By Jake Dromgoole
Labor Day holds the promise of a variety of activities over the course of the much anticipated three-day weekend. Families and friends are provided the opportunity to gather and celebrate a day off, savoring those last days of endless sunshine, far from office worries or looming deadlines.
Students are able to enjoy one last morsel of summer before the school year kicks into gear. For many, the highlight of Labor Day weekend is the long-awaited return of college football. This year’s Labor Day was unique in that it brought three of Indie-Rock’s most exciting bands to downtown Austin, Texas, for a night of emotional, guitar-driven rock and roll.
Boston’s own self-proclaimed “bummer pop” quartet Future Teens took the stage around 8 p.m., at Barracuda playing songs from both their 2017 effort, “Hard Feelings”, and from the group’s fantastic new record “Breakup Season”, which debuted on Sept.6, 2019.
My first thought as the band bashed their way through opener “What’s My Sign Again?” was that these four 20-somethings were having an absolute blast on stage. Their enthusiasm was palpable and really fired up the crowd. At one point during the opener, vocalist/guitarist Amy Hoffman had a guitar and bass neck duel with bassist Maya Mortman during a break in the song, which made for a very entertaining spectacle for the crowd. Speaking of Hoffman, the co-vocalist had a standout performance on “Frequent Crier,” where she quite capably took over lead vocals, and proceeded to shred her way through a righteous guitar solo.
“I played this song for my roommate at the time,” said rhythm guitarist and co-vocalist Daniel Radin, while introducing “Breakup Season” standout “So What”. “She said she liked it, but that she never wanted to hear it again,” he continued while the crowd chuckled. This song (whose lyrics deal with the ever-relatable subject of dating and struggling to find meaningful connections), was set to a moving music video earlier this summer, and was my favorite part of Future Teens’ set.
The live translation of “So What” reminded me of vintage “Home, Like No Place is There” from emo greats the Hotelier, with drummer Colby Blauvelt and Mortman holding down the low end, allowing Hoffman and Radin’s guitars and vocals to soar. I can’t speak for Radin’s former roommate, but “So What,” along with the rest of Future Teen’s discography, will certainly be on repeat for me this fall.
Next up was The Sidekicks from Columbus, Ohio. This was my first taste of their offerings, I am still kicking myself because of that. The Sidekicks did not let up for one moment of their 30+ minute set. From the first group chants of “How do we, how do we, how do we not get lost?” from Jimmy Eat World-tinged set opener “Hell is Warm,” the crowd, myself included, did not stop dancing. Vocalist and guitarist Steve Ciolek moved about the stage like a man possessed, jumping around and windmill-strumming his guitar like a Kurt Cobain/ Pete Townshend hybrid.
Bassist Ryan Starinsky (whose playing evoked “Stay What You Are”-era Saves the Day), took over lead vocals on the standout “Ode to Jerry,” which was released this past July. While The Sidekicks were certainly the heaviest and fastest band of the night (drummer Matt Climer’s driving rhythms should not go unmentioned here), that did not take away from the emotional melodies from this Columbus crew.
Finally, at around 9:30 p.m., Long Beach’s own Oso Oso took the stage for their headlining set. Frontman and Oso mastermind Jade Lilitri stood stoic center stage for the majority of their set. His backdrop for the evening was a lightbulb-adorned wooden board mirroring the artwork of his band’s critically acclaimed August 2019 release “Basking in the Glow”.
The band launched into “intro” from said album, and then immediately into not only one of the strongest cuts off of “Basking”, but also my personal favorite song of the night, “the view”. This song, and much of the new album, reminds the listener of “Your Favorite Weapon” era Brand New (which makes sense considering both albums were produced by Mike Sapone), with its catchy guitar licks, melodies and emotional lyrics. It was hard not to bounce around when Lilitri lead his band into the Saves the Day flavored title track, and then into the almost Pinback-esque “dig” off the same album.
Throughout each band’s set, there was a constant focus on the guitar. Guitar-driven rock and roll is often referred to by critics as “dead,” and guitar solos obsolete. That certainly was not the case this Labor Day. All three bands on the tour had at least one guitar showcase per set including Hoffman’s soaring guitar during Future Teens’ opening slot and Shane Natalie’s reverb-drenched solos during The Sidekick’s punk-infused numbers.
Oso Oso was not short on the six-string magic as Lilitri showcased his guitar chops early in the set on “the cool” from 2018’s “the yunahon mixtape”, and later performing some of his lushest solo arrangements in “This Must Be My Exit” and “one sick plan” (the latter of which served as the final encore of the night).
As the show wound down, I grabbed my copy of Oso Oso’s “Basking in the Glow” on vinyl (seriously folks, it is a killer album you should totally check out), and headed out the door onto the quiet streets of downtown Austin.
I ran into Daniel and Colby from Future Teens and was able to let them know how moved I was by their set before drifting down Red River Street to my car. As I drove home with ringing ears, I put on Oso’s newest album and proceeded to catch almost every red light in Austin. Rather than being irritated at the delay in reuniting with my pillow, I welcomed these pauses in my drive for they provided me the opportunity to bask in the glow of both red lights, and the memory of one of the finest shows I had experienced in recent memory.
Featured photo by Jake Dromgoole.