This is a weird tour. For a start, it sees All Time Low taking a step down to smaller venues, particularly after their last two arena runs in the UK have been so successful. But it also marks the start of a transitional, experimental phase for them, one which, when Last Young Renegade is released in June, will leave shockwaves that’ll ripple through the rest of the career.
As such, it feels as though that has an effect on their setlist tonight, but more on that later. First, it’s up to Waterparks (6) to kick things off, and the fact that they’re still getting used to these sorts of big shows is obvious, even if Awsten Knight’s natural charisma manages to mask any real nerves. Their live sound misses the prominent, buzzing electronics that are only really present in Crave, and while the likes of Made In America and Royal sound decent enough as far as pop-rock goes, they’re a bit hollow overall. Still, Waterparks can still pull off a passable, if slightly predictable intro.
The same certainly can’t be said for SWMRS (4), about whom nothing is predictable in the slightest. The most surprising thing is the activity and dedication of their crowd, seeing them come onstage to a hero’s welcome and never anything different, the sort of collateral that comes with drummer Joey Armstrong being the son of Green Day frontman Billie Joe. And it’s easy to see how much of an influence Green Day have had on this band, given both the consistent energy and extraneous between-song chants. The only thing that hasn’t rubbed off seems to be the songs, unquestionably the main thing that SWMRS need at this point, and in that department, it doesn’t pan out well. Sure, Palm Trees and Miley are notable exceptions, but beyond that their set boils down to a combination of identikit, scruffy garage-rock or labouriously slow grunge that sees Cole Becker’s vocals completely drowned out by a muddy mix. The effort is commendable, and that they manage to pull a crowd this dedicated is a feat in itself, but it’s impossible to call SWMRS a standout proposition to any degree.
No such claims can be leveled at All Time Low (7) though, as they launch into Kicking And Screaming at terminal velocity from the off. It’s easy to see that this is a band who consider arenas their regular stomping grounds now, but considering the only real production is a lighting rig that’s there more as an accompaniment than for the spectacle, it’s a set driven on the quality of the songs themselves. And it’s common knowledge by now that All Time Low have more than enough bangers in their fairly extensive catalogue to make it through an hour and a half unscathed. The back-to-back triple threat of Weightless, Somewhere In Neverland and Six Feet Under The Stars is the earliest example, and peppering the set with Guts, Kids In The Dark and Backseat Serenade, it seems like All Time Low can do no wrong.
Until it transpires how many oddball decisions they actually make, and how few of them actually pay off. Yes, it’s variety and a chance to hear some underrepresented songs live, but omitting some of their heaviest hitters in favour of Cinderblock Garden, a decent at best Future Hearts deep cut, Canals, a deluxe edition track from four years ago, and Take Cover, a lacklustre afterthought tacked onto the end of their last DVD, and expecting for all of that to connect feels like a fool’s errand. To be fair the second does actually have some propulsive momentum behind it, but there are noticeable dips when they move into this territory that’s hard to ignore. And while Dirty Laundry is an improvement on the simpering electro-pop of its recorded counterpart thanks to some sturdier live drums, it still feels like the flimsy bridge between styles that struggles to hold water.
Thankfully there’s enough here to pull it back in All Time Low’s favour, particularly in the encore. An impromptu rendition of Jasey Rae at the behest of the crowd is sandwiched between the regularly scheduled entertainment of Lost In Stereo and Dear Maria Count Me In, proof that this is still a band who’ve yet to be tainted by their increased fame, with this being probably their most personal, connecting moment in a long time. But on the flip side, it makes it even more difficult to pin down who exactly All Time Low are anymore – the jubilant pop-punks with a watertight connection to their fans, or the more leftfield musicians they clearly want to establish themselves as. There’s enough evidence to suggest that they could succeed at both, but there’s a fair part of All Time Low’s greatness that’s replaced with this confusion. Perhaps when Last Young Renegade drops, we’ll finally have an answer.
Words by Luke Nuttall