Motion City Soundtrack are understandably feeling reflective. Not only is it the end of the year-the end of the decade-but the pop-punks from Minneapolis make their major-label debut next month with My Dinosaur Life after two albums on Epitaph. It makes sense that they’d want to look backward before moving forward.
And considering the obsessive-compulsiveness frontman Justin Pierre often exhibits in his lyrics, it also makes sense that Motion City Soundtrack would go all out: three shows on consecutive nights at Chicago’s new Lincoln Hall, each devoted to one of the quintet’s three prior albums. It’s the kind of move canonical artists make in their twilight; just three months ago, Steely Dan played three of their albums at the regal Chicago Theatre. Happily crammed onto Lincoln Hall’s small stage, Motion City Soundtrack showed their twilight is a long away off.
“It’s been a while since we played some of these songs,” Pierre said as the band took the stage Friday, a statement that sounded both nervous and excited. Over the course of the three nights, his face would occasionally betray the concentration he was putting in to just not screwing up, which he would punctuate after songs by laughing and saying stuff like, “I don’t know if you can tell, but I was really thinking during that last one.”
He needn’t have worried, because the audience couldn’t have been friendlier: fan-club members who sold out all three nights before tickets went on sale to the public. From the opening drumbeat of “Cambridge” on Friday night to final notes of “Throwdown” on Sunday, the crowd greeted virtually every song as if it were their favorite.
Friday night’s show went the longest, with Motion City Soundtrack playing 10 songs after I Am the Movie‘s 14. The succession of “The Future Freaks Me Out,” “Indoor Living,” and “My Favorite Accident” drew the biggest response from the crowd, which rushed the front of the stage, fingers pointing toward Pierre to emphasize every word they loudly sang along. “Wow…wow!” exclaimed Pierre after a particularly spirited reaction to “Don’t Call It a Comeback.”
Pierre and his bandmates could relax a little more on Saturday, now that the first-night jitters were out of the way. “I was so concerned with playing the songs I was avoiding eye contact,” Pierre told the crowd. Anchored by fan favorites “Everything is Alright” and “L.G. FUAD” (which MCS played all three nights), 2005’s Commit This to Memory polished the more aggressive edges of I Am the Movie, though the live performance quickly scuffed the studio sheen. The band moved confidently through seldom played songs like “Feel the Rain” and “Better Open the Door,” the latter only played once since the band recorded it.
The encores followed Friday’s precedent, this time going deep for “Invisible Monsters,” a B-side from Commit This to Memory that never quite worked for the band. After the song, Pierre asked, “What’d you think of that last one? Should it have been on the record or not?” The crowd, of course, cheered enthusiastically, though guitarist Josh Cain said that would likely be the song’s only performance ever.
That theme continued on Sunday night, with several songs from Even If It Kills Me either making their live debut (“Broken Heart,” “Where I Belong,” “Even If It Kills Me”) or a rare appearance (“Calling All Cops,” “Can’t Finish What You Started”).
Even If It Kills Me altered Motion City Soundtrack’s sound a bit away from organ-heavy pop-punk to more straightforward pop, undoubtedly due in part to its big-name producers, Ric Ocasek of the Cars, Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, and Eli Janney of Girls Against Boys. It’s the only album that has fomented a bit of dissent among MCS fans, though the rapturous audience in Lincoln Hall betrayed none of it.
Even the drippy ballad “The Conversation”-sample lyrics: “I had a pocketful of dreams, but I gave them all to you”-earned a warm reception. Planted in the middle of the album, it required bassist Matt Taylor to switch to electric piano while a nervous Pierre stood alone at the mic, sans guitar. He looked noticeably relieved when he had his guitar back and the band returned to its usual style on “Hello Helicopter.”
The night of rarely performed songs continued into the encores with “The Worst Part” (from the Sound Of Superman compilation), “Not Asking You to Leave,” a B-side from Even If It Kills Me. “Thanks for letting us play songs we’ve never played before,” Pierre said as the band finally wound down. Now that they’ve done that, and taken an obsessive survey of their catalog, and weathered all the scrutiny and second-guessing that invites, the next step awaits-the tour to support My Dinosaur Life begins in a month.