From Chicago Softcore to Arena Tours: Can Fall Out Boy Still Be Punk?

I went to go see Fall Out Boy last month. This probably doesn’t come as much as a surprise to anyone who knows me, or anyone who reads this zine/blog/collaborative punk rock endeavour on the regular. The number of times that I’ve seen Fall Out Boy live throughout the years has clocked into the double digits, only beaten by New Found Glory’s insane touring repertoire. But last month, it was the first time I’d ever seen them take to an arena stage, and for me, the magic had gone.

There’s a light on in Chicago, but nobody’s home any more.

Fall Out Boy were probably in the best form they’ve been in for years. Patrick’s weight loss is more than just cosmetic – he can sing without losing his breath, and he dives around the stage like a charismatic little maniac. He has, finally, become the frontman he always should have been. Joe’s still an absolute hero, pulling off sweet guitar solos like nothing else matters, and Andy’s Andy; a vegan straight-edge no-nonsense motherfucker who gets down to business. Pete looked a little weathered, and the realisation that the entire front four rows are just screaming teenage girls meant that he didn’t dive into the crowd for ‘Saturday’ like before, but hey, we’ve all got to grow up sometime, and there’s still a little bit of that devilish charm left in our boy Wentz. Perhaps that’s it – Fall Out Boy are finally grown-ups, and Pete is no longer Peter Pan; those tired eyes are no longer hidden behind smeared black eyeliner. This added maturity obviously isn’t bad at all, and Save Rock and Roll is an extremely accomplished album. Ten solid slices of radio-friendly rock gold (and ‘Save Rock and Roll’ but we don’t talk about that), all tied together with one weird video concept, which actually made a great backdrop for the night. The stage at the NIA was backed by a huge array of screens, showing various bits from the Save Rock and Roll videos. They played a couple of token tracks off Take This to Your Grave. There was a good selection off From Under the Cork Tree. In theory, it had the makings to be one of the better sets I’ve seen from Fall Out Boy, but I left feeling a little bit empty. It’s not their fault; they’ve just moved on.

From Under The Cork Tree hasn’t hit the fire just yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

To truly understand why this hurts, you have to realise what a huge part of my adolescence Fall Out Boy were. I didn’t have a great amount of friends in high school. I was the school goth for a while, and after that, I was just another loser. The friends that I did have didn’t quite get my love of punk rock, black metal and Japanese pop music. There was one boy who did, and he pretty much took my heart and stomped on it, over and over. But Fall Out Boy were always there for me. Pete’s perfect poetry and Patrick’s dulcet tones carried me through, and I developed a fervour for them that even my adoration of AFI didn’t quite match. My love affair with AFI is a lifelong, consistent dedication – always there, burning slowly in the background. My obsession with Fall Out Boy was more like young love; it hit me fast and hard. I made friends with a bunch of people on online forums who felt the same, and when I felt lost, they were always there for me. My sister and I went to as many FOB shows as our parents would drive to, and we would sit wide-eyed in the back seat on the way home, awestruck by what we’d just witnessed. It’s not necessarily that FOB were technically that good (as a live band, they seriously took it up a notch at the NIA last month, but I’ve seen them just going through the motions before), but we always felt at home in those festival crowds, at those London venues, and we screamed the lyrics until we couldn’t scream any more.

I sang a little at the show last month. I mouthed the words a bit. I’m not totally jaded; give me a sweaty punk rock basement show and I’ll throw down with the best of them. Eyeliner can always be reapplied, clothes can always be changed, but the spark that the right show can ignite is priceless and dangerous. There’s a reason why punk rock and authority have never been great bedfellows. Fall Out Boy no longer ignite that spark in me. In a huge arena, denim vests covered in Fall Out Boy patches sell for £50, and boys in SoulCal polo shirts shrug when the show ends on ‘Saturday’. Middle-aged women who heard ‘Young Volcanoes’ on Radio 1 dance drunkenly around me, and there’s a girl in a Ramones t-shirt that didn’t recognise ‘Sheena is a Punk Rocker’ when they played it through the PA before the set started. I can’t say that Fall Out Boy sold out; who am I to deny them the success that they completely deserve? Moving on musically increased their popularity phenomenally after the trainwreck that was Folie a Deux (I mean seriously, what the hell was that), and Save Rock and Roll is still a great album, even if it lacks the emotional depth and the youthful arrogance of its predecessors. And I don’t want to be elitist; I don’t want to claim FOB for myself and teenage girl misfits everywhere. I just want to feel something when I listen to their records. I just want to feel connected when I see them up on that stage. I just want to feel unafraid and reckless.

Instead, I felt very alone that night, awash in a sea of perfectly practised motions. My boyfriend provided a much-needed lifeline (and he let me rant as much as my brain could handle) but Fall Out Boy are no longer the heroes I need. They may have saved rock and roll, and they once stirred my young and fragile heart, but they’ve gone onto bigger and better things. It takes something different to light that fire in the core of my soul now, but it burns stronger than ever. Thanks for the memories; they were truly great, but memories are now all they are.

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