Alkaline Trio: Past Live

author PP date 11/06/15

It's a crazy thought to travel to the other side of the planet just to see four concerts by the same band across four nights. But it's equally crazy to decide to play your entire recorded discography as a band from start to finish after eight studio albums underneath your belt, which is what Alkaline Trio are doing across select North American cities. They've dubbed the tour Past Live as a celebration of their records that are starting to turn so old that they rarely appear as a part of their regular setlists aside from a key couple of songs off each album to the disappointment of the band's older fans like yours truly.

Drastic times call for drastic measures. I've been listening to Alkaline Trio for the better part of the past 15 years, and they've consistently managed to stay among my absolute favorite bands during that period. I remember the release of almost every single album and what I was doing when I listened to them for the first time. I remember crying my eyes out after a particularly harsh breakup to the tunes of "Stupid Kid" on "From Here To Infirmary" in early 2005. I remember the first time I saw the band live on the "Crimson" tour later that year and feeling intensely disappointed at their static stand-still approach that has since become their signature way of appearing on stage. I remember cursing the band to the seventh hell after they absolutely mauled my favorite tracks off "Goddamnit" at Groezrock some years ago, leaving the tent after only a couple of songs in detest over how they could sound so terrible.

Yet through all those disappointments my affirmation for the band has never diminished. Their studio albums are simply way too good to be ignored, so against all common sense I opted to fly to Los Angeles International Airport early Thursday morning from Copenhagen, Denmark via Düsseldorf all by myself, arriving just on time for the 5pm commuter traffic jam in one of the largest cities in the world. Note to self: when Google Maps indicates travel time of 42 minutes for 61km down to Orange County, make sure to add a couple of hours of bumper-to-bumper queuing on top. So much for that fancy Dodge Charger I had rented out for the ride.

Past Live - Background

Alkaline Trio first toyed with the Past Live concept during fall 2014, where they tried out the concept in Brooklyn (New York), Chicago, and Los Angeles. The idea was to play all eight studio albums (b-sides and rarities collections excluded) in exactly the same order as they are tracked on the records, splitting them up into couples of two full albums per night across Thursday to Sunday. The three sold-out shows were so well received by their fan base that extra ones were planned for this spring, this time with dates in Denver, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Boston, Orlando, San Francisco, and Santa Ana (Orange County), which all promptly sold out with the exception of the Orange County show that only sold out at the doors with the exception of the Saturday night show.

Before we go on, let's do a quick recap of the eight albums on play here:

  • Goddamnit (1998 - Asian Man Records)
  • Maybe I'll Catch Fire (2000 - Asian Man Records)
  • From Here To Infirmary (2001 - Vagrant)
  • Good Mourning (2003 - Vagrant)
  • Crimson (2005 - Vagrant)
  • Agony & Irony (2008 - Epic Records)
  • This Addiction (2010 - Heart & Skull / Epitaph)
  • My Shame Is True (2013 - Heart & Skull / Epitaph)

That's an awful lot of critically acclaimed albums with only a couple of weaker ones in the mix, at least if you ask your everyday Alkaline Trio fan. Pretty much all records with the exception of "Agony & Irony" and "This Addiction" are widely considered seminal albums within punk rock (and in the case of "Crimson", within alternative rock), and even the so-called weaker ones aren't bad by any means. Still, given the two albums per night schedule, a true front-to-back of entire discography would have felt front-loaded towards the first two nights in terms of song quality. While a set featuring "Goddamnit" and "Maybe I'll Catch Fire" in a row would've probably put each of those shows into the history books as some of the best the genre has seen to date, the only sensible choice was to spiral down towards the center of their discography, playing a new album and an old album coupled together during each night.

In practice, that meant "My Shame Is True" opening the festivities with "Goddamnit" following immediately after on Day 1, with "Crimson" and "Good Mourning" closing down Day 4 in celebratory fashion. This ensured that each night featured at least one album that was widely considered album-of-the-year material in the year that it was released, offering much-needed balance to the sets.

Given that each city on the tour was clearly designed to be a special occasion, each night in every city featured a different opening band handpicked by Alkaline Trio. These represented a wide array of different styles of punk, indie, singer-songwriter and garage rock, and in Santa Ana, the honors fell on Dave House (The Loved Ones), Swimmers (feat. Green Day vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong's son on drums), Mrs. Magician, and The All Brights (a.k.a. Van Wilder band). More about each of them later on. None of them were coincidences, for each of them at least one Alkaline Trio member could be seen in the shadows, whether through obvious influence (Dave Hause) or through actual physical presence on the side of the stage (Dan Andriano watching The All Brights).

