Say Anything @ Starland Ballroom

SAYREVILLE, NJ—10 years after the release of the cult favorite …Is A Real Boy, Say Anything are captivating listeners and creating relevant and engaging music. The group premiered their latest LP, Hebrews, in June, marking their sixth full-length album over the course of their 14-year career. In support of the new record, the band kicked off an expansive North American tour in the middle of June with Brooklyn-based rockers The So So Glos, pop punk act You Blew It!, and indie folk duo The Front Bottoms joining them on the road.

Frontman Max Bemis is currently the only original member of Say Anything following the departure of longtime drummer Coby Linder in late 2012. Hebrews marks their first full-length without him and a different direction for Say Anything altogether, replacing their trademark, amped-up guitar riffs with orchestral arrangements. Though this seems strange, it translates well to the stage, and Bemis is joined again by his backing musicians with traditional instruments.

Opening their set with “Six Six Six,” the leading single off Hebrews, to a screaming crowd, the band did not limit their setlist to only new songs, and instead dabbled throughout their extensive discography, including classics like “I Want To Know Your Plans” and “Spidersong.” Notably absent from the set list was “Alive With The Glory Of Love,” which may arguably be their most popular, and its void came to much of the dismay of many complaining, disappointed fans. However, the band more than over compensated the omission by including tracks that are often missing from their live performances, including Defense Of The Genre‘s “Surgically Removing The Tracking Device,” which Bemis prefaced by stating this tour was the first time the band had been playing the song live, despite the album coming out seven years earlier. From the same record, the band performed “This Is Fucking Ecstasy” as well as “Baby Girl, I’m A Blur.”

When it comes to bands like Say Anything, whose debut or very early records have spawned such a devote and diehard following, it becomes difficult to find the balance to please both new fans and old. Bemis addressed this problem fairly early on in the set, candidly discussing a problem musicians who have been actively writing, recording and performing as long as Say Anything often face.

“We’ve been playing together for nearly 15 years,” Bemis said to the screaming crowd before him at Starland Ballroom, one of the three dates in the area. “And the best thing about being in a band that has played together for so long is that we have fans who love our old records, as well as listen to the new ones, so thank you.” He proceeded to promise an eclectic mix of songs.

This particular stop served as a homecoming for main supporting band The Front Bottoms, who proudly hail from Bergen County. The energy found within the crowd during their set rivaled that of the headliner’s, which says a lot; as in relation to Say Anything, The Front Bottoms are still somewhat newcomers. Bemis called upon the band’s guitarist/vocalist Brian Sella to join him on stage for a song halfway through their set, and once it ended, began to inquire about his New Jersey roots, to which he replied that he was “both born and raised.”

Say Anything seemed genuinely thrilled to be playing in New Jersey again, with Bemis at one point recalling his personal, yet dark, connections to Starland Ballroom before performing an acoustic version of “Spores” during an encore. Soon he was joined again by the rest of the band to perform their final two tracks, ending with “Boyd,” which he related to his love for the classic New Jersey hardcore scene.

“When I first started listening to hardcore, every band was from New Jersey,” he announced to roaring fans. “So this one is a little harder.” “Boyd” did not disappoint, as Bemis obviously channeled these influences as he thrashed around the stage, ending the set on a high note with such intense power it seemed to leave no one disappointed.