Sometimes when a band has been around for a decade, their concerts start to show their age. They can become lazy and formulaic in how they present their songs, kicking back and mindlessly going through the motions of playing their large catalogue of hits. Groups like that, that are happy to let their engines sit in idle, should have been at Los Angeles’ Wiltern Theatre this weekend to witness the All-American Rejects’ show. The Rejects, who first exploded on to the scene in 2002 with their breakout hit, “Swing, Swing,” performed with the perfect mix of seasoned professionalism and beginner’s dynamic energy. Lead singer and frontman, Tyson Ritter, assessed his band perfectly when he said, “We bleed on this stage. There are a lot of bands that you see and you think, ‘you’re full of s***.’ This is a real f***ing band.”
This point was punctuated by the Rejects’ pop rock warm up band, Boys Like Girls, a popular group in their own right, who clearly had a large fan base in the audience dominated by young energetic females. The members of BLG bounded around on stage taking off their clothes and continuously asking the audience to sing along, huge grins plastered on their faces. Though their songs were definitely good, their affected performance style undermined their solid tracks like “Two Is Better Than One,” (which originally featured Taylor Swift) and “The Great Escape.” Throwing things in the audience like guitar picks, and requesting that people turn off their cell phones for a song is fine, and it can even enhance a concert (see The Lumineers). But, when the occasional guitar pick becomes an entire bag of unused drum sticks, and they stop in the middle of one of their most famous tunes to tell you turn off your phones, in what was clearly a preplanned stunt, the overdone perfunctory showmanship just gets distracting.
This is exactly the kind of falseness that Ritter seemed to be describing. The entire time BLG was on stage, no matter how many girls jumped up and down singing along to their songs, I couldn’t help but think, “you’re full of s***.” Everything about their show, including their odd sampling of other musicians’ songs such as M83, fun., and The Beatles, inspired heavy head shaking and eye rolling. Though the giddy girls in the audience seemed to all too happy to scream for a well-placed pelvic thrust from BLG’s frontman, Martin Johnson, it was impossible not to feel like the put-on nature of their performance made them into more of a mock rock group than a real one. In leather and tattoos, they dressed like hard rockers, sung like popsters and performed like Mouseketeers. This wholly underwhelming inauthenticity left me a bit worried about what kind of show the Rejects would follow up with.
As soon as the Rejects emerged on stage, however, I was immediately cleansed of the bad taste BLG had left in my mouth. Opening with the powerfully consuming rock ballad, “Affection,” it was as if Ritter was channeling Freddie Mercury with his explosive yet controlled robust vocals. In fact, throughout the show I kept being reminded of Queen in Ritter’s intonation, fluidly sexual way of commanding the stage, and genuine passion for performance. Clearly the nucleus of the band, Ritter possessed an amazing amount of charm and intuitive know-how when it came to putting on a show. With each song they played, such as “Move Along,” “It Ends Tonight,” “Dirty Little Secret,” and “I Wanna,” I was reminded of just how much I liked this band and how many hits they had accumulated throughout their ten years.
Ritter never faltered in his clear and original sound, and he knew exactly when to take a break from singing to tell an interesting story about the genesis of a certain song, what a track meant to him or what it was like when they were first starting out. These anecdotes are what transform a live performance into a true concert. Getting this personal insight into the records they were playing truly made a difference in allowing the audience to feel as though they were connecting with the band on another level in a way that simply can’t be attained through listening to their songs on the radio or watching YouTube videos of them.
Talking about how he and Nick Wheeler wrote “Swing, Swing” in high school together, Ritter revealed a bit about his adolescent experience as a less-than-popular teen, claiming his outsider status was what drew him to music. The audience cheered and laughed through his story as he added, “You’ve got to be nerds to make it in rock and roll. Do you think Tom Petty was the captain of the football team?” During their encore, Ritter told the crowd, illuminated by a rainbow of glow sticks, about the significance of their latest single, “Heartbeat Slowing Down.” This new track, steeped in unrestrained sadness, was written about “one of the greats” that got away from Ritter. Giving a heartfelt dedication to this girl who was “probably asleep somewhere in domestic bliss,” Ritter opened up about the odd form of emotional trauma that follows a soul-rattling breakup. “There is something really crazy about when a person who is still alive becomes a ghost to you,” he said with a melancholy warble in his voice. After listening to this song, it is clear why it has become the undisputed favorite within the band. Finishing their show with the rowdy hit, “Gives You Hell,” sent the crowd into a chanting communal frenzy, proving that after ten years The All-American Rejects are even better than they were when they first started.
This show will make you both want to go hunting for your old copy of their eponymous CD and download their newest album, “Kids In The Street.” Absolutely go see them if they come to a town near you, but don’t worry about catching Boys Like Girls beforehand.
By: Darianne Dobbie
For information on their tour schedule: http://www.allamericanrejects.com/events/default.aspx