The Venue: The Observatory

The Observatory is an old theater with capacity somewhere between 500 and 1000 people (based on my rough estimate) in suburban Santa Ana, Orange County, approximately 60 kilometers south from central Los Angeles. It used to go by the name Galaxy Theater, and hosts a wide array of concerts and other events on its premises. It features two storeys, where the second floor is a balcony area with table seating available for purchase against a $100 minimum spend (perfect if you're three or more) with great view across the hall to the stage. The floor area is designed in a semi-circular shape with three levels: the mosh-pit friendly floor are right in front of the stage, and slightly elevated semi-circles behind it allowing everyone a good view given the gradually inclining nature of the venue.

Mobile photo from the balcony

As for beverages, 24oz tallboys (0.7 L) of Pabst Blue Ribbon or Modelo Especial (Mexican) were available alongside a few craft beers and the standard American offering in smaller 0.4 L cups, not to mention the standard mix-drinks of the Gin&Tonic and Rum&Coke variety. Thanks to the strength of Dollar these days, none of this qualified as cheap at least not on European standards, but what's a few extra dollars against the overall spend for the whole trip anyway.

The sound was pretty much perfect throughout all four nights everywhere I stood in the venue with the exception of directly to the side of the stage, but that's only because you weren't in front of the speakers anymore and were reliant on monitors only. Then again, it's easy to do sound when it's the same band all four nights. Kudos to the sound guy nonetheless for getting so much detail out of especially the older material from 15-17 years ago.

The Atmosphere: Simply Incredible

It goes without saying that playing your entire discography is going to be a for-the-fans type of an event where everyone attending is rightly considered a die-hard fan of the band despite the relatively low ticket price of $25 per night. Still, the atmosphere was something we can only dream of in Europe, particularly in Copenhagen.

With a packed audience each night all bonded together by a common love of Alkaline Trio songs, we sung our lungs out for more or less all of the 97 songs straight. After all, these are songs that we've fallen in love to, broken up to, gotten drunk to, listened to while hungover, grown up with, grown old to, felt sentimental to. The songs are so relatable that it's a certainty everyone here has relied on an Alkaline Trio song at one point in their life, whether good or bad. Just think about that for a second. It's the kind of unique feeling of togetherness that makes you feel like you know everyone in the crowd despite never having met them in the first place. It's a sense of completeness that's indescribable, a feeling of mutual appreciation between the band and the audience that felt immeasurably thick throughout all four nights, manifesting in thunderous explosions of sing along meets mosh pit moments during the early albums, and calm, almost tranquil sing alongs during the mid-2000s albums, and everything in between.

View from the back bar

Perhaps appreciative of this situation, the band realize what a monumental moment this is for us in the crowd. Not only do we get to hear all of our favorite songs -- yes, even those odd ones out that nobody else than us liked on the records -- but we also get to hear them in the same fucking order as we learned to know them on the albums. You know, back in the day when people listened to full albums instead of just songs? So they opt for a showcase feel with minimal interaction in between the songs, just playing the shows in as unfiltered fashion as humanly possible. And they play them well. Exactly as they sound on album, which is a truly impressive feat considering they had to learn and remember instrumentation and lyrics to 97 songs in total. This approach allowed each of us to dwell on the memories behind each song we had, instead of the band replacing those with their own ones of what these songs were originally all about and why they were written. After all, that's not nearly as important to the fan as what the song means to the fan himself today. It's our interpretation and how we applied the songs to our lives that matters here.

And so you can see how it quickly became a very, very special event for all of us attending. This is a story of how it went down.

Day 1: "My Shame Is True" & "Goddamnit"

It's opening night. Dave Hause will spend a short thirty minutes charming us and getting us warmed up, before we hear "My Shame Is True" in its entirety. It's a new album that sounds great, but the crowd is less familiar with it than the fiery punk rock explosion that is "Goddamnit", arguably one of the most seminal albums recorded in the genre to date.

