Live: Taking Back Sunday / Marmozets @ O2 Academy, Oxford

By Rob Barbour

There’s a moment towards the end of Taking Back Sunday’s set tonight which sums up the entire evening.  As the crowd sings back the ‘Why can’t I feel anything from anyone other than you’ refrain from ‘Cute Without The ‘E’ (Cut From The Team), John Nolan – arguably one of the pioneers of the earnest, ‘I mean this, man’ check-shirt-and-eyes-closed emo pose – steps back from his microphone and grins. Not a closed-lipped smile but a teeth-bared, Cheshire Cat beam that belies the fact that he’s having the time of his life.

After ten years of line-up changes and divisive albums Taking Back Sunday are on tour supporting their strongest release in years, Happiness Is. And sure, they’re playing largely to crowds of people who associate their music with their teen years and who have grown up with this groundbreaking Long Island band but where some other sites and publications are covering TBS as merchants of adolescent nostalgia (‘On Seeing Taking Back Sunday at Age 26′, anyone?), this strikes us as more of a rebirth.

First of all though is a band who, despite being even younger than TBS were when ‘Tell All Your Friends’ irreversibly terraformed the world of emo rock, are rather less likely to be evoking misty-eyed think pieces in ten years time: Marmozets. That’s not meant as a criticism; rather, if TBS are the band you got your heart broken to then Marmozets are a band who pulled you up off the floor and screamed in your face to get the f–k over it and start living.

From the second they detonate ‘Born Young And Free’ the MacIntyre/Bottomley siblings don’t so much own the stage as light a forge and brand the damn thing. There’s a raw energy to their performance which necessarily lends their songs an edge lacking from the recorded versions of less frenetic tracks such as ‘Is It Horrible’ and ‘Weird and Wonderful’. Don’t get us wrong – they’re tighter than a pair of lycra shorts after Christmas Dinner, but while the album’s poppier edge is certainly one of the reasons we think Marmozets are going to blow up in 2015 that sheen disappears when they’re throwing themselves around the stage as if fending off a marauding group of invisible ninjas. They’ll be back, and somehow we doubt they’ll have their amps set up in front of someone else’s.

Launching straight into the double-whammy of ‘What’s It Feel Like To Be A Ghost?’ and ‘A Decade Under The Influence’, Taking Back Sunday know exactly what their audience want. Adam Lazzara’s days of lighting-rig acrobatics might be behind him but he still prowls the stage, his relaxed demeanour binding that legendary charisma in a package that’s half-Wahlberg brother, half-effete gameshow host. His voice, however, is on the best form it has been for years and shaven-headed, bearded Shaun Cooper – a musician who doesn’t get half the attention he deserves – is a ball of gleeful energy, clearly delighted to be Where He Wants To Be.

Nowhere is this joy more obvious than when the band is playing material from ‘Taking Back Sunday’ and ‘Happiness Is’. The classic lineup’s ‘reunion’ album may have been a letdown but really, what else could it have been to a fanbase hoping against all logic for a group of men in their 30s to record ‘Tell All Your Friends’ Pt.2? ‘Happiness Is’, though, is triumphant and seems to have given the TAYF lineup a new lease on life. While it’s a joy to hear Nolan and Lazzara belt out genre classics like ‘Timberwolves at New Jersey’ and be outgunned by the vocal chords of their audience spitting the acerbic fauxetry of ‘You’re So Last Summer’, it’s on stand-out new material like ‘Stood A Chance’ that the band really shine. This is the resurrection that 2011 promised us.

The problem with resurrection is that first, it demands a sacrifice. We can’t be the only ones who’ve noticed that John Nolan struggles with some of Fred Mascherino’s vocal parts, and that’s symptomatic of a larger problem. That material from the criminally under-rated ‘New Again’ has all but disappeared from the band’s repertoire shows they acknowledge the unique position they’re in with regards to their lineup vs. their back catalogue. The band that recorded ‘Louder Now’ and the band that recorded ‘Happiness Is’ are both great, but one of those acts doesn’t exist anymore and we can’t help but wonder whether these shackles might be keeping the band back as much as they’re keeping the fans happy. And they are, rapturously so.

Lazzara announces that they’ve played through what would be the encore and the evening is coming to what feels like a premature end. Then, of course, there’s fists in the air and an entire room of people singing ‘MakeDamnSure’ as if it’s the last time they’ll ever hear it. Somehow, we doubt it will be.