Live: Say Anything at Hammerstein Ballroom

photo by Rob Trucks

Say Anything Hammerstein Ballroom October 30

Say Anything’s last album, 2004’s Is a Real Boy, is infinitely better than anything by Fall Out Boy. Say Anything’s current album, the double-disc In Defense of the Genre, is twice as long and nowhere near as good as its predecessor, but is nonetheless infinitely more fascinating than anything by Fall Out Boy. I demand two things from my MySpaceian emo-punk: catchy tunes and wanton, unchecked narcissism. SA frontman Max Bemis provides both in ludicrous quantities. No trip to Uganda necessary.

For more on Boy, I direct you here. Suffice it to say for about a half-year there it held me in absolute thrall, a preposterous mix of Queenly arena-rock grandeur and drama-queen histrionics: My iTunes counter (which, like George Washington, cannot tell a lie) informs me that I have evidently blasted the fist-pumping anthem “Every Man Has a Molly” on an endless loop for months, and I am shamefully thrilled when it is reprised here, in the seething mass of humanity that is Hammerstein Ballroom. “Shamefully” because the song involves Max ranting about how he can’t have rough sex with Molly Connolly (I am 95 percent sure that’s not her real name; that 5 percent of uncertainty deeply disturbs me) because she objected to Max writing invasive songs about her, so in retaliation he wrote this invasive song about her, in which Max screams “Molly Connolly ruined my life/I thought the world should know” as an enormous throng of teenagers (more girls than boys, inexplicably) who look at me like I’m a narc or something scream along in unison. It is thrilling and deeply disconcerting.

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In Defense of the Genre is a two-disc, 27-song quasi-concept album about Max’s struggles with drug abuse and his very public bipolarness. (He was busted in NYC last year for screaming obscenities at passing schoolchildren, spitting in random ladies’ soup, etc.) I read about this in magazines. It’s part of his deal, his arc, his art. (The last song on the first disc is entitled “Sorry, Dudes. My Bad.” It is addressed to his bandmates.) This is his therapy, we are his couch. Genre, as a consequence, sounds like you’d expect it to sound: hilariously overindulgent, borderline psychotic, wholly unnecessary, occasionally sort of fantastic. Sort of. I did not expect Boy. I was hoping though that half of it would be fucking awesome and the other half fucking terrible, so I could just cut the fucking terrible stuff and have a fucking awesome one-disc album left over, but instead the whole thing is fucking OK, except for the later stages of the second disc (around when they sample someone, and I’m assuming it’s Max here, vomiting), which is just fucking terrible. I’m still digesting it. All I can say right now is “Died a Jew” is ridiculous, even in this context.

Say Anything (six dudes live, three guitarists blaring and leaping about in unison throughout, very Phil Spector, Lana Clarkson ruined my life, etc. etc.) play only four songs from Genre tonight, which does not inspire confidence. Their 45-minute set is instead dominated by older, clearly superior tracks, most effectively “Alive With the Glory of Love,” another fist-pumper about teenage lovers hiding from the Nazis during WWII. (Picture the Dashboard Confessional dude having sex with Anne Frank. Actually, don’t. I’m sorry about that.) It’s a good example of Max’s mastery of the simultaneously high-concept/low-concept song, what is known in poker as The Wheel. “Is this song about masturbation?” asks my companion, the Photographer, during the hideously named, deviously catchy phone-sex electro-pop oddity “Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too!” Why yes. Yes it is. They are all about masturbation, one way or another. I love this band, but it’s tough love. Tough on them, and tough on me.


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