Dave Hause

The support duties for the opening night have been granted to Dave Hause, whose name you might recognize from his time as the frontman of The Loved Ones. His down-to-earth appearance is always charming, but tonight he seems especially genuine and honest in his communication with the crowd. As Hause approach stage solo for the first time, someone in the audience asks his/her friend a little too loudly "Who's that?", to which the friend replies "It's the guitar tech", which Dave Hause of course finds hilarious and shares with the rest of us. Throughout the set, we're treated to small anecdotes about his relationship with Alkaline Trio and about the time that he actually lived at Matt Skiba's place right after they recorded "My Shame Is True" and he was in the writing and recording process of "Devour" at the same time. We hear about how much he owes rent to Skiba and how he wouldn't even be here playing today if it wasn't for Alkaline Trio. He nominates a guy wearing a "Who the fuck is Matt Skiba?" t-shirt to fetch him a whiskey from the bar, while questioning if he actually knows what is happening here tonight. Humour is one of his weapons for sure, but then again, so are the songs. "Autism Vaccine Blues" is fantastic with its small "woo-ooh-oh-oh" parts drawing a small sing along, "Time Will Tell" allows him to move away from the mic stand while the crowd takes care of the lyrics, while "Resolutions" sees him work in a little "Goddamnit" lyrical reference into the song, resulting in a wild response from the crowd. The quality of song craft combined with his exceptionally charismatic vocal delivery is exactly what is needed to get the crowd going for tonight. Singer-songwriter is rarely as good and interesting as Dave Hause tonight. [7½]

Alkaline Trio playing "My Shame Is True" (2013)

And so it begins with the familiar notes to "She Lied To The FBI" from their newest album "My Shame Is True", an excellent addition to their ridiculously strong back catalogue and a return to form of sorts for many older fans. Given that this is a four night affair for the band, the sound is absolutely perfect with every note being hit perfectly spot on, which has rarely been the case with my prior Alkaline Trio experience especially at festival shows. Last year at Vega, Copenhagen they put up a tight stage show laced with humour and good interaction with the crowd, a direct result from having such a strong album on their backs. This is also the case tonight. The band's showmanship is solid and contains enough energy to get a small mosh pit started in the crowd. But for some reason, things never really get all that wild, probably because the album is still quite new and not all Alkaline Trio fans are familiar with the material. Sing alongs are pretty loud nonetheless for "Kiss You To Death Tonight" and "The Temptation Of St. Anthony", with drummer Derek Grant filling in Tim McIlrath's (of Rise Against fame) parts on "I, Pessimist". A nice little detail is the dark blue and red lightshow, which symbolizes the lyrical content of the album nicely considering it has been inspired by a romantic breakup.

As we gradually approach the second half of the album, we start reaching the very best songs on the record. "Only Love", "The Torture Doctor", "Midnight Blue", "One Last Dance" and "Young Lovers" in a row is a chilling experience for those of us familiar with the record, underlining just why this record has received so much critical acclaim from the press and the fans alike. Small sing alongs continue while tension rises as we all know what's soon about to take place. Perhaps this is why the band opts to play all of the songs straight with no pauses in between: "Well, that was an album", Skiba concludes at the end of "Until Death Do Us Part" as the lone interaction with the crowd. A rock solid set, but compared to what's next it does feel a tad tame. [8]

Setlist:

  • 1. She Lied to the FBI
  • 2. I Wanna Be a Warhol
  • 3. I'm Only Here to Disappoint
  • 4. Kiss You to Death
  • 5. The Temptation of St. Anthony
  • 6. I, Pessimist
  • 7. Only Love
  • 8. The Torture Doctor
  • 9. Midnight Blue
  • 10. One Last Dance
  • 11. Young Lovers
  • 12. Until Death Do Us Part

Alkaline Trio playing "Goddamnit" (1998)

"GODDAMNIT!", Skiba shouts to open the set, and the crowd erupts into an awesome roar that drowns everything underneath it in the venue. This is clearly what everyone has come here for tonight, and the chaotic mosh pit that opens immediately to the melodic treble of "Cringe" reflects just that. In the past, Skiba has had extreme difficulty in hitting his high screeching notes on songs from this record because it was basically written and recorded when he was still a teenager in high school, but tonight you can tell he is perfectly in tune, meaning we're getting this masterpiece in identical form to the record. The sing along party that starts from "Cringe" spans the entire record, with "Nose Over Tail" drawing a deafening roar of "CRACK MY HEAD OPEN....ON THE KITCHEN FLOOR!" in a magical moment of shared nostalgia realized in perfect fashion with diehard fans of the band. Even the lesser known songs like "Enjoy Your Day" - the acoustic track of the record - and "Southern Rock" get a brilliant response, and you can't but sit back in awe over how awesome the crowd dynamic is right now. The venue is drenched in electrifying passion and sheer happiness, with every lyric being shouted back at the band whilst the floor is basically a moshing frenzy throughout. It's so good that even "Trouble Breathing" and "Sorry About That" gain a totally new life tonight.

