Complacency is the killer of brilliance. Too many bands of have exchanged their golden ages of creativity for steady paychecks collected by touring a greatest hits package. You know the bands I’m talking about; the ones who play decently and create an illusion of variety by simply making one or two slight adjustments to a setlist night after night. This last Friday at Verizon Field, Brand New gave a master course in how to remain vital even in the face of a creative lull.
Since the release of Daisy in 2009, Brand New has released a total of two new songs. I have seen Brand New in concert three times in the last seven years and the setlist of each show contained at most a two song differential. Each time I have seen Brand New play, it felt like I was seeing an invigorated band, at the top of their game, touring behind their newest creation. Given the time lapse since their last album, it’s probably safe to say that the band’s creativity hit a wall at some point. When that wall has been hit, it would be easy for the band to milk a tour cycle as long as possible and become jaded and bored with the whole proposition. There is nothing about this show that was a nostalgia cash grab or jaded or boring.
Jesse Lacy came on stage alone and played Soco Amaretto Lime with a fervor and poignancy typically reserved for the end of a show. If the rumor mill is to be believed, Brand New is winding down their career so starting a show out with a graduation song and acknowledging the of the end of an era let the crowd know that every show they’re playing now they’re playing for legacy and to feel that light just one last time.
There is little you can say about a Brand New show that hasn’t been said before. There are mountains of words that attempt to capture the feeling of being there – passion, fire, intensity, aura, rapt, moving, but none of them really suffice. If you’ve seen Brand New at any time between 2009 and now, you have seen one of the greatest live bands in history. They have been on top of the game in terms of live performance for the better part of a decade and they’ve done it without changing anything other than themselves. The songs remain the same but the people don’t. As their fans have grown and grown up, so has the band. They keep the spirit of the songs alive not by playing them as they were written but by playing them in the immediacy of the moment. A graduation song turns into a funeral dirge. A song looking at the fear of the unknown in the afterlife becomes an examination of the fear of being inadequate as an adult/parent/partner.
I don’t know what is next for Brand New. I hope there is more but there may not be. For a band that has always seemed to wrestle with the idea of meaning and mattering, I hope this end of the timeline means that after years of working and re-working the same songs, their story finally makes sense. Once they’ve figured out what their own stories meant to themselves, it’s time to hang it up. It’s a poetic way to go out and in the meantime, all of us have had the privilege of seeing one of the greatest bands in history.