Photos by Brittany Menjivar
All Time Low is on the radio now. Some fans have mixed feelings about this, considering that historically, it’s been a pop punk band that teens could turn to as an alternative to mainstream hits. These people needn’t fear, though, because All Time Low’s recent show at Rams Head Live! was still very much a rock show. Full of roaring guitars, unfiltered banter, and electric energy, all four bands brought the perfect summer storm to cloudy Baltimore.
The first band to play that night was The Wrecks. I knew that the set would be far from boring as soon I saw and heard vocalist Nick Anderson, who looked like any bespectacled college student but sang with enough intensity to demolish a small building. He utilized the whole stage, stirring up the atmosphere in the room enough to ensure that nobody would stay quite still for the rest of the night. The band presented a variety of sounds falling under the indie rock umbrella, from “Life,” which evoked the brash feel of “Give it Away”-era Red Hot Chili Peppers, to “Favorite Liar,” which sounded vaguely folksy and featured a spiraling chorus that was as acerbic as it was fun to sing.
Waterparks followed. This Houston rock band just won the Best Breakthrough Artist award at the APMAs, and it’s easy to see why. Whether he was singing “It’s like a bad day in new shoes” during “Hawaii (Stay Awake)” or telling the audience, “On the count of three, everyone make the noise you’re gonna make when you die,” lead vocalist Awsten Knight seemed 100% ready to toss his honest thoughts and personality onto the stage. Bandmates Geoff Wigington and Otto Wood also seemed at home in front of the crowd—Wigington rocking out on the guitar and singing a verse in “Crave,” and Wood banging on the drums.
As they blended pop punk instrumentation with electronic flourishes and hooks that could sweep you off your feet like you’re in a wave pool, Knight, Wigington, and Wood seemed unabashedly unique rather than manufactured. When the crowd became caught up in their energy, the room took on a vibe that was purely celebratory. Although it’s hard to choose one highlight from their set, there’s no doubt that “Stupid For You,” an upbeat love song that stays away from clichés, was especially fun to hop around to.
The next band was SWMRS, a group of punk rockers from Oakland California. I instinctively compared vocalist Cole Becker, who was wearing a floral dress with sneakers, to Matt Shultz of Cage the Elephant, who has rocked similar outfits onstage and is also a wild, ever-moving force when he sang. However, the band’s ethos reminded me of something else—the original wave of punk rock bands. In the tradition of their musical predecessors, Becker made it clear that SWMRS uses its position as a band not only to make high-energy jams, but also to preach “unity,” which happened to be the word written on his guitar. “Unity” meant that Becker got the room to applaud for both their mothers and the venue security. It also meant that at one point, he shouted, “We do not tolerate sexual assault!” to roaring applause.
Inseparable from this activism was true artistry. Every song SWMRS performed was characterized by explosive instrumentation and a delightfully fast pace, from “Miley” (an ode to the pop singer) to “D’You Have A Car?” (which would make the perfect driving song). Near the set’s end, Becker declared, “If you have to remember nothing else, just remember this. Rock and roll and real music are not gonna solve your problem, but they will help you to figure them out. So sing along with us.” And the crowd sang, beaming in agreement. When the band concluded with “Drive North,” Becker shouting “I hate Los Angeles!” during the chorus, his passion was so infectious that surely every Marylander in the house could relate to his California problems.
During the break before All Time Low’s set, lights were arranged around the stage, and bandana-wearing stagehands who looked suspiciously like the guy on the cover of the band’s new album, Last Young Renegade, could be seen darting back and forth. Eventually, the popular pop punkers strode onstage as lasers shot out and a screen behind them glowed with graphics. Confident, but still affable-seeming, they launched into “Last Young Renegade,” setting the tone for a show that would feature a lot of the band’s newer tracks. If any fans were worried that they wouldn’t get to hear any of their old-school ATL favorites, though, their fears were likely allayed when the band transitioned into 2009 fan favorite “Damned If I Do Ya (Damned If I Don’t).”
Admittedly, back in my freshman year of high school, when everyone was obsessing over All Time Low, I never really delved into the band’s music. Watching them up close, though, surrounded by people with All Time Low t-shirts (and even face paint), I saw how much the band meant to its fans, and how much energy the band members put into connecting with them. Surely, the fact that they were playing a hometown show added to the sense of exuberance buzzing in the air, which sometimes took the form of bras flying toward the stage.
The band had a penchant for crude humor; for example, Barakat and vocalist Alex Gaskarth made an “If you see something, say something” joke about boogers. The guys also showed a more emotional, vulnerable side, though. This side emerged during “Dirty Laundry,” a ballad featuring a beautifully melodic chorus and soft electronic interludes. It resurfaced during “Therapy,” an ATL classic that discusses depression. Heartbreaking lyrics like “They’ll fall asleep without you” were even more tragic when hundreds of young people were singing along to them as one unit, channeling Gaskarth’s pain.
Overall, All Time Low’s set was an entertaining mix of both old and new material. The finale summed this balance up nicely—the second-to-last song was “Drugs & Candy,” one of the catchiest songs from Last Young Renegade, whereas the last song was “Dear Maria, Count Me In.” When the fans sang, “I’ve got your picture, I’m coming with you,” they sounded the happiest they’d been the whole time—and that’s saying a lot, considering that most had been grinning incessantly. Even if none of the bands solved anyone’s problems that night, as SWMRS pointed out, I have no doubt that they gave many concertgoers an empowering burst of joy, whether that joy came from an unforgettable song, a speech promoting equality for all, or a booger joke.