Phillip Morgan ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
April Fools’ Day is a nightmare for me. For one day of the year, I can’t restrain my paranoia and anxiety with the simple mantra of “Dude, you’re overthinking it.” No, on April Fools’ Day, every news story is a lie that eats away another chunk of my optimism. Every text from my friends is a joke about them hacking my class registration or setting my laptop on fire that has me sprinting home for no reason. My brain just won’t let me just accept it’s an April Fools’ prank, and so I dread this day every year. The day where nothing sounds like a joke because everything is a joke, and I avoid venturing outdoors altogether.
Except of course, when one of my favorite bands ever comes to town. Widely regarded the godfathers of the new wave of emo, Tigers Jaw has spent the past two or so years in a sea of uncertainty. Since losing three of the five original members in early 2013, Ben Walsh (vocals/guitar) and Brianna Collins’ (keyboards, vocals) decision to soldier on has inspired cult-like fervor among their fans, who are now notorious for moshing and singing along like they’ll never get another chance (because for all they know they won’t). Bringing back the three former members one last time to record their 2014 LP Charmer didn’t help allay suspicion either, with many concluding it would be the final Tigers Jaw album ever. But like most recent doomsday prophets, they couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
This was the inaugural show of their Spring Tour with Somos and Lemuria, so the expectations of longtime fans (myself included) were pretty high. Besides having to follow amazing sets from both openers, a new tour meant a brand-new touring roster supporting Walsh and Collins, the quality of which can make or break a live performance. Often there have been familiar faces, such as previous touring drummers Elliot Babin of Touché Amoré and James “Crab” Fisher of Basement, but this time around Walsh and Collins opted for more unknown players to back them up. This did prompt some initial concern as to whether the three mystery men were up to the task, but that evaporated after watching them tear through the first three songs with the greatest of ease.
Of course, the stars of the show were Walsh and Collins, who have stepped out of the shadows of their former bandmates and become one of emo’s hardest-hitting tag teams. Walsh in particular undertook the thankless job of filling the vocal hole left by former frontman Adam McIlwee, and though there were moments where his vocal style struggled to adjust (mostly on their older songs), Collins was there to help him out. Both sound overall well-equipped to do their elder material justice, especially in that they’re not trying to mimic McIlwee’s lackadaisical drone. Their warmer vocal harmonies, even with strained moments from Walsh, sounds fantastic and is much more honest to their musical styles within Tigers Jaw or otherwise. They know they can’t be the old Tigers Jaw, so they’ve resolved to make it their own, and even the most devout old-school Tigers Jaw fan can’t deny how great they sound just being themselves.
Beyond the customary audience greeting, “Hey guys, we’re Tigers Jaw,” expression of gratitude towards the opening acts, the announcement that “we have two or three more songs left,” the big “Thank you so much everyone! We’re Tigers Jaw,” the encore opening, “Hey, so actually we have two more songs for you guys,” and then finally saying goodbye to the audience “for real this time,” (all from Walsh and/or Collins), there was not much banter between the band or the audience, which I still have mixed feelings about. Part of me misses the dry humor-filled dialogue between McIlwee and the crowd in the old days of Tigers Jaw, wherein he would casually walk up to the mic and say, “Hey everyone, thanks for coming out. We’re The Jonas Brothers,” or some other cheesy nostalgia, later taking a moment between songs to announce something ridiculous like, “Hey guys, if we seem a lot sadder tonight, it’s because yesterday we found out Macho Man Randy Savage died.” There was a lot of charm in his sardonic wit, and its absence is, while somewhat inevitable, pretty disappointing.
On the other hand, the last show I went to filled with band/audience banter involved a guy accusing Jeff Rosenstock of liking Dance Dance Revolution and multiple drunk bros hurling beer cans at the headliner, so I guess it’s a fair trade. The lack of (attempts at) jokes also made it much easier to forget that it was April Fools’ Day, and I am eternally grateful that Tigers Jaw did not take the opportunity to capitalize on their fans’ worth fears with the fake announcement, “Oh by the way guys, this is actually our last tour ever.” Judging by the near-religious fandom of many I encountered towards the front of the pit, such a fib was liable to trigger a full-scale riot. Sadly, however, there were a few outbursts of drunken idiocy, but only two incidents actually disrupted anything. First, there was the particularly angry kid in a Red Sox t-shirt who kept trying to shove his way to the front row, resulting in little more than his verbally abusing a security worker’s flashlight pointed in his face. Second, I witnessed a seriously wasted couple’s repeated attempts to slow dance in the midst of the mosh pit, and I ended up way more intrigued by their determination than annoyed at their shoving everyone around them. They never quite succeeded (and the girl randomly tried to punch people during the last song), but their antics were overall harmless if not hilarious.
So, if you’ve been worried about Tigers Jaw since the big split in membership or are a new fan who isn’t sure where they should jump on, fear not. The band is more than prospering under the direction of Walsh and Collins, and I’ve gone on record saying Charmer contains the band’s strongest material to date. What direction the band takes with its new dynamic is anyone’s guess, but it’s clear that Walsh and Collins are more than prepared to take the reigns. And besides, any band that can assist me in forgetting it’s April Fools’ Day is fantastic in my book.