REVIEW: Brand New at Summerfest, 7/1/2015

Someone needs to give Jesse Lacey a hug.

Last year, I attended Brand New’s set at the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse, and I was slightly underwhelmed by the performance. I distinctly recall a lot of material from the group’s “Daisy” album, which was slower, and sadder, and the band looked genuinely disinterested in performing for a festival of kids that have grown up on their music. Add to the fact an email was sent out to all press on the day of the show that there would be no pictures permitted for the show, save for the band’s official media. I figured it was an off night, because I’ve seen video from other Brand New shows that have looked very entertaining to be a part of. It apparently was not an off night.

Fast forward to Wednesday night, when the group returned to Summerfest, this time at the Miller Lite Oasis stage. A photo I received earlier in the day had some awesome looking lights, and a large stage background, and it was looking like things were going to be different this time around for Brand New. Perhaps they remembered last year’s not-so-hot performance, which neglected many of their faster paced songs in favor for songs that often droned on, and were looking to make up for that night. But… they weren’t.

Things were promising at the beginning, as the large crowd that filled the Oasis cheered with anticipation when the stage lights went dark. Some errant guitar feedback, which could’ve been a slip up, and then a powerful drumroll to launch into “Archers”, and we were off and running. Like last year, the band was predominately back lit, but this time had just enough of a stage presence that you could see what was going on. There seemed to be an energy about them this time, and things were looking like they were going in the right direction. Lacey’s voice sounded a little shot, but he gave it his all vocally on these earlier songs in the set list.

There was a good number of tracks from 2001’s “Your Favorite Weapon” integrated into the set this time around, as well as a mix of songs from 2003’s massively popular “Deja Entendu”. Peppered into the setlist fairly early on were singalongs to their hit “Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades” and the ever popular “Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t”, and then it really felt like things were going to be more fun for everyone this time around.

But then, it didn’t. Lacey and co. continued the rest of the night with much slower material, many of which came from “Daisy”. I guess the flowers that adorned the band’s mic stands should’ve been a sign of foreshadowing for everyone. Apparently this band is still touring supporting an album that came out six years ago. Unfortunately, while these songs in their own right are great on an album, they don’t always translate over to a live show, much less a festival setting. Add in the fact that the group was playing the Miller Lite Oasis, situated next to a Harley-Davidson Roadhouse that featured metal group Halestorm, and Brand New almost met the fate that Bastille faced last week when they were being drowned out by the neighboring Kaskade. At one point late in Brand New’s show, a Harley revving its engine outside of the festival was louder than the band on stage.

Even more glaring than the situational issues of the stage setup was the band’s perceived apathy throughout the set. Lacey remained center stage all night, with a blue zip up hoodie and at times donned a knit peruvian hat. His banter with the crowd was minimal, and disingenuine, if not forced. Twice, he reminded the crowd that “We’re Brand New. We’re a band from New York.”, and later informed us that “It’s great to be here tonight. This is a great town. I really like it here”, which couldn’t have sounded more out of the touring musician’s handbook unless it was printed out for us all to read along. There was a moment during the encore that seemed like he might, dare I say it, start to have fun on stage with the crowd, when he asked if they’d like to hear option A or option B. He then informed us that he always makes option B whatever he’d like to play, because everyone always cheers for that one. So there’s that. There was another crowd singalong to “Soco Amaretto Lime”, and then that was that. Brand New went their way, and we all went ours.
Maybe the biggest disservice to the fans is the neglect of the crowd favorites. Hit singles “Jude Law and A Semester Abroad”, and one of their most popular songs, “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows”, did not make the set list. Even if you had seen the show at the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse, you would have waited a year for Brand New to return to Milwaukee, so the opt-out on a major song is very significant. Quite frankly, the only way to describe the group’s set on Wednesday  is mostly disappointing. There were bright spots, but even those moments couldn’t make up for the extended amount of frustration that built in the interim. Maybe the justification for neglecting some of their best material is to avoid living in the past, but when their last album is over half a decade old, it’s very hard for Brand New to deliver that message, or any, with conviction.

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