On top of all that heartbreak, Twin Cities pop-punk fans were forced Friday and Saturday to reckon with the fact the 19-year-run of hometown heroes Motion City Soundtrack is coming to a close. There’s still plenty of those fans, as evidenced by the first night of the Minneapolis group’s four-night stand at Dinkytown’s Varsity Theater that concludes Monday and Tuesday.
The shows are part of the band’s four-month So Long, Farewell Tour, which caps an impressive career that started when frontman Justin Pierre was still a delivery guy for Pizza Luce.
MCS scored hits with “Everything Is Alright” and “The Future Freaks Me Out” in the mid-2000s and topped Billboard’s Independent Albums Chart with 2007’s Even If It Kills Me. The group released 2010's My Dinosaur Life on a major label, before eventually returning to big-time indie Epitaph.
Friday night’s homestand opener played like a victory lap, a celebration of the band’s past two decades that mainly focused on tracks from their first three records — 2003’s I Am the Movie, 2005’s Commit This to Memory, and Kills Me — but included selections from all six of their studio efforts, including last fall's Panic Stations.
Longtime drummer Tony Thaxton came back into the fold for the farewell tour, meaning it was the first time since 2012 that fans had the chance to see MCS’s glory-days lineup of Pierre, Thaxton, founding guitarist Joshua Cain, Moog synth player Jesse Johnson, and bassist Matthew Taylor.
The show opened with a trio of songs from the band’s first two EP releases, Kids for America and Back to the Beat from 2000. The latter’s title track, “Cambridge,” and “Capital H” had the crowd fist-pumping and shouting back Pierre’s lyrics from the onset. It was a level of engagement that veered into something a little more dangerous later on.
About two-thirds of the way through his gig, Cain took to the microphone to discourage fans near the front from “launching” each other into the air.
“Don’t be shitty,” he advised, eliciting many cheers.
Largely steering away from their two most recent releases, MCS stuck to the script of previous shows for most on Friday. Fan favorites like Commit’s “L.G. FUAD” and “Hold Me Down” and Movie’s “Perfect Teeth” and “My Favorite Accident” were all there like they’ve been in other cities, but the band threw a curveball with 2005 deep-cut “Hangman.”
“We don’t play that one that often, but that felt pretty good,” Pierre remarked.
Several times throughout the night, Pierre addressed the nerves he was feeling playing in his hometown for the final time. “I think I lied earlier when I said I wasn’t nervous. I’m still nervous. I don’t know, something about Minnesota,” the singer said between a story about his 15-month-old daughter and introducing his group’s highest-charting single, 2007’s “This Is for Real.”
Nerves or not, whatever Pierre was feeling expressed itself as boundless energy for 90 minutes, as he seamlessly switched between hyped-up singalongs and punchy guitar parts all night. Johnson must’ve been feeling anxious too, as he bounced between the drum riser and front of the stage when not stationed at his synth, always singing Pierre’s lyrics with a smile tattooed on his face.
It wasn’t long after the final notes of main-set closer “Everything Is Alright” rang out that a chant of “MCS! MCS! MCS!” began and persisted until the band arrived back onstage for three last songs.
“Anything at All” from Panic Stations (curious that Pierre called it the latest record instead of the last, although he already teased the possibility of more music from MCS) kicked off the encore. In between “Even If It Kills Me” and “The Future Freaks Me Out,” Pierre expressed gratitude toward the hometown crowd.
“I never thought this would be my life, so thank you,” he said.
Concertgoers got the opportunity to return the favor on a gigantic banner reading “All We Have Are Memories 1997-2016” that greeted them when they walked into the venue. On it, Sharpie-wielding fans thanked the band for introducing them to their spouses, described the terrible times MCS's music got them through and, of course, drew dicks.
If Motion City Soundtrack is the movie, then Friday night’s concert was a terrific closing scene. Or at least the first take of it, because they’ll be at the Varsity Monday and Tuesday night, too.
Critic's bias: I had seen MCS twice before, but never at their own headlining show. This was a great demonstration of what they can (or could) do on their own, even for someone who only knows the hits.
Random notebook dump: With that beard, Joshua Cain is a deadringer for my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Fuller. He probably wouldn't have noticed if people in the front of the class were launching each other into the air, so long as they knew the chemical symbol for boron.
Overheard in the crowd: A guy with three drinks in hand to me and my beer and water: "You're double-fisting too? I've got three! Tell me that you're alright!"
Me, only realizing his play on words as my own words were coming out of my mouth: "Yeah, I'm all good."
Him: "Yeah, everything is alright!"