In the early-00’s, Long Island emo was run by two bands: Taking Back Sunday and Brand New. You couldn’t talk about one without the other, regardless of the fact that they didn’t (and don’t) really complement one another; on the contrary, these bands hated each other, and for years. Brand New frontman Jesse Lacey was TBS’ bass player and left the band when Taking Back Sunday’s John Nolan hooked up with his girlfriend. You can’t make this stuff up—but you were expected to pick your allegiance to one band or the other.
In the fifteen years since the spark that started the battle, Taking Back Sunday has enjoyed immense success—a handful of Top 10 albums, the song “MakeDamnSure” skyrocketed into the mainstream—and yet, somehow, it is Brand New that won the war. TBS stayed consistent, never giving anyone a chance to miss them; Brand New left and returned with real weight, the kind that gets you to headline a sold-out Madison Square Garden 15 years after your biggest single, “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad.”
Brand New is currently on the road with Modest Mouse, and despite the latter gaining more international fame in the early century thanks to “Float On,” it was the former’s diehards with the higher visibility on Thursday night, pop-punk kids from ‘round Long Island completely uninhibited in their appreciation for the emo kings. There was a particular energy within the room, everyone excited to see the band that waited six years before giving us new music.
Brand New took the stage near 10 P.M., ripping through vintage hits interspersed with the delicate thoughtfulness of their 2006 LP, The Devil & God Are Raging Inside Me. There was something deeply impressive about watching Lacey contort his body around the stage, squatting and rolling through a song as contemplative as “Millstone.” This band had to go away to come back to discover how to command a stage this size.
When he performs the Deja Entendu album cut “Tautou,” the room got quiet and then loud to lament in unison, “I’m sinking like a stone in the sea.” Lacey is the captain of his own demise on the song, but at MSG, he was leading his team to victory. All the while two drummers played the same beat in unison—a very Slipknot-esque move for a band whose power comes from sensitivity. A few songs later and an acoustic guitar came out for “The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot,” which feels like a distant memory, a certain nostalgic haze that bands from the emo revival have learned to utilize.
The most memorable moment of the set came near the end of the middle. “Limousine,” a fan favorite from The Devil and God, is a surprisingly self-aware song, a certain quality most bands of the emo genre lack. When performed live, Lacey extends a repetition of, “I’ll die free once but never again,” to the point where it feels painful. Relief is found in more reiteration, with Lacey scream-singing, “I can dish it out but I can’t take it.” It’s a song about recognizing your badness—and that to overcome what you don’t like about yourself, you have to face it. For Brand New, it took a hiatus. For the kids in the room, it takes something cathartic, like watching Brand New.
Brand New has been making headlines recently because of their unique comeback—they’ve said time and time again that it’s temporary, this will end soon, thank you for your interest—and have yet to give any real details on when the permanent demise will happen. At certain shows, Lacey has addressed the crowd with “We’re done,” leading people to believe that they are, in fact, going to be done soon. At Madison Square Garden, all banter was reserved for gratitude, the band thanking their family and friends and the crowd. If it was Brand New’s way of leaving gracefully, it was worth the ride.