There is no smoking in the Bren Events Center. The ever-watchful security force made sure that nobody even lingered in the aisles between seats for more than a few seconds at Rockstar Energy Drink’s “Get A Life Tour” last Thursday night. Who knows what they would do if they caught someone with a lit cigarette?
But that did not stop Brett McCracken, vocalist of headliners The Used, from taking the stage with a lit cigarette and tossing it out to the audience to finish it off when it was time to sing. And that was just the start of McCracken’s shenanigans.
Over the course of the evening, McCracken would go on to invite a bunch of teenage girls on stage and then make out with one of them. Before one song, he poeticized, “Everyone’s a liar, you know it’s true. So put up your middle finger, and leave it if you feel like a faggot, too.”
During another break between songs, he brought a life-size cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton onstage. “A woman for president? I don’t know. We’ll see. Your husband gave a blowjob to the fattest, ugliest bitch in the world,” McCracken jeered at the Clinton stand-in.
None of this should be too surprising coming from a man who sings, “Found a box of sharp objects, what a beautiful day.” McCracken is deathly pale, with shoulder-length hair greasy enough to pose as a fire hazard, soundly proving the theory that girls will find any lead singer hot.
While The Used’s heavy-hitting songs have gotten progressively worse since its decent break-through album, “Maybe Memories” – choruses have digressed to “liar, liar, pants on fire” in recent times – the band’s following has inversely grown proportionately. McCracken seems to have found his strange niche live. As long as he can keep rocking forgettable tunes this memorably, cheerfully hating everyone and everything with not a moment’s break in character, The Used should maintain its following.
The other bands this evening, however, performed the more admirable feat of gaining audience approval by playing good music. Just before The Used, Straylight Run delivered a solid set, free of theatrics.
Straylight Run is the result of John Nolan’s departure from Taking Back Sunday, the emo band he played for its first album, “Tell All Your Friends.” Nolan was a key songwriter for TBS, and after he left, the group never recovered lyrically. But Nolan’s songwriting has grown tremendously with Straylight Run. He shares the stage vocally and instrumentally with his sister, Michelle DaRosa.
Straylight’s opener, “Existentialism on Prom Night,” explains the band nicely. In the last verse, over a slow, melodic piano riff Nolan sang, “Sing me something soft, sad and delicate, or loud and out of key, sing me anything. We’re glad for what we’ve got, done with what we’ve lost, our whole lives laid out, right in front of us.” The band is honest and intelligent but sometimes its sappy verses can serve as a lyric-lover’s guilty emo pleasure. The mellow songs take listeners through musings on awkward relationships and spirituality.
Straylight Run did make one blunder a couple years ago with “Prepare To Be Wrong,” a disappointingly uninspiring six-song jab at the war on terror at a time when the topic was already nothing new. But the band has earned its forgiveness with a strong full-length follow-up, “The Needles The Space,” since then.
On Thursday, the group wisely stayed away from the oddball EP, with one exception. They closed with “Prepare To Be Wrong’s” “Hands in the Sky,” but the song did not fall flat live. The instrumentation was more distorted than the recorded version, and Nolan was full of energy as he screamed, “Big shot screaming put your hands in the sky. He says, give it up boy, give it up or you’re gonna die. You’ll get a bullet in the back of the neck, in the back of the neck, right between the eyes.” The problematic biology of the refrain’s victim exemplifies just how un-thought-out the unfortunate war protest songs were, especially when Nolan can write so well. But his intensity made the closer seem convincing nonetheless.
The band before Straylight Run, Army of Me, delivered enjoyable but unremarkable indie rock.
Openers Street Drum Corps, were truly, excitingly unique. Picture the popular percussion dance troupe Stomp, but with a more goth, punk vibe. The trio alternated between rhythm-driven distorted punk rock anthems and multilayered, syncopated percussion breakdowns that Reverend Jeremiah Wright would deem biologically impossible for white people to produce.
Trippy background electronics added to the fun as the pale punksters defied Wright’s science while dancing and banging on drums, cans and pipes. Street Drum Corps’ popularity has grown under the support of The Used in recent years, but hopefully the group can one day hold its own, as it deserves.