Promo photo by Jonathan Weiner

It doesn't get much better than this folks. A true word-for-word response from a crowd that seems to have bought tonight's tickets exclusively for this album. On stage, the band doesn't need to do much out of the ordinary. The songs are so good and carry enough energy to drive the show themselves, which is pretty much what happens tonight. The mosh pit frenzy never ceases and the deafening sing alongs mean this is a one-of-a-kind moment for any Alkaline Trio fan, a truly unique experience that is not one soon to be forgotten. [8½]

Setlist (continued):

  • 13. Cringe
  • 14. Cop
  • 15. San Francisco
  • 16. Nose Over Tail
  • 17. As You Were
  • 18. Enjoy Your Day
  • 19. Clavicle
  • 20. My Little Needle
  • 21. Southern Rock
  • 22. Message from Kathlene
  • 23. Trouble Breathing
  • 24. Sorry About That
  • --Encore:--
  • 25. My Friend Peter

Day 2: "This Addiction" & "Maybe I'll Catch Fire"

Second night and maybe the weakest couple of the albums, or so I thought in advance of the concert. "This Addiction" is pretty good, and I was never really a huge fan of "Maybe I'll Catch Fire" when it was originally released. That changes today: turns out it may have been the very best set of all of them, though the overall experience was dragged down a little bit ultimately due to the weaker second half of "This Addiction".

Swimmers

Tonight's opening act Swimmers are known for two things: for featuring Green Day vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong's son Joey Armstrong on drums, and for their relentless energy in a live environment. Playing a high-octane brand of garage punk that recalls The Hives, the frantic pace of most of their songs allows for the band to be in constant movement, where pretty much every trick from "How to look exciting on stage for dummies" is utilized throughout the set. Every free moment from vocal duty, each member splits from their mic stand to jump around in circles, shake like they're having a seizure, do scissor jumps, kneel on stage to play, crash into each other, fall onto stage and play while lying down, and much more. The energy is as infectious as it is marvelous to watch, culminating in lead guitarist Cole Becker's guitar strap breaking mid song from jumping around so much. No matter - he lifts up his guitar in the air and plays the rest of the song without in a rock star-like pose. These guys certainly know how to entertain, and at the same time, their groovy garage punk is extremely catchy even for someone not too familiar with their recorded material. They also sneak in political and social commentary through songs like "Be A Man", which is promptly dedicated for any guy who has ever been called out for showing off feminine sides to themselves. Great performance that leaves a lot for Alkaline Trio to compete against. [7½]

Alkaline Trio playing "This Addiction" (2010)

"This Addiction" is also a curious album in the Alkaline Trio discography. It's nowhere near as popular as the earlier records but nonetheless houses some great songs that many of us are looking forward to tonight. As the curtain drops and the band gets on stage following Bad Religion's "No Control" fading out on the venue soundtrack, the crowd cheers and title track "This Addiction" induces a small sing along straight away. But much like last night, it seems everyone is waiting for the big guns to come out, and is more content at just politely nod along for most of the songs tonight. Sure, "Dine, Dine My Darling" has people singing along in good fashion, and "Lead Poisoning" has an echoing response during its chorus melody, but already "Dead On The Floor" gets a rather subdued reception right after.

The classic Alkaline Trio logo - nearly everyone had it tattooed on their body somewhere

As during last night, the band play the songs pretty much straight with few interruptions limited to the basic "Thank you's" after each song. "The American Scream" and "Eating Me Alive" work great, while "Off The Map", "Draculina" and especially the closing two tracks "Dorothy" and "Fine" feel a little bit disappointing in comparison. This is where the relative weakness of the album begins showing, because even though it contains many good songs, it's probably the least consistent record they have put out, with fewer memorable songs resulting in a lesser audience cheer. Much like yesterday, a quirky remark from Skiba ends the set with a simple "There's that.", before it's time to move onto the part of the set that everyone clearly came here for, "Maybe I'll Catch Fire". [7]

