Halloween at the Sands Event Center
Halloween in your late teens can sometimes end up being a strange game of adolescent limbo. The depressing reality of being too old for trick-or-treating yet too young for the bar scene leaves a limited amount of options in between - which is why I was incredibly stoked to get to head up to Bethlehem, PA and catch The Wonder Years on their tour with The Story So Far, Modern Baseball, and Gnarwolves at the Sands Event Center on the night of Halloween. The bands had asked fans to attend in costume, and also had promised copious amounts of free candy along with a bunch of old songs in their setlist that had never been performed previously.
British trio Gnarwolves had never toured the US prior to this run, but the guys looked completely at ease as they blasted through their set, which consisted of a lot of pounding drums, super fast punk beats and gritty vocals. These guys have made a name for themselves in the British skate punk community, yet were able to carry over their sound on a large stage as opposed to through skate park speakers without losing their edge. Although the crowd was not very responsive during their set, I can imagine that their next visit to the states will have a lot more kids piling up over the barricade and showing off their love for this band - especially since they just released an LP through Pure Noise records earlier in the fall.
Next up was Modern Baseball, a band of four Philadelphia natives who have garnered a lot of attention from the demographic of pop-punk loving kids over the course of the past year and a half. I first saw these guys open The Wonder Years’ album release show in a church basement in Philadelphia last summer, and it has been very surreal to watch the progress they have made since that night. The first two songs they played, “Fine, Great” and “Broken Cash Machine”, are also the first two songs on their last LP, “You’re Gonna Miss It All”, released through Run for Cover Records. An incredibly relatable album about navigating the perils of college, heartbreak, and figuring out exactly what you’re doing with your life, this is one of those bands you will inevitably find yourself dancing along to, even if it’s your first time watching them perform. Their set was a little more pulled together than I remember it being in the past, but it only makes sense that a polished live show would come with the territory of playing so many large stages the past few months - the crowd of 1,900 sure was a far cry from their nights of playing basements and the Golden Tea House back in Philly. Their homemade ghost costumes - white sheets, beanies, and boxer shorts - seemed to be a perfect fit for these guys and the fun they like to have on stage.
The Story So Far hit the stage soon after, making it clear that they had taken the costume challenge very seriously - with one skeleton, one European DJ ensemble complete with attached DIY boom box, and three white tank tops with fake mustaches and slicked back hair, the TSSF guys definitely won the contest as far as band originality was concerned. Starting the set off with Empty Space, one of the singles off of their LP released last year, the crowd was immediately alive and shoving up against the stage with a force they had not shown for the previous two bands. Frontman Parker Cannon brought his usual energy and angst, leaning over the barricade to lend the mic to crowd surfers when they got close. The songs that followed were an even mix of tracks from What You Don’t See and the band’s debut LP, Under Soil and Dirt, which was also the record that attracted TSSF their loyal fan base when they were still all around 18 years old. They threw 680 South into the mix towards the end, which was a definite highlight for all fans in the room that fell in love with the band for their earlier material and stuck around to watch them progress.
By the time The Wonder Years made their way to the stage, the anticipation of the crowd and the energy in the room felt nearly palpable. Another band that worked tirelessly to create a name for themselves in the DIY Philly scene before building up enough momentum to be headlining in an arena of this size, frontman Dan “Soupy” Campbell took a moment to reflect on when the band had played to a crowd of 30 down the street only a few years prior, proving that this band is and always will be humble, hardworking, and full of appreciation for the fans who supported them through their journey.
Starting off the set with “Dismantling Summer”, a song written about the frontman’s grandfather and his battles with illness and hospital stays, kids were immediately crowd surfing up and over the barrier faster than security could catch them. Transitioning into “Don’t Let Me Cave In”, “There, There”, “Passing Through A Screen Door”, and “We Could Die Like This”, the common denominator of overcoming anxiety and depression held on through the story lines of most of the setlist. The band took a quick break midway through for the much-anticipated costume contest, calling a very authentic-looking Jesus, Ron Burgundy, Hey Arnold, and Hank the Pigeon to the stage, much to the delight of the screaming crowd. “I Just Want To Sell Out My Funeral” served as the perfect, all-encompassing encore, the medley of “The Greatest Generation” tracks ending the night on a high note before the band left the stage in their breakfast-themed costumes, vowing to come back soon.
All in all, I saw no weak spots in this show and thought every band really brought their own unique type of energy to the event. Be sure to connect with them on social media and look them up on Spotify so you can sing along next time they’re in the area.