Barry, the bartender upstairs at McGee's on 55th Street, knew exactly which concert I was going to. "You're going to the Alkaline Trio and New Found Glory show at Terminal 5, right?" he said with jealousy. Barry is a pop punk fan, and when he plays his favorite music over the sports bar sound system, he frequently overhears people saying, "Oh, I remember when I listened to this in high school."
Such is the legacy of bands like Alkaline Trio and New Found Glory. Their brand of music is remembered fondly by some, and despised by others, often written off as a thing of the past. But among the hundreds of fans who went to Sunday's show at Terminal 5 in New York City, pop punk is a scene very much alive and well, although increasingly measured against its glory days, a decade and a half ago.
H2O, a punk rock quintet from New York City, warmed up the crowd with their old-school and intensely masculine hardcore music. In black t-shirts and camouflage pants, and short hair turning gray, the men in H2O alternated between short outbursts of primal energy and moments of reflection over their long and winding career. "Who here listened to us in 1996?" lead singer Toby Morse asked a cheering audience. "And who here was born in 1996?" Not so few raised their hands, and two 17-year-old fans received a free H2O t-shirt each.
New Found Glory opened their set with an animated version of their 2004 hit "All Downhill From Here," a distillate of all the elements that make up the band's style: edgy riffs, fast verses, and choruses in half tempo, with melodies sweet as honey. The lead singer, Jordan Pundik, has a voice so buttery it quickly becomes tiring, but he sure knows how to write a good pop song. The band put on a fun show, playing crowd-pleasers from across their 16-year catalog, and two motion picture soundtrack covers, Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," and Sixpence None the Richer's "Kiss Me," which they dedicated to Freddie Prince Jr.
New Found Glory was one of the more successful bands of the pop punk wave of the early 2000s, although never as big as, say, Blink 182 or Green Day. They seem content at this stage in their career, playing packed houses of happy 20-somethings all over the country. But during their set at Terminal 5 they, too, take time to reminisce. "Next year, our Catalyst
record is going to be 10 years old," the lead guitarist and chief conversationalist Chad Gilbert said. "Who here bought it when it came out?"
After that, it was time for the evening's final band, Alkaline Trio. The Chicago three-piece has a solid cult status among followers of modern punk rock -- unsmiling and fiercely serious, they make music that is often poppy but never lighthearted. In matching varsity jackets emblazoned with the Alkaline Trio skull and heart logo, Matt Skiba, Dan Andriano, and Derek Grant marched on stage and opened with "Cringe," the first track off their first record, 1998's Goddamnit!
The best moments during Sunday's concert was when all three members sang in harmony, the drummer Derek Grant leaning into a microphone behind his left shoulder, beating the drums without mercy. Taking a cue from their role models and fellow power trio, Nirvana, Alkaline Trio played a lot of old, rough, material, along with newer, less punky numbers. Alkaline Trio writes better songs than New Found Glory, with more lyrical depth and more innovative melodies. But lacking the humor of New Found Glory, and the humility of H2O, Alkaline Trio put on a show that was surprisingly dull. I expected them to be the highlight of the evening, but came out of the venue humming New Found Glory tunes and smiling at the image of that band's Falstaffian bass player, Ian Grushka, beating out the rhythm of the punk pop gem "Understatement" on his big belly.