Pop-punk powerhouses Four Year Strong performed at Auckland’s Kings Arms last night, supported by Written By Wolves and Lookin’ Up. The 13th Floor’s Cameron Miller ventured out to the soon-to-be closed venue to see what all the noise was about.
I’d honestly never heard of Four Year Strong before agreeing to do this review. Upon doing some research and checking out some YouTube videos, I figured I knew exactly how this review was going to go. Pop-punk band past their best-before date dusts off breakout album for anniversary tour, cynically wringing the last possible dollars out of a dwindling fan base and an over-commercialised genre that should have been left in the previous decade.
From reading Wikipedia, it seem Four Year Strong helped popularise a genre of pop punk germinated by New Found Glory and Sum 41, known as (shudder) Easycore. Gah! Blasphemy! False! Sellout! Nothing -core should be easy, my underground snob heart cries. Hardcore should be all broken glass and vomit, shredded vocal chords and oppression and violence. This happy shouting and bouncing is a sanitised travesty.
So with my mind made up and my self-important tastes unassailable, I trudged through the rain that was pouring down on Four Year Strong’s parade last night at the King’s Arms.
I wasn’t in time to catch Written By Wolves, but I arrived just as second openers Lookin Up were setting up. These guys were some trad hardcore punk fun, with a bit of pop punk shining through at odd moments. They had good, catchy riffs that chugged when they needed to chug and galloped when they needed to gallop.
The drummer was a highlight, pounding away enthusiastically, all flamboyantly flailing limbs and wide grin. The vocals failed to impress sadly. They were completely inaudible at the start, which to be fair seemed a technical problem. However even when fixed, they lacked the power or conviction to match the aggression and energy the instruments were putting out.
I liked Lookin Up best when they kept it quick, loud and nasty. The longer, more melodic songs had some moments where musical cliches started creeping in. Not that the more aggressive pieces were revolutionising the genre, but tropes are always more enjoyable when they don’t outstay their welcome. Overall though they played with energy and promising talent, and the crowd cheered them off happily.
After the wait between sets, the excited cheers of the crowd dragged me lazily from the couch outside and into the back rows, ready to stand stony faced and unimpressed as Four Year Strong re-hashed their glory days. Not two songs in, though, realisation crept in with dawning horror:
They’re killing it.
There goes my street cred.
As much as my inner snob is humiliated to admit, it was an immediate and sustained night of high energy and fun atmosphere. I’ll never buy a Four Year Strong album, and this entire style of music will never be something I seek out. But you just can’t fake the genuine enthusiasm and joy in performing Four Year Strong brought to the stage, or the rambunctious and excitable crowd response. It felt like a raucous garage party among friends, the atmosphere so good humoured I found it impossible to play the curmudgeon.
It definitely wasn’t a night in which I was blown away by musical accomplishment. These were still brash, simple chantalong songs, pop rock with breakdowns thrown in, nothing to drop jaws on the floor.
On top of that, repeated technical issues halted the gig a couple of times between songs, at one point long enough for the irrepressible crowd to get a singalong going. The band played tightly and professionally, though, and the mix added well to the bombastic riffs and drums. The camaraderie was superb, with lots of chats to the audience between songs, and shouts to jump around and sing along.
The fans repaid them, the mid-sized crowd up front leaping, surging and crowd surfing throughout the night. One woman shouted out that it was her birthday, and was invited onstage for hugs, and even encouraged to perform her first ever crowd surf. That confirmed for me the band’s likeability, and the genuine appreciation they displayed for their fans.
It was a short gig, which for me just meant that they didn’t overstay their welcome, though I imagine the fans may have wanted more. Given that Four Year Strong managed to bring a smile to my grumpy purist face, though, their dedicated fans must have been given a night to remember.
Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Nikita Weir: