LIVE REVIEW + PHOTOS: Fall Out Boy – AO Arena, Manchester, 29/10/2023

Ah, Fall Out Boy—a band who can do no wrong, except when they do. Despite being such an easy and obvious punching bag for most of their now-decade of post-hiatus existence, you’d find that hard to believe when you consider this tour. A packed arena awaits, basically from the beginning, in a way that reveals that true scale of this band’s appeal, beyond the online snark and derision. For many, they’re a defining generational band, be that in the early pop-punk that engorged itself on theatrical bombast, or the pop-bothering mega-hitters who, despite entering their more divisive era ever, managed to stick around as a true phenomenon.

And in a rare twist on the us-and-them mentality that seems to laboriously strongarm any conversation about Fall Out Boy (particularly in their later incarnation), there seems to be actual harmony between the two. Granted, the band themselves might prioritise one over the other (we’ll get to that), but the bristling excitement is one for Fall Out Boy, with no qualifiers or exceptions. They’ve just released their best album in about a decade this year in So Much (For) Stardust, after all, in what felt like their truest version of intent since 2013’s comeback Save Rock And Roll. If you’re looking for a version of Fall Out Boy for whom the confidence in their abilities is back at a premium, it would be this one, and it’s not like anyone here would doubt that.

First though, nothing,nowhere. find themselves embodying a somewhat similar arc. Not as magnitudinous as the headliners’, mind, but Joe Mulherin’s exceptionally good year keeps trucking on in earnest. Live, the transition from emo-rapper to a Bring Me The Horizon-esque, genre-agnostic arena-metal shtick is fully complete, formidable in sheer sonic profile and, honestly, being an all-around terrific upgrade. Bar none, it’s the best that nothing,nowhere. has ever been, with a generous sound that sharpens the edges and beefs up the nu-metal might, while also being appreciative of the sonic fluidity on the board. Even in dusting off the old emo-rap work, there’s a muscle to be found now, to where hammer shedding the brittleness of its recorded counterpart does wonders for what’s already the premier monster hook in nothing, nowhere.’s arsenal. Complete that with a cover of Linkin Park’s One Step Closer that might as well be the most flagrant yet delightful of victory laps, and nothing,nowhere.’s current level couldn’t feel higher. Get a bit more production behind them and this could believably be there own headline show; for an arena opener, that’s certainly not nothing.

PVRIS, meanwhile, are a band for whom the live environment has been a tough nut for them to crack for a while now. They’re still clearly liked—even though it’s not played today, the residual echoes of St. Patrick’s crushing grip on the scene haven’t gone away—but it’s hard to escape the notion that, in general, they’ve been in a bit of a rut. So while the sonic limitations haven’t exactly gone away, the steps to cover them (or at least present them better) go some distance. This might be the most confident and competent that PVRIS have seemed onstage in a fair bit, mostly due to a huge environment like this being far more accommodating of the direction they’re currently in. Among their current blend of dark-pop, electro-pop and pop-rock, the lurching, outsized profile takes to a stage like this far easier. The weight of the rhythm section really factors into that, with bass and drums towering and morphing in truly compelling ways, and embracing the clinical fervour generated in the chugging inertia and wall of red lights behind them on Hype Zombies.

As for Lyndsey Gunnulfsen, she’s still not the most powerful singer (and her high notes continue to sound rougher than they should), but the energy she’s got to plug in the gaps is more palpable this time. Even outside her own guitars contributions for added snarl on Dead Weight and Fire, she fits more comfortably in the role of an ethereal fronting presence, particularly in the monochrome air and the heaving slabs of sound that are the most emphatic that PVRIS have felt in a long time. It’s fixed on an idea in a much more beneficial way, where, despite the deviation from their initial tested palette, something like the shuffling pop groove of Semi-Mental connects and slots in place just as easily. Again, PVRIS’ prime may be behind them, but this might just be the best they’ve performed since.

