Say Anything lead singer Max Bemis holding the Mic out to the crowd in an inspired performance
So this past Friday I went to a concert in Tucson to see a band that honestly a lot of you may not ever want to see. Say Anything is definitely a little different than most of the other bands we tend to feature on here. For those of you unaware, Say Anything is a Rock band, with some Indie lo-fi influence at times and some hardcore at other times. They’ve toured with Saves the Day, Dashboard Confessional, and The Academy Is…. They formed in 2000 and arguably their best critically acclaimed album was a while ago now, …Is a Real Boy was released in 2004. I somewhat have moved away from a lot of bands in this genre in recent years, but to show you have much passion I have for this band, in High School, this was by far my favorite band. Even now they are definitely in the top 10 just because of the fond memories I have of them.
The band has had a revolving door of members, but the two constants have been drummer Coby Linder and front man Max Bemis. There are few words to describe Max. He has had a pretty rough time coping with his own personal demons. Drive Thru Records executive called him “The next Bob Dylan” when they signed him in 2004. I think the best way to describe him is crazy, because even when he is not dealing with mental illness, he still says some crazy things, which are apparent from his music. He has had many issues with bipolar disorder. Combine that with drug use and there are bound to be problems. A specific example is in the creation of …Is a Real Boy, which was their first album signed to a record label. Wanting to be perfect, Max engulfed himself into the album, trying to smooth the edges around their sound. At the time the band was just Max and Coby, so Coby played drums and Max sang vocals and played guitar, bass, keyboard, and piano for the studio album. During this time, he started having manic episodes where he believed he was being filmed for a mockumentary and started talking to random strangers as if they were his friends, which he did for the sake of “the movie” so his fans thought he actually had a lot of friends. He was then sent to a mental institution and straightened himself out.
After that episode in the creation of …is a Real Boy, he has never officially reported a relapse, but that doesn’t mean he has exactly ‘leveled out’. They have released albums since then under the Sony BMG Music Entertainment label and they are definitely good. However, none are as raw and as moving as …is a Real Boy and the bonus album that came out with it called …was a Real Boy and a large part of that is probably because of Bemis’ personal issues. Nonetheless, he is definitely an artist off the beaten trail who probably is not best suited for life on the road.
Most hardcore Say Anything fans wanted Max to find peace with himself as if he was a troubled friend, and it seems like he did. He entered rehab and has definitely leveled himself out. He married Sherri DuPree from the band Eisley in 2008 and they announced early in August 2012 that Sherri is pregnant with her first child.
Murder By Death. Check out the cello player on the left and the guy on the right literally playing the Trumpet and the Keyboard AT THE SAME TIME. CRAZY
Now as far as the openers go, one stole the show for me, and that was the band Murder By Death. Now Say Anything tends to have a relatively hardcore audience, so I was nervous that it was going to be a death metal or hardcore metal band judging by their name, which is certainly not my style. I was surprised to find that it was actually an Indie Folk Band, and the band name came from a 1976 Robert Moore film of the same name. The best way I can describe their sound is like Mumford & Sons, but a little more “out there” and with more bluegrass roots. I mean, their debut album is called Like The Exorcist but More Breakdancing, so they must be a little off. It really worked for them though. They had a female cello player who absolutely killed it, who went from plucking and keeping rhythm to playing melancholy chilling chords in seconds. They had one guy who in the course of the set, which was maybe about 8 songs, played the keyboard, guitar, banjo, trumpet, accordion, and mandolin, as well as providing back up vocals. They are a band that relies on storytelling, and some of those were a little off. When the lead singer introduced a song saying, “This song is about growing up running in the wrong crowd…well actually isn’t about werewolves” I could not stop laughing. However, a lot of the stories in the songs were more about the wild wild west and drinking whiskey in taverns. This is one of my favorite songs by them and gives a good idea of their sound, and is without a doubt their “biggest break” being a part of the soundtrack for Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards. Take a listen:
Say Anything in All Their Glory
Now as far as the concert… I was a little apprehensive going because I wasn’t sure what I was going to get. After all the first time I saw them, at Bamboozle in 2008, Max Bemis came out on stage, forgot the words to the first song he sang, and stumbled back behind stage, only for the drummer Coby saying that Max was unfit to perform and that they were not going to play their set 20 minutes later. Also, although I did enjoy their past two albums (Anarchy, My Dear and their self titled album Say Anything) I was really hoping that they would play old stuff.
