Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Fall Out Boy - Illinois Pop-Punkers Struggle with Their Identity - Phones4U Arena, Manchester, 17.03.14

Three songs into their performance at Manchester’s Phones4U Arena, Fall Out Boy are in the process of dispatching their biggest hit and arguable signature song This Ain’t a Scene (It’s an Arms Race) when they realise that no-one can actually hear it. Undeterred, frontman Patrick Stump shrugs and pulls out an acoustic guitar to perform rarity Chicago is So Two Years Ago unamplified, whilst bassist/bandleader Pete Wentz mugs cheekily for selfies with fans at the front of the crowd. It’s a pleasingly spontaneous moment in a show that often feels on-rails, lacking a maverick touch
Joe Trohman and Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy
performing live in Manchester in 2014. (Credit to WENN.)
The Illinois fun-punk stalwarts’ comeback hasn’t gone unnoticed, or under the radar as such. Their return with Save Rock and Roll, crammed with glossy stadium-sized pop hooks, has been warmly received and their UK tour, a year on from release, feels more like a celebratory lap for the album and the hits. Opener The Phoenix, a ferocious jackhammer of a song, sets the tempo and the band barely let up for the next ninety minutes. It’s brash, melodramatic and for the most part, gloriously fun.

In spite of the pyrotechnics however, it feels quite arena-by-numbers at points. New track Death Valley is backed by hi-vis imagery of a desert basin, the excellent Alone Together is prefaced by a speech about “being individual” and the band even decamp to a b-stage for a “campfire moment with banjos” as they term it to perform early cut Grand Theft Autumn/Where Is Your Boy. FOB are tight, well-honed and great on the melody. But even with the ecstatic response to hits like Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down, a sense of banality and a lack of identity prevails, despite how riotously, shamelessly enjoyable it is.

Indeed, their weakest link, disarmingly, is Stump. A sufferer of stage fright, his interactions are understandably tokenistic, and the trilby-sporting singer often leaves the patter to the hyperactive Wentz. But he also struggles vocally, straining on A Little Less “Sixteen Candles”, A Little More “Touch Me”, and getting lost under the instrumentation during a roaring Beat It. He delivers some great lines – his impression of guest artist Elton John on Save Rock and Roll’s title track is hilariously spot on – and he is serviceable enough behind the microphone, but more often than not, the inconsistency is jarring.
Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy performing live in
Manchester in 2014. (Credit to WENN.)
The rest shine periodically – drummer Andy Hurley introduces Dance, Dance with a frantic drum solo, and guitarist Joe Trohman shreds hard on a thrilling Thnks fr th Mmrs – but it is Wentz who drives them towards a rousing finale. When they dispatch the electronica-rock of comeback single My Songs Know What You Did In the Dark (Light ‘Em Up), the singalong is both deafening and soaring in equal measure. By the time Wentz is fished out of the crowd following closer Saturday, it has gone past curfew. Few will complain. Fall Out Boy may have stepped into safer territory with their return; but there is still fun to be had in the ride alongside them to their new destination.

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