REVIEW: Taking Back Sunday at Summerfest

The state of many of the emo and pop punk bands that dominated the early part of the millennium is pivotal; many are at a crossroads to either dive into nostalgia head on, or continue to adapt and grow. Taking Back Sunday, who are celebrating their 20th year as a band this year, found a way to masterfully do both on Wednesday night.

While technically touring behind their latest compilation release, “Twenty”, the band hasn’t had a true new album since 2016. However, that didn’t stop them from putting on an exhilarating show full of hits at the Miller Lite Oasis. When the bending opening notes of “What’s It Feel Like To Be A Ghost?” from 2006’s “Louder Now” took over in the midst of the lakefront fireworks, the crowd absolutely erupted. The fireworks would also play a role in the show, as an already foggy Summerfest grounds were encapsulated in smoke off of the lake, making visibility rather low for the opening portion of the show. Coupled with the fog machines on stage, it made things pretty hazy, leading vocalist Adam Lazzara to joke that “this is the first time we’ve ever played a show from inside of a cloud!”.

Lazzara’s on-stage charisma is a main driving factor to separate Taking Back Sunday from the lot of early-aught emo acts. Not only does he move on stage like the band is in their early stages, but he also interacted with the crowd in a way that kept things light amongst a smattering of classics from the band. He spoke with the cadence of a Southern preacher, and subsequently brought the attention up in the Oasis. His only misstep was asking a fan in a Chicago White Sox hat what the crowd was yelling during a “Go Pack Go” chant that erupted (after mentioning the Packers). The fan yelled “Go Bears!” into the microphone, causing Lazzara to comedically backtrack and explaining loudly that he didn’t know what was coming. Complete with his signature microphone trickery that made you appreciate the strength of an XLR cable connector, Lazzara is a master of communication on stage.

The band hit all the right nostalgic notes with ease on Wednesday night.

The setlist was really the most nostalgic part of the night, as the band ripped through hits largely from 2002’s “Tell All Your Friends” to 2009’s “New Again”. There’s a sense of self-awareness there from the group; it would be safe to say that most of the Oasis crowd’s formative years were soundtracked by those albums, and likely didn’t have material from their latest, “Tidal Wave” memorized by this point. There wasn’t the slightest bit of apathy from Taking Back Sunday, though, as they delivered that early material with a spirited sense of appreciation for the fans. The only newer track to really stand out was “Tidal Wave” cut “You Can’t Look Back”, which mainly felt like a reminder that, yes, the band can still make new music that lives up their older standards.

Within the course of 90 or so minutes, Taking Back Sunday showed why they can still be relevant 20 years after their formation. It’s not about the songs per se, so much as it is about the willingness to deliver on them. There’s an effort to their performance that feels genuine when you experience it, and the band simply knows no other way it seems.

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