Setlist (continued):

  • 26. This Addiction
  • 27. Dine, Dine My Darling
  • 28. Lead Poisoning
  • 29. Dead on the Floor
  • 30. The American Scream
  • 31. Off the Map
  • 32. Draculina
  • 33. Eating Me Alive
  • 34. Piss and Vinegar
  • 35. Dorothy
  • 36. Fine

Alkaline Trio playing "Maybe I'll Catch Fire" (2000)

"So about 15 years ago we wrote a record in about a week for a thousand bucks. We're gonna play it for you", Alkaline Trio lets us know, and the venue immediately wakes up from a state of hibernation to the same ecstatic celebratory mood it was during the "Goddamnit" set last night. The response to "Keep 'Em Coming" is simply amazing, where the big lyric "sad sorry excuse" is screamed back at the band in thunderous fashion. This continues on "Madam Me", which sees everyone in the audience mimicking every word sung by Skiba, which is going to be a theme of the night as we'll come to see soon. "You've Got So Far To Go" has everyone singing along from the top of their lungs, and "Fuck You Aurora" is characterized by a sea of middle fingers during its eponymous chorus lyric "FUCK YOU AURORA, you took my only friend".

But perhaps the most unique moment of the night comes during "Sleepyhead", where Skiba steps away from the microphone for the "Hey there sleepy smile" chorus lyric, allowing the crowd to chant it back in a capella mode. It's one of those magical moments of nostalgia once again where it feels like everyone in the venue has known each other for the last 15 years. Similarly, the "when it seems so right and it feels so right. man, it had to be right" parts of "She Took Him To The Lake" are passionately sung, and a brief glance at across the crowd shows every jaw moving along to the words of the song. "5-3-10-4" follows next, which is one of the funkier songs on the record, prompting a rare moment of interaction from Dan Andriano after the song: "Very good job, Matthew". Apparently this is one of the more difficult songs on the record, as Skiba comments right after, saying "Best I've ever played that song". These types of moments of intimacy is what the band should be scattering all across their set to make it extra special, if you ask me. Finally, the band finish off the album with "Radio", where another a capella sequence is perfectly timed to have the whole room screaming in thunderous fashion. At this point it becomes clear that "Maybe I'll Catch Fire" is probably the most underrated album in Alkaline Trio's discography, because this set has been simply awesome. "We just got the craziest idea to play one more song", Dan Andriano says after a brief encore, and there it is: "Hell Yes" from a rarities album, which predictably is a crowd favorite just like "Radio" moments before. Here, the band stands on their monitors during the last moments of the song, creating yet another special moment that feels simply magical tonight. Four out of eight done, and I think everyone participating in this experience is more than ready for the next four albums. [8½]

Setlist (continued):

  • 37. Keep 'Em Coming
  • 38. Madam Me
  • 39. You've Got So Far To Go
  • 40. Fuck You Aurora
  • 41. Sleepyhead
  • 42. Maybe I'll Catch Fire
  • 43. Tuck Me In
  • 44. She Took Him to the Lake
  • 45. 5-3-10-4
  • 46. Radio
  • --Encore:--
  • 47. Hell Yes

Day 3: "Agony & Irony" & "From Here To Infirmary"

It's no secret that "Agony & Irony" is the least favorite album by Alkaline Trio, at least according to social media polling by the band. It's a funky one and their only major label album thus far that's probably the most different album they have written to date. At the same time, "From Here To Infirmary" is probably the popular choice for the best Alkaline Trio album out there given its mixture of punk and alternative rock that eventually lead into the two exceptionally dark masterpieces "Good Mourning" and "Crimson" some years later. As such, tonight is a hit-and-miss with the audience politely accepting "Agony & Irony" songs while making no secret afterwards which album they came to the show for.

