Two things I didn’t expect to do when I saw Fall Out Boy at the Xcel Energy Center on Sunday: eat mini donuts and ponder nuclear annihilation.
The band is now both a mall rat legacy act and a contemporary pop-rock chart-topping juggernaut, and their set did a sometimes solid, sometimes awkward job of reconciling their career’s two distinct phases, divided by their 2009-2013 hiatus. The awkwardness, when it appeared, had less to do with the music than with the stadium rock accouterments.
All three of the night’s acts—Fall Out Boy, Jaden Smith, and Blackbear—made use of projector screens. Smith danced in front of footage of himself dancing and sometimes rapping in a white Batman suit. Blackbear (he spells his name in all lowercase, but we don’t allow that sort of thing around here) used a screen to display his weird, steampunk-looking logo, which consists of a snake curling around a “b” in a way that vaguely resembles a treble clef. (Why a snake and not a bear?) Fall Out Boy played most of their set in front of a huge screen, which displayed video montages that were sometimes related to the songs, sometimes not.
This big screen was distracting, to say the least. They just kept putting weird shit up there. Before the band elevatored up from within the floor to kick off their set, the screen displayed some rippling, screensaver-esque water. During “Uma Thurman,” it showed a lot of Uma Thurman bits from Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill. During “American Beauty/American Psycho,” it briefly flashed the slogan “Make America Psycho Again,” which, considering who’s in the White House and the actual themes of American Psycho (the book), made me wonder what exactly would be different.
During “The Last of the Real Ones,” the screen inexplicably showed video of a school of CGI fish swimming through a river flanked to either side by shelves of ice; meanwhile, in front of this placid visual, flames were shooting out of the stage floor. During “Centuries,” in a brief display of near-coherence, the screen showed footage of Colin Kaepernick kneeling and Muhammad Ali; then there was a smash cut to a volcano spewing lava. During “Immortals,” FOB’s song from the Big Hero 6 soundtrack, it showed a montage from Big Hero 6.
But the weirdest (maybe best?) thing they did with the screen was to accompany “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race” with some Trinity site atomic bomb test footage borrowed straight from episode eight of Twin Peaks: The Return. After all, the song’s lyrics do seem vaguely relatable to both 1) actual arms races, and 2), our present national predicament, in which stray words from our leader could realistically have catastrophic consequences.
Later, during “I Don’t Care,” the screen showed a montage of people, characters and animals raising the middle finger.
But let’s turn away from the screen here, and get back to the actual music, which I would say was the best part of the show. That’s probably a good thing!
Like I said before, Fall Out Boy’s career has two distinct phases. From 2003-2008, they were an anthemic pop-punk band that chewed more and more aesthetic scenery with each album. But with their cheekily titled 2013 comeback, Save Rock and Roll, and its follow-up, 2015’s American Beauty/American Psycho, they went full stadium rock/pop. They may have been the biggest act of emo’s “hair metal” phase in the mid-aughts, but they didn’t actually build a song around a Mötley Crüe sample till years after that era ended.
Despite the evolution of their sound, it’s been the same four dudes in the band for the entire time anybody’s cared about them. Unfortunately, that same-four-dudes-ness tends to get lost in the uniformly gross, inhuman production on their most recent hits. So one of the pleasures of Sunday’s show was being able to hear those songs in slightly less-processed form; they settled in as inoffensive stadium rock songs that hang okay with the more revved-up old hits everyone else was listening to while I was deep in my middle school “Led Zeppelin is the only band” phase of ‘06/’07.
I like my pop-punk fast, so I would give the edge to the band’s early material over the robo-rocking, Munsters theme-sampling iteration of today. 2005’s “Dance, Dance” was the peak of the show, with its dramatic lyrics, menacing riff, and classic d-beat showing what the members retain from their time cutting their teeth in Chicago hardcore bands, even though they’ve now spent a decade playing the kinds of venues where you can buy state fair concessions (in my case, the aforementioned mini donuts). There is a level of energy and compositional density to it that’s missing now. The same goes for the way Patrick Stump jams all Pete Wentz’s words into complexly catchy vocal melodies on “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” and “Grand Theft Autumn.”
Fall Out Boy brought a lot of stadium rock frippery with them: a catwalk for the members to run down and then back, two big floating risers aside from the main stage, a drum solo, a bunch of flamethrowers, fireworks, confetti, and mascots firing t shirt cannons. At one point a piece of pyrotechnic equipment malfunctioned and spewed fire from the ceiling for two thirds of a whole song. They closed their set with “Saturday,” off their debut album, 2003’s Take This to Your Grave, and for that one, even the big screen behind them went blank. (And then t-shirts parachuted from the rafters into the crowd.)
A note on Jaden Smith: He did about 30 seconds of Lil Yachty’s “Minnesota” before closing out his set. I have low-simmering personal beef with Yachty, but I absolutely hope that becomes a thing that rappers do when they visit here.
The crowd: Wide range in age. Lotta people in Blackbear T-shirts. Some kids who presumably only fell in with Fall Out Boy because of Big Hero 6. The parents who brought those kids. One guy I went to college with.
Random notebook dump: Patrick Stump is a great singer. I’d put him at the same level as Paul Weller and Ted Leo, two other guys who do the punk rock/blue-eyed soul thing with casual virtuosity.
Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down
American Beauty/American Psycho
Save Rock And Roll
The Last of the Real Ones
Young and Menace
Thnks fr th mmrs
I Don’t Care
This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race
Grand Theft Autumn/Where Is Your Boy
My Songs Know What You Did In the Dark (Light Em Up)