Tuesday night at Michigan State University, angsty rock fans with angular haircuts and all-black wardrobes stood alongside preppy Greek Row members to watch Taking Back Sunday and the All-American Rejects -- reps from the introspective and fun-lovin' poles of the emo genre, respectively -- kick off their joint U.S. tour.
The 20-date outing is a co-headlining affair, with the two bands trading the closing slot each night, and at this show the Rejects took the stage first, opening with "Move Along" from their 2005 album of the same name.
The quartet was in top form, strutting through a set of fan faves, from "Dirty Little Secret" to "Gives You Hell," the first single from their latest release, When The World Comes Down. It's the Rejects' most successful track yet, having spent four weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard charts and selling over 3.2 million copies in digital downloads.
On another new track, "Real World," the boys moved away from their characteristic pop-rock sound and explored something more interesting: dark, '80s new wave. It's a commendable experiment for the Rejects, who have been pigeon-holed as one-trick ponies. But they pulled it off with both promise and precision, with frontman Tyson Ritter pouting his lips and swaying his skinny torso across the stage like a model-boy Iggy Pop.
The crowd did their best to mimic his moves, dancing in the aisles much to the dismay of the ushers.
Soon screamo/pop-punk quartet Taking Back Sunday took the stage and quickly proved that they're a very different animal than the Rejects. Their music has more emotional depth and pants-kicking ferocity, and the band immediately had the crowd riled up with opener "Set Phasers To Stun," from 2004's Where You Want To Be. Soon Adam Lazzara invited the crowd to rush the stage. A hundred or so fans complied, eagerly.
It's this immediate connection with their audience that has helped the band endure a decade in the business and the backlash against the emo genre, which they helped pioneer. And by playing on college campuses, they're creating memories in impressionable minds that will surely translate into many years to come.
Lazzara led the band through raucous renditions of "My Blue Heaven" from 2006's "Louder Now," their debut album for Warner Bros., but it was songs from this year's New Again that provided the most refreshing bitch slap to the face. "Carpathia" (named after the first ship to receive a distress call from the sinking Titanic) traded the verse-chorus-verse formula for a plethora of key changes and movements, while retaining the catchy sense of melody that put the band on the map in the first place.
Taking Back Sunday and the All-American Rejects have their musical differences, but they're both helping an oft-ridiculed genre survive with style, talent, and good times.