LIVE: The Wonder Years / PUP / Trash Boat / Tiny Moving Parts @ KOKO, London

By Thomas Gane

Tiny Moving Parts began the night with a tight set that sounded incredibly full for a three piece, with the band combining their math and emo sound with their pop-punk infused sing-along choruses seamlessly. Lead guitarist Dylan Mattheisen exuded a clear sense of joy as he played rhythm and lead guitar, including some delectable tapping, and sang. The rhythm section of Matthew and Billy Chevalier were also fantastic as the band played an eight song set that spanned their three albums, ending with a salvo of 2016 single ‘Headache’ and fan favourite ‘Dakota’ from their 2013 debut album ‘This Couch is Long & Full of Friendship’.

Trash Boat, the only UK band on the line-up, acquitted themselves well with their transatlantic tour mates. With a sizeable portion of the crowd moving with them and singing most of the lyrics right back at energetic lead singer Tobi Duncan, the band seemed completely undaunted by KoKo’s large space. The one complaint would be they seemed slightly overly rehearsed, relying on performance tropes of the genre rather than committing themselves to spontaneity. The endearing nature of their songs and accomplished performance however mean Trash Boat will surely become more regular visitors to big venues like KoKo.

The few faults of Trash Boat would also have been less apparent had they not been followed by one of the best live bands of any genre, PUP. The Canadian four piece approach each show with an incredible commitment to pure performance and spontaneity, creating an electric atmosphere and sense of tension that few bands can match. After walking on stage to the thundering beat and frantic bars of Danny Brown’s ‘Smokin and Drinkin’, they launched into the opening tracks from from their 2013, self-titled debut album, ‘Guilt Trip’ and ‘Resevoir’, and the standing area immediately descended into a crashing tide of bodies. The pace didn’t let up as they ripped through a twelve song set. The joyous anger and beautiful savagery of PUP was evident in the closest they got to feel-good, sing along moments came mid-set with ‘Dark Days’ and ‘Familiar Patterns’, and the hooks in question were “we’ve had some dark days, we’re in the thick of it now” and “I’ve never felt so shitty before, I’ve never felt so miserable.”

Following this PUP embraced darkness further with an extended, brooding and intense version of ‘The Coast’, followed by the frenzied ‘Old Wounds’, with frontman Steffan Babcock ditching his guitar and climbing the amps side of stage, seemingly weighing up whether he could make the considerable leap to the crowd. The snarls became pernicious grins once more as PUP closed with the joyously viscious opening track (“It’s two songs, but it’s one song” according to Steffan) from last year’s excellent ‘The Dream Is Over’; ‘If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will’ and ‘DVP’. 

After following such a performance The Wonder Years could seem tame in comparison, but they  captivate in a completely different way. Taking the stage in silence and darkness, the band began with the acoustic title track of their latest album, ‘No Closer To Heaven.’ It was beautifully understated and Dan Campbell held the audience by living out each lyric in a way that was reminiscent of Adam Duritz of Counting Crows. The choice also highlighted the way The Wonder Years have matured to stand out in a genre that too often relies on nostalgia.

From this subtle opening the band immediately gave the crowd what they wanted by running through a series of classic tracks like ‘Local Man Ruins Everything’, ‘I Don’t Like Who I Was Then’ and ‘Washington Square Park’, all of which created huge singalongs from a suddenly boisterous crowd. After this acquiescence to the fans who will always love those records, they returned to the more developed writing of ‘No Closer To Heaven’ with ‘Cigarettes & Saints’, ‘Brothers &’, ‘Cardinals’.  This inspired a less raucous response, but one with a clear appreciation for the artistry and the crowd still sang back almost every word.

From here the band dipped in and out of the various stages of their decade long career. Particular highlights were ‘There, There’ and ‘The Devil In My Bloodstream’ from 2013’s ‘The Greatest Generation’, arguably the The Wonder Year’s finest work that combined the rawness of their early albums with a mature and considered approach. A particularly wonderful moment occurred during ‘There, There’ as two girls towards the back started swaying and slow dancing together to the song’s delicate melody, before breaking off, bouncing and screaming the heavier second chorus to each other.

The band closed with a series of tracks from ‘The Greatest Generation’ and ‘No Closer To Heaven’ before returning to play one more classic, ‘Came Out Singing’. The Wonder Years are still the figureheads in the genre, and a big reason for that is simply because they’re undeniably better at what they do than most other bands. It’s more than that though. The Wonder Years have an endearing quality and a complete belief in what they write. When they beat their chest and look to the sky it doesn’t look like an act and when they say something they mean it. That was as evident in KoKo last week as it would have been in Philadelphia basements twelve years ago, and that’s what continues to set them apart.