And I was pleasantly surprised when they came out and instantly started playing “The Writhing South”, one of their songs off of …Is a Real Boy. This also really should not have been the Anarchy, My Dear Tour because they played exactly as many songs from …Is a Real Boy and …Was a Real Boy as they did from Anarchy, My Dear, and I could not have been happier.
The kind of venue we were at is perfect for Max Bemis. He has said that he is not a big fan of massive festivals because he doesn’t like that he cannot see everyones face. Therefore, he thrived in such a small venue, where there was probably 900 people there tops.
Now, I said in another concert review I did (one of Dash Berlin) that that was the best concert I have ever been to and nothing could top it. I was completely wrong, it was this one, no questions asked. And here’s a few reasons why:
- The Crowd: I have never ever ever ever been to a concert with this kind of crowd before. Every person knew every word to every song. Max actually made a joke out of it when a mic went out and he just lifted his arms and the crowd filled in by singing the full verse while everything was getting figured out. He kept saying that this was the best crowd he has ever played for before, which every band says at every concert they do throughout the country. However, I think this time he actually meant it. Whenever he stopped playing, there were screams of “Thank You” throughout the crowd, some from me. For a lot of teenagers growing up who were awkward or misunderstood, Max Bemis made music for them. They are more than a band and he is more than a singer. He builds personal connections with all of his fans, which is why his following is now almost reaching cult status.
Max singing to his pregnant wife, Sherri
The Love: This comes from the band and the crowd. Again, some of their songs are a little angry, some a little emo, all a little out there, so I was worried about the crowd. Besides the obligatory pushing and shoving to get to the front, it was very chill. And the band was feeling the love, playing so hard and with so much energy. And Max’s wife Sherri even made a few guest appearances, singing some back up vocals. Whenever she left the stage, Max gave her a kiss. They also stopped in-between songs to show the crowd Sherri’s pregnant stomach, as she is beginning to show from her pregnancy. There was a lot of Max saying I Love You’s to the crowd and a lot of I Love You’s were being thrown right back.
- The Music: Every single song was on point. Some songs were exactly like the album songs which was fine. Others were sped up or slowed down based on the arc in the show. I’ve seen a lot of people take an electric song and make it acoustic, but very few acoustic album recordings made electric, which Say Anything did on two occasions. There were plenty of guitar riffs to go around, and some amazing drums from Coby. Also, every single band member sang back up vocals at least once, which I never realized from just listening to albums, and I was pleasantly surprised by that.
- Max Bemis: I have never in my life seen a front man pour himself into a show like Max poured himself in this one. Every single line was passion filled. He pantomimed his words with actions he was doing. He jumped into the crowd. He talked directly to the fans, sometimes picking out specific people in the crowd and talking to them. He threw microphone stands, banged drums, fell spread eagle onto the stage, and kept swinging his the wire of the mic around like a lasso and hitting a security guard, which he was not too happy about. I can totally understand his bi-polar disorder because the speed of mood swings in songs during his sets were absolutely manic, an emotional roller coaster, and the band loved it and the crowd loved it. Max just kept saying how he loves all the people that support him and care for him.
- The Last Song: They did one encore and the last song of that encore was probably
Max Bemis on Stage alone, during his last song, absolutely screaming into the mic. Such emotion is hard to replicate
the biggest song off of Anarchy, My Dear called “Burn a Miracle” and it was by far the most epic performance of a song I have ever seen. They get to the ending riff, and Max falls to the floor screaming the last words “To Live” over and over and over again he sings them, still keeping in rhythm, and one by one the band members leave the stage, until its just him and the guitar player. And he begins to cry. As the guitar players leaves the stage he screams “To Live” one more time, tears rolling down his face, stands up, looks out to the crowd, drops the live mic on the stage and walks off. And at the moment I knew that would be one of the greatest shows I have ever been to. The amount of emotion he put in is something to be admired, and that show showed me what live concerts should be.
NOTE: All photo credits courtesy of Ally Moses (I went to the concert with her, but my iPhone wasn’t working)