Released Jul. 18th on Sorry Records
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of their 2002 debut album, Tell All Your Friends, Taking Back Sunday played a run of shows on which they performed the album in its entirety. This likely wouldn’t have happened if lineup changes in 2010 hadn’t resulted in the return of guitarist/backing vocalist John Nolan and bassist Shaun Cooper to the group, reuniting the lineup that recorded the album in the first place (Nolan and Cooper had split in 2003 to form Straylight Run, which has since folded). Released as a live album and DVD, TAYF10 captures a show at L.A.’s Troubadour at which the band mixed things up by performing the album acoustically.
This isn’t the first time TBS have done acoustic takes on some of the TAYF tracks: Versions of a few songs, particularly fan favorite “Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut from the Team)”, have popped up on the compilations Punk Goes Acoustic (2003), In Honor: A Compilation to Beat Cancer (2004), a reissue of Tell All Your Friends, and the band’s other live acoustic album Live from Orensanz (2010). A few elements make TAYF10 a little different, mainly the piano and violin accompaniment that adds highlights and accents to many of the numbers.
The crowd participation is another nice inclusion, reminding me very much of that found on Dashboard Confessional’s excellent MTV Unplugged 2.0 (2002), particularly when singer Adam Lazzara cedes the mic over to the audience during the “Why can’t I feel anything from anyone other than you?” bridge during “Cute Without the E”. The appearance of Nolan’s sister Michelle lending backing vocals on “Bike Scene” and “Ghost Man on Third”, as she did on the original album, is another highlight on this performance. Her voice is just lovely, as Straylight Run fans will recall (also, does anyone else remember her special move from Emogame 2.0? Damn!).
Part of the charm of Tell All Your Friends, and why it’s so beloved by fans, is that it’s kind of a mess. Written and recorded when the band members were in their late teens/early twenties, it’s very disjointed. There are musical parts that sound out of place (what’s with that piano into to “The Blue Channel”?), lyrics that are embarrassing in retrospect, and Lazarra and Nolan’s overlapping voices often sound like they’re trying to sing completely different songs. Age, experience, and the acoustic setting of TAYF10 have allowed the band to smooth out and refine a lot of these flaws while still acknowledging that this charming naiveté is what made the album so popular in emo circles. “The Blue Channel”, for example, is significantly slowed here and the intro, played on organ and violin, fits the song much more in this version. At the end of “Great Romances of the 20th Century” Lazarra has a chuckle at his own youthful lyrics: “I have a really hard time bringing myself to sing that ‘Is this turning you on?’ part. <audience cheers> Oh, stop.” He also has a laugh at the poor title of “Head Club”, which here receives pretty much a complete instrumental rewrite, transforming its first half into a jangly Mumford & Sons-style folk/bluegrass number before it works its way back around to emo rock for the latter half.
This being a live record, there are some flaws, mainly with Lazzara’s vocal performance. He flubs/misses some lines, and his tonality fluctuates a bit wildly early on (though it gets smoother as the performance continues). These are pretty common characteristics of his live performances, though. He’s always been pretty loose onstage, more concerned with theatrics than pace or pitch. Still, it often makes him sound like he’s out of breath or something. On TAYF10 it’s not a big deal, since it just sort of plays into the loose feel of the performance. From what I read elsewhere, the DVD includes a good amount of stage banter on the stories behind the songs and the album’s recording, moments which are regrettably missing from the audio album. As it clocks in at only 43 minutes, there was plenty of room on there to include some of the stories.
TAYF10 is, as Lazzara mentions in the album’s final moments, a lot of fun. The acoustic rearrangements of the songs are interesting and give them a fresh, intimate feel, while the energy and participation of the audience helps create a facsimile of being there. It should tide fans over until the group issues their sixth proper studio album, which they’re currently working on.