the headliners are just exhausted from the near-constant touring they’ve been doing for the past few years, but tonight their spark is fizzled. The usually rambunctious Flicker, Fade and What’s It Feel Like To Be A Ghost both burst but never quite bloom, while versions of Timberwolves At New Jersey and Ghost Man On Third struggle to match the conviction they have on record. That’s not normally a problem for the band, but tonight it seems to be the case for the majority of their set – it’s as if they’re on auto-pilot, not quite feeling these songs which are designed to be felt, to be lived, to be part of you. They do finally hit their stride in the encore – after a version of the countrified Call Me In The Morning, with frontman Adam Lazzara on acoustic guitar and which sounds more like a Taylor Swift ballad – when the one-two punch of Cut From The Team (Cute Without The ‘E’) and MakeDamnSure finally sees the band reach the pulverising heights they’re capable of and usually achieve. It’s a shame, but it’s safe to say there will be a next time.

Photos: Katherine Alex Beaven