But at the same time, for all the excitement whipped up both around and by nothing,nowhere. and PVRIS, they’re still clearly the aperitifs in many eyes here. Hell, the various name-drops of Fall Out Boy from each prove that; they’re still a very big deal, to where the opening tape of their god-awful reworking of We Didn’t Start The Fire gets the frenzy kicked off nice and early. Of course, it becomes abundantly clear how deeply entrenched the devotion is when Love From The Other Side is greeted like an all-timer already, backed by sparks and fireworks to herald a return that the band themselves are clearly ready to go all in on. And when you get the first three songs as seemingly a cross-section of eras, seamlessly integrated among each other, that sets a precedent for what’s to come too. There’s Love From The Other Side as the necessary new-material base, followed by a stomping, militant The Phoenix and one of pop-punk’s gold-standard classics Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down—as much as Fall Out Boy have been accused in later years of chasing the dollar rather than their own arrow, they certainly feel committed to keeping the bar as consistent and consistently high as possible.

It’s the arena-rock maxim in full force, something that Fall Out Boy are all too familiar with by now. The multiple backdrop changes keep that evident, where they’ll cycle between an underwater scape, to a giant dog head with articulated mouth, to an…ambiguously defined tree creature, none serving any purpose other than to up the bombast with each new iteration. Bombast has never been an issue, and with as well as Patrick Stump’s voice casts, it still isn’t. It’s a result of honing in primarily on their older material, in a decision that definitely feels deliberate for a band who built their name on hits, and for whom zeroing in on them yields the best. It ties into Pete Wentz’s speech about embracing a childhood creativity before Heaven, Iowa—yes, it’s incredibly easy to chalk up ‘playing the hits’ as an obvious money-spinner (for Fall Out Boy especially), but they’re so good at it and carry it with such conviction. No one is immune to nostalgia, after all, and the kind of pure-strain, weaponised joy from This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race or Dance, Dance or Thnks Fr The Mmrs at full power has a lot going for it.

But this is also where the oft-underrated aspect of Fall Out Boy’s unpredictability comes into play, in a clear emphasis on deep cuts and highlighting specifically the aim to play songs they don’t normally play. Apart from the fact that it’s just cool to hear these songs placed in the regular set, rubbing shoulders with the big hits, it also feels like a very healthy decision from a band’s perspective. That ‘childhood creativity’ has produced some of their best moments that mightn’t otherwise get a spotlight, and giving a pedestal to G.I.N.A.S.F.S. or Headfirst Slide Into Cooperstown On A Bad Bet feels like a celebration of that. The Magic 8 Ball gimmick has been a vaunted part of this tour directly for that reason, in which Fall Out Boy play a song from their back catalogue, seemingly at random, with the potential to slot it into the main set in one of the more adaptive displays of arena-rock bravado seen in some time. Tonight, it’s The (After) Life Of The Party, which isn’t a great choice on its own, but it’s still fun to see the breadth being mined, when playing it straight and safe would’ve been way easier.

Indeed, this isn’t what you’d call a ‘safe’-feeling Fall Out Boy show. There are swings here that would be far outside the purview of most bands at their level, embraced like the most natural decisions in the world. The Take This To Your Grave-era hydra of Chicago Is So Two Years Ago, Grand Theft Autumn and Calm Before The Storm is armed with a lowered lighting rig, the ‘attic’ setup to simulate as much intimacy and punk cred as an arena habitat will allow. Elsewhere, Stump’s piano medley of What A Catch, Donnie, Golden and an au naturale Don’t Stop Believin’ snippet preludes Save Rock And Roll’s main event, all walls of phone lights and rapturous singalongs. (Side note: there are multiple moments where the crowd volume will drown out Stump himself; that’s how much fervour is at play here.)

It’s the kind of celebration of band legacy that the cynical mind would presume Fall Out Boy are far past, but the defender would know has always been there. Sure, they’ve not been without their questionable decisions, but at the end of the day, circling back to what they know and do best have been a prerogative, and you get the sense here that they’re fully back in business when it comes to that. They feel grand and ready to take on the world, while simultaneously brandishing the hunger and love for playing that drove them this far in the first place. The dichotomy of Centuries and Saturday to round off exemplifies that perfectly—the former, a towering ode to immortal legacy, never to be torn down; the latter, the scrappy road-warriors’ surge into the unknown, all for the love of music. Both are legitimate; both are brilliant; both are, truly and unequivocally, Fall Out Boy.

Words by Luke Nuttall

Photos by Faye Roberts (Instagram)

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