The Wonder Years @ TAB (28.09.12)

The doors were set to open at 6:30pm but the usual, anticipated mad rush before gigs was nowhere near happening. Several small groups of gig-goers hung out by the entrance, and perhaps it was because the night had yet to fall, or the lack of alcohol, but most of them looked almost… unexcited.

For the next hour, crowd movement was slow and by the time local pop rock band The Summer State took the stage to open the show, only a little more than 40 people stood in the audience. It wasn’t exactly a measly number, but for a venue designed to hold up to ten times the crowd, the floor looked pathetically desolate. Yet, be that as it may, the five-piece group kick-started the set with a whole lot of spunk and showmanship, not looking the least bit defeated by the absence of enthusiasm and numbers. Just a week before, the band had another invaluable opportunity to open for California-based pop punk band Yellowcard. Held together by neat guitar riffs, zealous lead vocals and impressive harmonies by the drummer (yes, that’s what we call multi-tasking at best), The Summer State’s catchy melodies like ‘Love, That’s What They Call It These Days’, got everyone’s heads bopping and hands clapping.

The generous involvement of the lightings, backdrops and even fog machines also added a certain element of glam to the stage, and it was obvious that TAB’s acoustics were designed for live music events like these. Before the band ended the set with ‘Hush, We’re Taking Over’, the frontman, Ryan Lopez, looking quite blown away perhaps by the fact that they had successfully opened for two shows in a row, gave his earnest acknowledgements to a long list of names. By this time the crowd had doubled, and the fans in front were ready to sing along to the familiar tune.

Taking over The Summer State was another Singaporean band, one that would probably be remembered by many for their “no-frills” performance. After a quick sound check, The Caulfield Cult dived straight into their first song, ‘Withdrawal Symptoms’, ridding their act of any typical introductory speeches. With his raspy yells, lead vocalist and guitarist Nick “Prasat Kumar” (that’s a pretty cool stage name) had a voice the likes of Jamie Rhoden from Title Fight, so much so that even first-time watchers would probably give them an instant stamp of approval. Unlike The Summer State that put up a well-paced and amiable performance, The Caulfield Cult covered twice the number of songs in the same amount of time and filled the in-betweens with simple words of gratitude and drunken yet amusing “F*** You’s”. If that’s not the punk attitude, we don’t know what is.

It was undoubtedly clear though, that despite some glitches like Nick’s strings going mad off-tune, the four members of the band showed little worry about these hiccups and continued to entertain the crowd, with Nick rolling around the stage as he sang. The melodic hardcore and punk-influenced quartet was fortunate to have a tight bunch of fans who knew by heart the lyrics to every song played. Their last song ‘Burden’ even left the boys from The Wonder Years nodding as they watched on from the upper tier.

Finally, the flashing lights were shut off and we were kept under soft light while The Wonder Years prepared for their act. The short intermission gave the audience a brief moment to perk themselves up with some booze from the bar, but even so, the atmosphere in the crowd just didn’t quite cut it for a pop punk gig, and we couldn’t put a finger on what exactly was wrong.

The six-piece pop punk band from Pennsylvania quite literally ‘Came Out Swinging’. In fact, the upbeat, anthemic tune which came from their latest album Suburbia: I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing, was a great set-starter for the semi-awkward crowd that consisted of some lost shoe-gazers and girls in bodycon dresses looking thoroughly out of place.

Asking the crew to cut off the fog machine because he felt like he was going to “suffocate”, it was quite evident that frontman Dan “Soupy” Campbell didn’t believe in the necessity of these theatrical effects in straight up punk gigs.

Known for sounding as amazing live as on their studio tracks, the boys charmed us with crowd-favourites like ‘Melrose Diner’, ‘Don’t Let me Cave In’ and ‘Local Man Ruins Everything’. While it was certain that these were the audience’s much anticipated songs because eager cheers were heard at every intro, it was disappointing to see the their enthusiasm and energy stagnate at the mere mouthing of the lyrics and, well, swaying. That’s not to say that the crowd was bad – credit goes to the fans who did more exercise than the rest, jumping and screaming with much valour, as if wanting to make up to The Wonder Years on behalf of the little less than enthusiastic crowd.

The six-piece band, often quizzed for having more members than the usual 4 or 5 in the pop punk scene, seemed to belong on TAB’s stage, for they fitted on stage quite perfectly, albeit a tad too cosy for swinging guitars and microphone stands. It was a pity that while Soupy sang with so much conviction, the guitar and keyboards used interchangeably by Nick Steinborn, however, were overpowered by the two other guitars most of the time, and all the three instruments put together came out sounding a little muddy.

Into the second half of the gig, the crowd finally got pumped up when Soupy dedicated ‘My Last Semester’ to “Benjamin”, who apparently couldn’t make it to the show because he was studying for his finals. We were expecting some moshing to take place during the angsty verse that went “I’m not sad anymore, I’m just tired of this place/ The homophobic bullshit that’s somehow okay”, but that didn’t really happen. Someone, however, was gutsy enough to jumpstart some crowd surfing, but it was an unfortunate first attempt, and ended there and then.

Much sincerity could be felt as Soupy specifically named and thanked the each and every one who helped make their first trip to Singapore so memorable. He also admitted that the band has had their fair share of gigs in shabby bars, and so, was extremely gratified to be able to perform in a venue with a “full” and “serious” setup.

The band closed their set with ‘And Now I’m Nothing’, leaving behind a quiet and confused crowd that dispersed, and only a few fans calling for an encore. Despite the disappointing response, the band still came back up respectably and played 2 more songs for their true-blue supporters, finishing the encore set with ‘All My Friends Are In Bar Bands’.

On the whole, it was a successful first concert by The Linch Agency, with a good choice of venue and incredible performances by the 3 bands, despite the less than stellar crowd. What happened, my friends?

Some sound advice: If we truly want to keep the “Pop Punk’s Not Dead” legacy alive, we’ve got to do way better than this the next time round.

By Serene Yap