(View photos from the show last night.)
Fall Out Boy's concert Wednesday night at the Pageant afforded many opportunities, but primary among them was the chance to answer, in one continuous sitting, that ancient question: What are the precise differences among prattle, drivel and patter? To compile a highlight reel of between-song chat, you would have experienced prattle about Bruce Wayne, patter about drinking and dancing on tables, and drivel about the geographic possibility of St. Louis being in Indiana. (Seriously.) You would have also heard semi-coherent information about AIDS in Africa (for which this concert was organized by (RED)Nights).
Depending on your age, you found these half-mumbled reveries and tumble of non sequiturs endearing or unintelligible. And depending on your disposition, you guessed it either congenital quirk or willful shtick. But only your pulse rate (alive or long dead) determined if you knew it was all the compulsive yammering of Pete Wentz, bassist for Fall Out Boy. Had Wentz said something funny, the show might've qualified as vaudeville.
Not to be unfair, but a spotlight did shine purposefully on Wentz at every break, allowing him to peacock for the assembled (and adoring) teenyboppery. None of this behavior is new for FOB concertgoers or for those who only read magazines at the supermarket or have Internet access. A songpoet for Gen Y, Wentz holds sway over those for whom Facebook crushes and fortune-cookie Tweets can combine to constitute a sexual relationship. His self-aggrandizing goofiness (and his role as the band's lyricist) has long fascinated fans and threatened to overshadow the band (especially drummer Andy Hurley and guitarist Joe Trohman, who might as well co-host a fishing show with Alan Greenspan). It's palpable. It's undeniable. If Fall Out Boy was an island, its chief currency would be singer Patrick Stump's voice and its chief export would be Pete Wentz.
To be sure, Stump appeared by turns exasperated and, well, genuinely stumped by Wentz's sun-dried chestnuts. Just another day at the office. What Stump does understand, increasingly, is that voice of his; it's gone from froggy to honeyed in the span of five albums, and even without the high-gloss of FOB's studio production, he managed to sell those anthems all by himself. Out they came, one by one, each cut from a sonic cloth that's been stitched into our aughts: breakneck tempos matched by big-chorus hooks matched by confessional hand-wringing. "This Ain't A Scene, It's An Arms Race," "Sugar, We're Goin' Down," "Thnks Fr Th Mmrs": all simultaneously distinctive and generic. Call it bubblegum hardcore, call it emo (if you must), or just call it what Total Request Live hath wrought. Whatever it's called, it is the stencil within which many millions of teenagers (and some stunted adults) trace their lives. And it's what transformed a crowd of individuals at the Pageant into a collection of baby-ostrich stares, silently mouthing Wentz's words like scripture.
"I Don't Care," one of the better songs from their newest, Folie à Deux, may be Wentz's response to high-school bullies (as he jabbered into his microphone), but it's also representative of FOB's movement away from their navel. As their most recent pass at a great album, Folie exceeds in guest stars -- Lil' Wayne, Elvis Costello -- just as much as it succeeds in broadening their musical range. Not everything is slicked up or punked out. Although Folie traffics too heavily in the perils of fame (yawn, snooze, snore), it does move beyond the bloat of their earlier work.
Not for nothing, then, did they cover Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" (aided by Brendon Urie from Panic! at the Disco). As a statement about their brand of pop music or about their longevity, it could signal FOB's commitment to loud and fast as surely as to their cautious optimism. Or it could just signal that they love the song (as must everyone in America, post-Sopranos). In any case, you can't quite imagine the size of Wentz's wackadoodle personality getting any bigger without there being a total eclipse.
Let's face it: Nobody's perfect (least of all FOB), and the prospect that they might soon experience the same fallout-and-reunion odyssey of Blink-182 (with whom they are currently on tour) is very real. Pop bands don't live forever. But pop figures, rest assured, do. Just listen to the dolphin-pitched shrieks the next time Pete Wentz goes gratuitously shirtless at the end of a show. You'll understand.
Chester French, also on loan from the Blink-182's tour, began the evening's entertainment. The duo -- recent Harvard grads, singer Andrew Wallach and guitarist Maxwell Drummey -- played songs from their debut album Love the Future, an effective mix of electro-pop and synthesized soul. Alongside a few other hired hands on stage, Wallach and Drummey didn't really equal the hype or fulfill the hope that they've been given the last few years. Only during their cover of the Shangri-Las' "Remember (Walking in the Sand)" did they approach a level of competence and appeal found in similar but far superior bands (see Chromeo).
Yes, Pharrell Williams may have won a bidding war over them. They also may have risen as meteorically as Vampire Weekend and MGMT, whose only common denominator, granted, is their youth. But that's no reason for a stage demeanor as aggressive as Wallach's: At the juncture of smarmy and cocksure, it's at the very least premature and at worst insufferable.
The problem was more than those umpteenth commands to "get your hands in the fucking air." Their set had zero intimacy: Whereas "She Loves Everybody" comes off as public-service pillow talk on disc, it assumes the quality, live, of a hallway shout meant to embarrass. You could say that the audience enjoyed Chester French, but it was an enjoyment enforced by volume and by mandate, like at a wedding reception.
More intimate (if only because it was a solo acoustic set) was Brendon Urie's handful of Panic! tunes, along with his cover of Tenacious D's "Fuck Her Gently." There was certainly a detectable swell of shared emotion in the crowd; though Panic! may be in creative limbo now, you got the feeling that Urie could, if he wanted, forge a solo career. May he avoid the fate of Ryan Adams.