Mrs. Magician

Tonight's opening band is a bit of a weird choice. They're a five-piece with three guitarists playing music that ranges from classic rock to straight up Brit rock / indie rock. The vocalist could've easily been on any of Arctic Monkeys to the countless other British indie rock bands, whilst instrumentally the band draw from the likes of Rolling Stones and The Police. This is true especially for the first four tracks, which are all brand new from their upcoming album. They're groovy, but essentially their sound lies so far away from punk rock that many in the crowd glance at them with confused looks on their faces. There are no sing alongs or small mosh pits as was the case for both Dave Hause and Swimmers during the nights before, and generally the reaction from the crowd is lackluster. But that's only because the reaction reflects the band's rather boring and anonymous sound that leaves much to be desired for. [5]

Alkaline Trio playing "Agony & Irony" (2008)

The theme of decent album first, amazing album after continues on night three with "Agony & Irony" being the first record getting the front to back treatment. Admittedly, this one is the least favorite when you ask the Alkaline Trio community at large, but I've always held the view that the band rarely if ever write bad songs, so it was still going to be an interesting experience. The familiar shouts of "Here it is again!" of "Calling All Skeletons" instantly light up the crowd into a sing along fest, while on stage the band looks exactly as they have looked in the two shows: tight, somewhat static, and a satanic backdrop behind them. The light show has taken a brighter turn and we're now drenched in green and yellow lights instead of the blueish ones from before, marking a shift that I'm sure is not accidental. "Help Me" isn't quite as good, but "In Vain" immediately returns the crowd into a frenzy during its "You recognize this shape, it's the back of your hand." chorus melody complete with woah-oh, woah-oh gang shouts. These echo comfortably across the venue in a manner that is pretty much only repeated on "Live Young Die Fast" a little bit later.

And why's that? Well, the second half of "Agony & Irony" frankly isn't as good as the rest of their material. The songs are slower and often lacking in catchphrases and lyrical gems that otherwise characterize their sound. As such, the sing alongs die off, and the last few songs are basically filler where we're all just waiting for "From Here To Infirmary" to start. "Hey thanks!", Dan Andriano shouts at the end of "Fire Down Below", before deviously stating "Three more". At this point the audience goes absolutely batshit wild with cheers because we've now watched 5 albums in a row. What other band does that? [6½]

Setlist (continued):

  • 48. Calling All Skeletons
  • 49. Help Me
  • 50. In Vein
  • 51. Over and Out
  • 52. I Found Away
  • 53. Do You Wanna Know?
  • 54. Live Young, Die Fast
  • 55. Love Love, Kiss Kiss
  • 56. Lost and Rendered
  • 57. Ruin It
  • 58. Into the Night

Alkaline Trio playing "From Here To Infirmary" (2001)

"From Here To Infirmary" is for many the absolutely best Alkaline Trio album out there. That's because it hasn't yet entirely departed from their punk-fueled early days, but does enough so to open their sound to an entirely new audience that leans more towards alternative rock than punk, and marks the first time Dan Andriano got more involved in the songwriting process. Tonight has been sold out for months in advance with tickets changing hands rapidly in the second hand market, and so it is not surprising to hear en epic sing along straight away for "Private Eye". "Mr. Chainsaw" sees an equally thunderous response with pretty much everyone screaming from the top of their lungs to the "In case you're wondering..." parts of the song.

For "Stupid Kid", Skiba sports a wry smile, probably a reference to whom the song is about originally. I believe I'm not alone in having sent this song with a lyrics sheet to a girl after a bad breakup. "You're Dead" is a surprisingly great highlight despite it being a slower track. Somehow it fits perfectly sandwiched in between the faster tracks, although "Armageddon" is clearly the fan-favorite here where another a capella part makes sure everyone is deaf from the crowd roars alone if they were not wearing earplugs. "Holy shit! Thank you!", Skiba says, before "I'm Dying Tomorrow" and "Bloodied Up" charm us all with their intricate lyrical content for the former and the melodic treble and speed of the latter. "This one's called Crawl, it's the last song on this record", Skiba announces, but we all know there's an encore coming. Tonight, the bonus track and/or rarity that gets selected is "Warbrain", which first appeared on the Rock Against Bush compilation in 2004. It's a massive sing along as usual, but overall something is missing tonight. I can't put a word on exactly that it is, but the passion and crowd dynamic isn't quite as electrifying as it has been during the first two nights. Maybe it's just the saturation effect of getting such a good audience every night that's getting to me, but I felt tonight lacked some of the magical moments that came with "Goddamnit" and "Maybe I'll Catch Fire". Still, it's a rock solid performance that sees the band play tighter than ever, which is all the more impressive considering how many songs they needed to learn in order to do this. [8]

Setlist (continued):

