LIVE: The Wonder Years – Union Chapel, Philadelphia

By Jim Howes

About three years ago exactly, I discovered a band called The Wonder Years by way of their third album, ‘Suburbia I’ve Given You All And Now I’m Nothing.’ I was floored. It was unlike any album I had ever heard and I couldn’t put it down. And I know that it sounds really stupid and clichĂ© and all of the above, but Suburbia changed my life and inspired me to set into action the chain of events that led me to where I am today.

Needless to say, when I heard that The Wonder Years were playing their 3 latest albums in full in their hometown of Philadelphia, PA to celebrate their 10th anniversary as a band, I had to get a ticket. I had to get a ticket for Suburbia day. No, I wanted to go see them play ‘The Upsides’ all the way through. Or, why not ‘The Greatest Generation’? No; in the end, it had to be Suburbia.

This was my first Union Transfer experience, and I’ve gotta say it’s one of the best venues I’ve ever been to: An ornate, spacious, old building, well maintained, with plenty of floor and balcony space. Reasonable drink prices and friendly staff. There was little external chatter about who the opening bands would be, so I was delighted to find out, when I arrived, that the openers were Koji, THE PROGRESS, and fucking FIREWORKS! I seriously about lost it when I found out about Fireworks.

Koji is known for being one of the nicest dudes in punk, and he graciously bantered through his acoustic crooning and put everyone in a great mood. I don’t often opt for much of the acoustic stuff in my own time, but I’m definitely gonna be giving Koji more of my time now.

Next up was The Progress. Originating from Cherry Hill, NJ (right near Philly), The Progress met some pretty serious cult appreciation and were the first band of Evan Weiss (Into It. Over it., etc.). This was apparently the first show they had played since Evan moved to Chicago in 2006, and they sounded fucking awesome. Classic turn-of-the-millennium emo with a little math thrown in. Not unlike IIOI, frankly: I think Evan has a pretty indelible brand that he takes with him wherever he goes. Great, clean, upbeat set that got me really stoked and allowed me to increase my alcohol.

Sidebar: I didn’t know Fireworks were playing, so I wore my Fireworks shirt and summarily looked and felt like a fucking idiot. It’s okay, though. The surprise was worth it.

Fireworks took the stage and an audible collective scoff resounded from every bespectacled, gracelessly aging neckbeard in the place that was disappointed he wasn’t watching Black Flag (why do people like this come to shows like this anyway?). Fireworks have really, REALLY nice gear, and at one point I heard the phrase “87 grade in a 66 Cadillac.” Look, Fireworks can have nice gear because they’re probably the biggest fucking band in pop punk right now, and they’ve worked their asses off to get there. Just because their music doesn’t sound the one-dimensional way you want it to doesn’t mean it’s bad.

Anyway, Fireworks killed it. About half of the stuff came from their new (fucking barn burner of an) album and the other half came from earlier releases. Everybody went nuts because Fireworks are great at music and are also really gracious. There’s something really goddamn special about this band. Can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it’s because they’re from Detroit. Yeah, we’ll go with that. By this point, my voice was half shot, my legs were half worn-out from jumping around like an imbecile, and I was ready for Suburbia.

Everyone went to piss, smoke, and refill their beers, and then The Wonder Years–the men of the hour–took the stage. I don’t know what the hell they put in the water in eastern Pennsylvania, but that area is just churning out amazing band after amazing pop punk band. The Wonder Years are, arguably, the crown princes of this phenomenon, and Suburbia may just be their masterpiece. Seeing them Ramones through the fucking thing like they did only made me think higher of the album and appreciate it more, which I really didn’t think was possible.

When they got done playing through Suburbia, they played like 30 fucking encores, including “Washington Square Park” (Upsides), “Devil In My Bloodstream” (Greatest Generation), and a bunch of stuff off their garbage first album that had breakdowns and songs about the Kool-Aid Man. Soupy waxed sentimental about how great it was to be in The Wonder Years and how great their fans were, pizza and black and white Vans rained down like Mana from Heaven, and I achieved next levels of obnoxious show bro as I crushed Yuenglings, pogo’d around incessantly, scissor-kicked, and bro-hugged my bro-friends. Even ran into some old friends from home who had also ventured to Philly for this massive pop punk bro-down. Bruh.

*insert 100 heart-eye emojis here*

This show was everything a pop punk show should be, and was probably the best live music experience I’ve had over the 14 years I’ve been going to shows. I’ll save you the bromides and just say that I really hope I get to go to and experience more shows like this in my lifetime. If I don’t, though, that’s okay too; this was enough.