It's tempting to be unnecessarily candid, but I do find it strange that with a band like MxPx being around for fifteen years now, I hadn't ever seen the band live until at a festival last Summer and in the short time since then, I've seen them twice more. But this may partly have something to do with the fact that not only is the band back on Tooth & Nail Records, but they're doing more things in the "Christian music" circuit once again. And in this case, the band is headlining another leg of the popular Tooth & Nail Tour this Spring. The tour is boasting such fresh talent as Sullivan, The Fold, The Classic Crime, and Hawk Nelson, as well as special dates with Run Kid Run and Project 86. When the tour rolled into Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, it happened to be the core lineup - minus RKR and Project. Interestingly, too, the show had been rescheduled from a Wednesday, May 23rd date to Sunday the 20th, also giving the show a 5:30pm start time. Regardless, I was still shocked to walk in a normally packed Troc theater to find the place nearly empty. Sure it may not be too unexpected for a hundred people to turn out to see the smaller acts, but when a band with such a history as MxPx doesn't even pack them in, you have to wonder who's at fault - a band's lack of popularity or simply inexcusably poor show promotion?
It just didn't add up to me. Especially when you're adding a crowd-drawing act like Hawk Nelson into the mix. But when we walked in, eccentric alt-rock act Sullivan was already sweating up the stage, playing select tracks from their debut Hey, I'm a Ghost and their upcoming album Cover Your Eyes. The band reminded me of mewithoutYou in a lot of ways, which made them out to be a rather odd fit for this particular tour lineup. However, stylistically all of the bands meshed quite well. From indie rock to pop/punk to the forefathers of the latter genre filling in the headlining slot, it was a promised good time. And indeed it was.
Admittedly, I was especially looking forward to seeing The Fold live again. I first saw them misplaced on Project 86's Fall 2005 And The Rest Will Follow Tour, before the band even had released their fun indie rock debut. And with their sophomore project Secrets Keep You Sick just days from releasing, the band had even more material at their disposal. The rock quartet opened with "The Title Track" from This Too Shall Pass, giving the audience a taste of familiarity before playing a brand new one, "Down In Doubt And Living Without." The band continued to mixup the "old" and the new, continuing with "Backseat Driver" and then two new ones, the album's first single, "New Skeptic" and the infectious album opener, "Medicine." To their surprise, the band was given time for one more due to an unfortunate complication that would later be revealed, and they closed with the opening track from their debut, "Gravity." The Fold exhibited plenty of energy and excitement in their set to the point that it was hard not to get drawn in. But it was evident that the small crowd was especially looking forward to the later acts, with The Classic Crime up next.
Each artist got kicks from bringing up the fact that the night was The Classic Crime vocalist Matt MacDonald's birthday. So when the band broke into "Flight Of Kings," MacDonald first sucked helium out of a birthday balloon and humorously addressed the crowd in a high-pitched voice. The band's set was entertaining, despite their sound being distinctly reminiscent of Fall Out Boy, and they performed cuts from their debut, Albatross, including "Blisters & Coffee," "Say The Word," "Who Needs Air," "All The Memories," and "The Coldest Heart." The Classic Crime was given extra time to play as well, not that they or the fans seemed to mind. And while MacDonald was a fine frontman for the rock band, we couldn't help but notice the strain in his voice that could eventually lead to vocal damage over time. The Classic guys closed out their extensive set with "The Fight," which was followed by a somewhat lengthy set change.
Although the stage was now prepped for MxPx, a lone black stool and mic stand were set front and center. And before too long, Hawk Nelson vocalist Jason Dunn walked out on stage with acoustic in hand. Dunn sheepishly admitted that over the weekend the band had stayed in Nashville while he went to visit local friends, so when Sunday's show presented itself, the band was still en route from Music City to The City of Brotherly Love. Dunn admitted to not knowing much on guitar and proceeded to play acoustic versions of the band's hits "Letters To The President" and "Everything You Ever Wanted." At this point, Jason openly stated that although he was asked to play four songs, he not only didn't know four of them on guitar, but wasn't sure he even knew three. And despite feeling as though he could get in trouble for it, he proceeded to play a song he'd written just a week earlier that the band hadn't even heard yet, a song bearing the working title "Tonight." After the short performance, Dunn left the stage, with gracious and encouraging applause from the crowd. It was the first time the singer had to perform a solo acoustic set, and he promised the audience that the absence of the band wouldn't happen again.
Despite the stage already having been arranged and readied for the headlining act, another seemingly lengthy intermission followed, before punk rock trio MxPx came out. The audience was still surprisingly small, but enthusiastic nonetheless. And once the threesome burst into "Tomorrow's Another Day," it was clear who most in attendance were there to see. Right away, it was obvious to note that the band's longtime, original drummer Yuri Ruley was absent, but vocalist/bassist Mike Herrera didn't waste time before explaining that he was away due to the birth of a new baby. MxPx mixed up old and new favorites, keeping things fast and fun with "My Life Story," "Responsibility," "Killing Time," "Party, My House, Be There," and the especially delectable "Chick Magnet," before taking a few requests from the audience. Even though fill-in drummer Chris Wilson, of The Summer Obsession, didn't know all of the band's songs, he knew enough of the MxPx oldies to perform tracks like "Middlename," "Want Ad," "Under Lock and Key," and "Let It Happen." And following more selections including the band's cover of The Ramone's "KKK Took My Baby Away," "Heard That Sound," "The Next Big Thing," and a special performance of the title track from their pending new album Secret Weapon, the guys left the stage and returned for an inevitable encore. The crowd unanimously chanted for "Punk Rawk Show," but Herrera emerged and announced that they would start out with one song and would see how it went from there. They then launched into "Do Your Feet Hurt" before answering the fans' cries and closing with the raucous "Punk Rawk Show."
It may have been an odd night for the tour -- a thin crowd, three quarters of one of the main acts were missing, and it was an exceptionally early show, but The Tooth & Nail Tour remains to be a fun night featuring great indie rock and punk rock acts. You can't go wrong with an MxPx set and the lineup accompanying them is just a bonus. Even if you don't like all the acts or are there for just one of them, the assortment of talent gives listeners a good opportunity to sample newcomers and old faithfuls at the same time. If it comes your way, check out the latest leg of The Tooth & Nail Tour!-- John DiBiase, 5/21/07
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