  • 59. Private Eye
  • 60. Mr. Chainsaw
  • 61. Take Lots with Alcohol
  • 62. Stupid Kid
  • 63. Another Innocent Girl
  • 64. Steamer Trunk
  • 65. You're Dead
  • 66. Armageddon
  • 67. I'm Dying Tomorrow
  • 68. Bloodied Up
  • 69. Trucks and Trains
  • 70. Crawl
  • --Encore:--
  • 71. Warbrain

Day 4: "Crimson" & "Good Mourning"

Arguably the strongest couple of all four days, "Crimson" and "Good Mourning" are the two alternative rock oriented albums in the band's discography. They're also the ones with their biggest radio hits and as such, the audience is a little more mainstream oriented tonight. However, that creates a special cocktail of punk fans standing arm-in-arm with radio rock fans, all singing in unison to the same lyrics. Neat. And of course, The All Brights were freaking hilarious, as you'll read below.

The All Brights

The award for the most entertaining support set easily goes to The All Brights, who enter stage to the tune of an extremely cheesy 80s action movie intro track, and proceed to dump a bunch of beach balls into the crowd straight away. They're all wearing sunglasses and look like a hilarious Van Wilder impersonation each. Music wise, they reference the no frills punk rock scene with Teenage Bottlerocket coming to mind straight away, except these guys are way funnier. All songs are about riding a surfboard to hell, beach, instagram, why California is better than any other state in the US, and other totally brainless topics, but for some reason it works. "It's so bright up here, feels like we're in the California sun", their hilariously arrogant stage-left vocalist points out while their drummer runs around stage throwing beach balls at the heads of the band members. "FREE T-SHIRTS who can hit me while I'm singing", he proclaims, and predictably, a rain of beach balls his way goes. "That doesn't count, I wasn't singing", he eggs the crowd on, and this goes on for pretty much the whole show with him doing his best dodging moves, giving the crowd the finger, and generally acting like a total dickhead on stage. But it's funny as hell. They sing a song with lyrics basically saying why California is better than Philly, New York, Washington and all the other East Coast cities, with massive "WEST COAST! FUCK YOU!" chants in between. There are so many funny anecdotes from the show I don't even know which ones to mention here, but understand this: these guys know how to appear arrogant in a hilarious college humour manner. There's plenty of banter in between songs, mostly of the insulting kind towards the crowd, so NOFX has probably been an inspiration in terms of their scene show. "We have one song left, and then you get to listen to some real music", they say. At least their self-irony is fully functioning. Great fun. [7½]

Alkaline Trio playing "Crimson" (2005)

Tonight's first album is "Crimson", which is widely considered to be their mainstream breakthrough given its dark, almost gothic appeal and a definite shift towards a more alternative rock based sound with only punk undertones left for the most part. I've always had a troubled relationship with this album for this reason, but tonight the band proves why "Crimson" stands on equal footing with the rest of the albums that came before it. "Time To Waste" opens things swiftly with a powerful melody with small sing alongs, but by the time we reach "Bleed", a somewhat softer track on the record, the crowd follows suit in softly humming along to the "You live and you burn..." parts of the song. There's a lengthy section where Skiba steps away from the microphone and allows the crowd to take care of an entire verse of the song, which is one of the most memorable moments I'll take away from this entire quadrilogy. The sense of community was never stronger than when we calmly sang along to this one. That said, "Mercy Me" sounds simply amazing tonight, as does "Dethbed", where the band are perhaps at their tightest during this set. "Sadie" is predictably awesome with its lengthy wooah screams for the crowd to chant along to, but the surprise of the night is "Fall Victim" for sure. Here, Dan Andriano is rocking out proper, with Skiba also moving much more than on previous night.

Thinking about it more, that's been the case throughout tonight so far, suggesting the "Crimson" set might secretly be their own favorite. "Back To Hell", which has never been one of my favorites on record is awesome live, perhaps because its speed is in stark contrast with the rest of the songs on the record. It's fast and aggressive, yet features a solid, darkened melody that fits the theme of the album. "Thanks, you guys are great! Seven down", Andriano says at the end of the set, continuing with the minimalist interaction theme we've seen thus far. If there's one key impression to take away from "Crimson" set is how fantastic this album really is, even though most of us listen to the earlier records far more. Tight songs with soothing melodies showcasing the band at their darkest. [8½]

Setlist (continued):

