LIVE REVIEW + PHOTOS: The Wonder Years – Ritz, Manchester – 10/11/2023

In the ten years since The Wonder Years released The Greatest Generation, pop-punk has changed immensely. Hell, The Wonder Years themselves have, growing into an older alt-rock guise that’s certainly cognisant of their roots, but also distinctly removed from them. Even so, the impact of that album can’t be overstated—both for the band and the scene at large—and if there’s anything in The Wonder Years’ catalogue deserving of a full anniversary wheel-out, it couldn’t not be The Greatest Generation. It’s still one of the finest in its genre that’s held up immaculately even a decade later, still boasting some of The Wonder Years’ best ever songs, and a degree of elevated presence that speaks for itself when you see how far they’ve come.

In fact, that seems to be something of a keystone for how their live enterprise works, when frontman Dan Campbell highlights support acts specifically chosen as the future of the scene. That particular maxim feel somewhat overused in the DIY scene, but in these particular instances, it’s hard to dispute. Even for Kississippi whose inroad is less direct, there’s still some remarkable affability in how Zoe Reynolds carries herself with an easygoing, pleased-to-be-here vibe that directly influences much of the music. The glossy pop shimmer built on a solid indie-rock backbone makes for a calmer ease-in than what’s to come, uniformly good without a ton of notable peaks. Still, the quality is definitely there, with the emo-pop descriptor being hung on heavily for some much-appreciated melodic tightness.

Origami Angel, meanwhile, feel like a fairly sizable step up. The Gami Gang are clearly out in full force with the big crowd reactions they routinely seem to get, and with the duo’s dogged approach to ripping out a good swathe of their material in quick succession, it’s not hard to see why. Maybe there’s a bit of overload in just how much gets thrown out, but that’s also par for the course for Origami Angel. They’ve got a versatility to them that’s pulled off well, self-assured in its hybrid of indie-punk scrappiness and an undeniable pop nous, especially in the opening pair of The Brightest Days and Thank You, New Jersey. What’s more, nothing is shaved down, even when remaining a two-piece; if anything, it’s the encouragement for both to really drill down and purify the essence of some frankly excellent pop-punk craftsmanship, especially from drummer Pat Doherty and the etched-in-stone look of concentration on his face. Overall, there’s just a lot of great stuff here, definitely elevated from standard genre fare and enough on its own to see why Origami Angel are among that higher caste.

But in truth, both Origami Angel and Kississippi are playing for second best, and they know it. They’d have to, given how beloved The Greatest Generation is on such a universal level, and with how exceptional The Wonder Years are as a live band to keep doling that fan service out. They might be elder statesmen of the scene now, but remain in no danger of being outshined by younger counterparts; The Wonder Years have still got it in spades. On top of that, the full airing of The Greatest Generation only feels lifted by the fan favourite-ness of it all. There’s already a singalong that drowns out Campbell himself from the very first lyric of There, There, and it only gets bigger with the perennial pop-punk mega-banger Passing Through A Screen Door, ingratiated in the genre’s top bracket since release for very good reason. Even songs like Teenage Parents and An American Religion (FSF)—songs that are among the least played from this album since its release—exude a white-hot forcefulness that only speaks in favour of how exceptional as a body of work this album is. It’s almost unbelievable how little feels like filler, and live, The Wonder Years proceed to prune and shape it to even more powerful effect.

They’re also just a phenomenal live act to top it off, as has always been the case. It’s noteworthy today especially though, on lesser-played cuts with barely a smidge of rust to speak of. It speaks to how consummate in performance The Wonder Years are, no doubt aided by the six-man setup that fills the stage, but primarily, they’ve become hewn and polished without sacrificing their foundational humanity. In true lifer style, the energy and the ‘punk’ part of pop-punk haven’t been sidelined, even down to some palpable intensity on The Bastards, The Vultures, The Wolves. But there’s also variety among that to play with, in the acoustic Madelyn, or The Devil In My Bloodstream that starts off humbly as a piano-ballad before its tremendous, Kississippi-guesting crescendo. If there’s one thing The Wonder Years do better than practically all of their peers (well, there’s plenty, but still…), it’s make this genre sound impactful, something distilled into the very genes of I Just Want To Sell Out My Funeral, where every round-robin interpolation of past songs comes down like a hammer on an anvil.

Afterwards, there’s a short break before a bonus set of assorted material, nominally an encore but also too extensive a showcase to be boiled down and reduced in such a way. Admittedly, it’s not their absolute best crop of songs, but that would demand much more time than their allotted for what’s already a stellar illustration how stacked their catalogue is. To this day, there are bands in the scene who’d kill to have a hook as big as Local Man Ruins Everything or I Don’t Like Who I Was Then or without a doubt Came Out Swinging Under their belt. But that’s just the bread-and-butter of The Wonder Years now, in whatever form they choose. Even when deviating from their constant hit parade into a more superfan-catered experience, they’ve still got the magic for a barrage of solid-gold anthems to hit their target every time. It’s just a signifier of how all-encompassing the excellence that The Wonder Years exude is.

Words by Luke Nuttall

Photos by Faye Roberts (Instagram)

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