Ok, here we go with the whole generational argument. Granted, it’s an argument of one because I own this website and am sitting in a room totally and completely alone typing this. But I’ll throw this tidbit out there: Is Alkaline Trio a Gen X band? Well, this one is tricky. I first became aware of them around 1998 with their debut album, Goddamnit!. I was still in my mid-20s, so I can claim I was still in my musical sweet-spot. Millennials, however, were oldest fifteen and youngest zero. Because, theoretically, 1996 was the last year of the millennial bracket. Can a band that started when some of its generation was literally just being birthed be of that generation? Or does it make more sense that those of us who were fully formed adults, but still musically influenced, take them as our own?
Ultimately it doesn’t matter who this band belongs to. But it does influence which of their songs audiences associate with. Me? I rode for their first two proper albums, the aforementioned Goddamnit!, their sophomore album, Maybe I’ll Catch Fire and the amazing self-titled compilation album from 2000. I certainly checked in with them after that, owning a few of their subsequent albums and really enjoying songs here and there. But something in me said that now as a married man post 2000 I had to put away my pop punk toys and focus on more serious music. I’m an idiot. The point is, I am way more familiar with their earlier oeuvre than I am their later tunes. Dare I say I cherish some of them. But the crowd at the The Wellmont Theater? Well, they seem to have some serious love for their post-2000 output. I honestly had no idea that this band could sell out a 2,500-person venue in suburban New Jersey. Let alone engender such love and sing-alongs with a large group of mostly older dudes and some clearly inebriated younger ones. Lots of baseball hats covering those less-robust-than-they-used-to-be hairlines.
The Wellmont is a much larger space than I remembered it being. I’d been there for non-concerts in recent years, but it feels a little bit cavernous for a music show. The ceiling’s just enormously high. The stage incredibly wide. Especially when you’re putting a rock trio up there. They just didn’t fill the space. And, as gentlemen of a certain age, they didn’t really stalk the stage, jump around much or really move out from behind the mic stands a whole lot. Granted, both up-front dudes, Matt Skiba and Dan Andriano, sing both lead and harmonies on almost every song, so they need to stick close to the mic while they also play guitar and bass respectively. I’m just used to the smaller, more intimate surrounds that kind of hug the band a little closer. Which not only makes the visual a little more sharp, but also focuses the music and makes it more immediate. They’ve certainly worked on the sound quality in the space since it first re-opened as a music venue in 2008. I’d guess it’s infinitely better than it was when the theater first opened in 1922.
So, what was the best part? I suppose it was the realization that despite the fact Ms. Hipster couldn’t attend with me because she was sideswiped by Hipster Jr. Jr. to bring her to a K-Pop show at MSG, I could still have a good time amongst some olds. The couple standing in front of me all decked out in their Alkaline Trio pop-punk, semi-goth gear. The dudes with the Comic Book Guy beard/ponytail combo. Lots and lots of questionable tattoos. Hey, man, they did it all for the nookie. Cookie, cookie, cookie something. Because who doesn’t love to sneak in a Limp Bizkit reference just to make sure you’re paying attention? Point is, though, that some of these guys were most definitely ridin’ for Woodstock ’99 based solely by the look of them. This show, however, was must less rowdy. No fires. No rivers of mud and poop. Not even much of a pit, honestly. And I don’t know if that was fear of a broken hip, or just the more gentile nature of the ‘burbs. Or maybe it was the fact the place was absolutely packed in and nobody could separate enough to get the whirlpool going. Or maybe it was my vantage point and there was a robust pit filled with old dudes airborne in their New Balances.
Ultimately, though, the band sounded really good. It’s tough to recreate the tight sound of that thudding bass and immaculate harmonies in this type of echoey space, but they did a great job of bringing the energy. But, honestly, it all came down to this moment for me in the video below. “Radio” is a song that just needs to be played in concert. It’s a fuck-you breakup sing-along that is just quintessential Alkaline Trio, and a tune I just absolutely fuck with always. The crowd also seemed to be really into it. Because we’re all pop-punk junkies at heart.