  • 72. Time to Waste
  • 73. The Poison
  • 74. Burn
  • 75. Mercy Me
  • 76. Dethbed
  • 77. Settle for Satin
  • 78. Sadie
  • 79. Fall Victim
  • 80. I Was A Prayer
  • 81. Prevent This Tragedy
  • 82. Back To Hell
  • 83. Your Neck
  • 84. Smoke

Alkaline Trio playing "Good Mourning" (2003)

Leaving the best for last, is what many fans would say about "Good Mourning", at least if you're less appreciative of their punk rock side on the first three records. And sure enough, the monumental sing along to "This Could Be Love" echoes as one of the best out of all four nights during its "This could be love.... LOVE FOR FIRE" parts towards the end. Everywhere you look in the crowd, people are counting with fingers high above their heads to the morbid lyrics "Step one, slit my throat, step two, play in my blood...", which really showcase Alkaline Trio's songwriting at its very best. "We've Had Enough" is treated to an equally monumental sing along, which is actually kind of crazy considering we're nearing 90 tracks across four nights at this point in time. "One Hundred Stories" is a little less crazy from the audience side, but it's still solid.

Much like during the "Crimson" set, the posture of the band on stage seems changed from previous nights. They are now chit chatting with the crowd in between songs, which feels quite natural as we're about to say goodbye to the band for quite a while (there are touring plans with their side projects for the foreseeable future, and who knows how Blink 182 pans out with Skiba in the end). It also gives these two sets less of a showcase vibe, which makes for a far more relaxed atmosphere. Not that it prevents sing alongs: the ending of "Continental" is simply amazing, and "All On Black" features a theater-wide sing along straight after. "Emma" is dedicated to The All Brights, and "Every Thug Needs A Lady" is equally well received as the rest of the songs. By the time we hit "Blue Carolina" everyone in the venue is having back chills, not just because the song is good, but because we all know just how many amazing songs we've heard in a row. Not just tonight but across the four nights they've been playing. The connection in the crowd reaches the stage as well just before second last song "If We Never Go Inside", as Dan Andriano thanks everyone who came out to the shows, whether for 20 minutes only or all four nights in a row, as well as The Observatory staff, the sound guys, the merch guys, and et cetera. "This song is about why we do this", he announces, before they close down yet another amazing set with "Blue In The Face".

But they're not done yet. The crowd is going wild in applause, and people are shouting not "one more song, one more song!", but "one more SET! one more SET!", perhaps hoping for an encore of one of the b-sides albums instead. "Thanks again for having us. We're Alkaline Trio. You look beautiful., they finally say after playing "'97", which ironically is the 98th song of their overall setlist this weekend. They spend another few minutes waving on stage, bowing down to the crowd, and hanging out in appreciation of what is probably the best crowd I've seen to a multi-night show to date. This is what it's all about. Totally worth it spending almost 10k DKK in total for the whole trip. [8½]

Setlist (continued):

  • 85. This Could Be Love
  • 86. We've Had Enough
  • 87. One Hundred Stories
  • 88. Continental
  • 89. All on Black
  • 90. Emma
  • 91. Fatally Yours
  • 92. Every Thug Needs a Lady
  • 93. Blue Carolina
  • 94. Donner Party (All Night)
  • 95. If We Never Go Inside
  • 96. Blue in the Face
  • --Encore:--
  • 97. '97

Final Thoughts

97 songs later, are we exhausted? Well, yes and no. It's tough to stand four nights in a row watching the same band play songs that aren't exactly that varied from each other in the end. Still, the sheer amount of brilliant songs the band has gone through leaves us hungering for more albums. For more sets. For more nights. For a repeat of the same concept, preferably in Europe next time (maybe at Groezrock as a crazy experiment?).

You could argue if the spiraling down to the middle of the discography, or the general lack of interaction with the crowd was the right way to do it. I wonder what difference it would have made if the band would've taken an entirely different approach and introduced all of the albums with small anecdotes and stories relating to each of them, or tried to play the albums in their actual order (who wouldn't want to see "Goddamnit" followed by "Maybe I'll Catch Fire" and "From Here To Infirmary" followed by "Good Mourning"?). We'll probably never know.

But what I do know is this: despite spending a despicable amount of money to go see four nights of Alkaline Trio, both I and the rest of the crowd can only feel satisfied. It was a magical journey through their discography as we remember hearing it the first time around. New twists to albums old and new were discovered. New friends were made and old ones reunited. Memories re-ignited and nostalgia trips taken down to our youth. Totally. Fucking. Worth. It. [10]

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