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Live Review: Brand New - Cardiff University, UK (2/17/12)

When a band tours independent of the obligation to promote new material, things get interesting, especially when the band in question is one that so many people have grown up listening to and, more significantly, developed with. Based on a culture in which anyone with internet access has the entire history of music quite literally at their fingertips, fleeting obsessions come and go even faster than before, and it takes something unique to maintain such a resolute grip on a fanbase that's slowly scaling the generation ladder, as well as gathering new members along the way. Brand New have that something.

Since they haven't released anything since "Daisy" in 2009, Brand New have had the freedom on this tour to play around with their setlist, changing it up each night. The result: dusting off a lot of previously-neglected gems in their back-catalog ("Flying At Tree Level", "I Will Play My Game Beneath The Spin Light", "Mix Tape") that have left crowds jaw-dropped and swooning. The whole situation has essentially been a wet dream for relentless fans who like to nerd out on Setlist.fm and Absolute Punk threads throughout the tour, teasing their own excitement whilst simultaneously shattering some element of surprise.

Tonight's show is the last in a string of sold-out UK dates, and it comes hand-in-hand with actions lifted straight from "Riding In Vans With Boys". Kicking off the night, The Xcerts play an energetic set of distorted pop through a shower of toilet roll, drum cases, inflatable sheep, and anything else available and easy to launch from the side of the stage. Most recognizable hit "Slackerpop" comes midway through the set, nailing a captivating mid-ground on a scale with Weezer at one end and Biffy Clyro at the other. Barely passed the intro to the final song, the roadie comes on stage and begins dismantling their drum kit.

I Am The Avalanche follow, victim to a similar reign of punk-rock-pranks. Recognized by some for featuring former The Movielife vocalist, Vinnie Caruana, their punchy performance of gritty vocal-led punk tinted with elements of melodic hardcore does an admirable job of winning over a largely unfamiliar crowd. Every now and then Jesse Lacey's arm emerges from the backstage shadows to hurl an empty beer can at random.

Whispers lower with the lights, and you can just make out the 'NY Giants' logo on Jesse's bobble hat among the backlit silhouettes as the band take to the stage. They launch straight into the instrumental opening-favorite "Welcome To Bangkok", which slow-burns its way to atmospheric crescendo before leaning into "Millstone", followed by "Sowing Season". Perhaps one of the most jaw-dropping fan-swooning moment of the night comes half way through the set; a sentimental nod to the supporting acts and a reflective word on touring with friends makes the opening notes of "Tautou" even more poignant, and a selection of old favorites from "Deja Entendu" follow in its footsteps.

The setlist rolls through the years and touches all four album bases, but with moodier numbers from "The Devil and God..." and "Daisy" making up a large percentage of the content, crowd activity inevitably falls a little flat at times. Regardless, it's obvious that the crowd tonight is comprised of people that are so into it they don't notice how hopelessly out of tune they are singing rather than those who keep one disinterested eye on the stage during a long, loud discussion about how smashed they plan to get later.

There is never a time when Brand New don't hold each individual in the palm of their hands, and after a couple of "Your Favorite Weapon" pick-me-up's ("Jude Law", "Seventy Times Seven") the devotion of the crowd becomes all the more tangible. By the end of "Limousine" and its "…I can dish it out, but I can't take it" refrain, sing-a-longs reach their decibel peak, hands remain permanently fixed in the air, hearts are fully exposed on sleeves.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the show is how good of a mood Brand New seem to be in. For a band often criticized for taking themselves too seriously, it's rewarding to see them looking so relaxed. "Degausser" and a weird "You Won’t Know"/ "Phantom of the Opera" medley drive the night to a wild close as streams of toilet paper, confetti and plastic flying from offstage catch on ankles and guitar necks. Jesse's vocals are always unbelievable live and tonight, frankly, he tears "You Won't Know" a new one. Playing around with the tempo of the song and piling on as much distortion as possible spurs the crowd on further and The Xcerts and I Am The Avalanche mob the stage. No instrument is left standing as equipment gets trashed, people hug, Jesse throws himself into the crowd and even cracks a smile, raising a glass of champagne to the audience as he exits the stage (which is arguably the most curiously merry action anyone has ever seen him perform in public).

Cheers, Brand New, thank you for everything.
With love, always
Your Fans.

- Emma Garland