It was only after a few Bull Whips (Red Bull mixed with Smirnoff Whipped) that I could properly identify Taking Back Sunday vocalist, Adam Lazzara, at the bar of Cafe 210 West. His signature dark straggly hair was a clear indicator, but his burgeoning beer belly protruding from under his jean jacket threw me off.
I didn’t want to be one of those fan boys that run up to one of my childhood icons, spew out a prepared speech about how his music changed my life, then ask for a picture with him for my Instagram timeline. It didn’t seem fitting. And if I learned one lesson from Taking Back Sunday, it was being someone you’re not is the toxin of society.
So I said, fuck it, downed the last of my over-priced mixed drink and stumbled up Burrowes to Rec Hall.
As I stood fidgeting at the door — a bi-product of both the caffeine and excitement — I could hear the screaming vocals of Adam Lazzara resounding from the cinder block walls. After haphazardly flashing my student ID to the over-vigilant SPA staff, Lazzara’s signature rasp lead me directly into the bleachers where I not only experienced one hell of a concert, but an introspective journey through my 21 years of life.
“We won’t stand for hazy eyes anymore,” reverberated from the hardwood floors to the rafters as crowd vocals added to the intense rattle of This Is How I Do — not only the into to Tell All Your Friends, but my night. The commanding guitar riffs of John Nolan woke me up from my half-blitzed state as the stage lights dashed one and off over a galloping drum beat. Lazzara swung his mic around like a twisted pin wheel. The backup vocals became indistinguishable from crowd participation.
The grit and unrehearsed appeal of Nolan’s back-up vocals perfectly embodied the angst of Lazarra’s words which translated ideally into the intensity displayed by the half-absent Penn State audience. Though every folding chair on the floor was empty as well as half of the bleacher seating, the energy was insatiable.
“You guys are crazy here,” said Lazzara as the band transitioned between songs. “You drink a lot at Penn State, I know.”
He then went into telling a story of how the band was scrolling through the tweets they received prior to their show. One of the funniest things Taking Back Sunday stumbled upon was one student’s avatar of his girlfriend sleeping on a couch as he flexed a 30 lb dumb bell butt naked.
He picked the bashful owner of this handle out in the crowd and said “I saw you naked on the Internet. I guess we’ll play your request.”
The band then fell into “Faith,” one of the most sincere songs from their self-titled album.
This went to show that as big as TBS gets, they’ll never lose their personal appeal. Their music will always mean something specifically to someone. Their lyrics, riffs and beats are always subjective and the band never fails to recognize that.
Also in a way of making peace with the past, Lazzara went into his own rendition of the song “Existentialism on Prom Night” from guitarist John Nolan’s side project Straylight Run. Though TBS will never lose where their music has taken them, they never get too famous to pay homage to where they came from.
The nostalgia of those who have known these song lyrics since middle school was palpable at Rec Hall. Couples stuck themselves to each other like the tattoos on their skin. Old friends slung the arms of their old friends over their shoulders like bookmarks in a time they both remembered sharing. New school fan — in-tune with the band’s more hard line new persona — crowd surfed into the shaky arms of security staff.
Just as Taking Back Sunday albums always have something for everybody, their appearance at Penn State struck a chord with every audience member despite their personal experiences that led them up to this point.
As the crowd got the know each other throughout the show, Lazzara admired that during his set he felt like he got to know Penn State better.
“You’re all in college, you’re doing weird stuff like everyday. Now is the time to do that,” said Lazzara before leaving the crowd with one last lesson — don’t get roofied and don’t be a fool, wrap your tool. The band then exploded into a high-voltage rendition of their most commercially successful single, “Make Damn Sure.”