“I’m emotional, I feel crazy” Jon Simmons of Philadelphia’s Balance and Composure uttered in the middle of his set as his band’s 10th anniversary tour hit Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom this weekend. He has reason to feel emotional: the tour is suspected to be the band’s last, as Simmons told a podcast last month that the shows would be his band’s “last full U.S. [tour].” The news was hardly a rumor either: behind me a chorus of long hair and sweatshirts opined on it between songs, peppering the night air with solitary, divorce children cries of “Don’t break up,” “Stay together.”
2017 wasn’t the best year for emotional rock and the impending breakup of a band that only a year ago was on the verge of mass communication was cruelly par for course. Few were sticking around the closer the scene came to bursting through the floorboards: fellow Philadelphia fourth-wavers like Modern Baseball and JANK had dissolved in mists of anguished mental health and old school icons Brand New, who had returned to the spotlight to release their most successful record yet, went back into hiatus after sexual misconduct allegations surfaced against frontman Jesse Lacey. Ditto Pinegrove. Elsewhere, Lil Peep, a rapper who became one of the next new things for his melding of emo angst and aesthetics with rap flow, had died suddenly of a fentanyl overdose. In this light, the B&C’s anniversary tour felt like a breakup on the band’s own terms, sans scrutinize-able facebook statements or strange acrimony. It was a tour about incarcerating the band’s perfect recordings of pummeled angst into the deep freeze of memory, untainted.
Simmons had arrived that night as a picture-perfect portrait of the post-Hot Topic decade: the stripped shirt and jeans, the hoodie that did double-duty as a cardigan. It was the look of a man trying very hard to give to give a fuck, just for one more night, for the kids. With minimal balance or composure, he ambled through the setlist with a hard kind of exhaustion, a tethered withholding. When he gave himself in the genre theatrics, like the hands grasping the mike on the fire-setting blaze of “Reflection,” these felt like live relapses into an old habit.
On the other hand, little attempt was given to do any justice to the sticky synths and vocoder vocals of 2016’s Light We Made, the album that was supposed to make it, B&C’s first record on a major label and, now, their last on any. “Postcard,” which was programed by Will Yip on the record as their take on an AltNation footstomper revealed itself as trad rock, Robbie Robertson stuff which would suffice. But Simmons felt more at home lobbing the quiet/loud volleys of his old, urgent demands of emotional purity. Behind me, a mosh circle had formed, bodies wrapped in thick polyester slamming against each other like it was 2009 and we were still in somebody’s basement. These were songs about telephones not picked up and emotions that we weren’t letting go. For one last night, Simmons would hold on to them for us, isn’t that the point?
In closing his own chapter, Simmons seemed to understand that something, larger, greater, was over. Queen of Jeans, another Philly band that had swung by to open for B&C, gave a nervous opening set that stuck with me. They looked like the future: female, harmonic and with killer optics (one their most popular music videos is a cover of the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” that stars their own mothers) and signed to the significantly cooler punk label Topshelf. They ended their set with another cover, their slayed-down version of “Are You That Somebody?,” late-90s Aaliyah, yeah from the Dr. Dolittle soundtrack, repurposed yet fondly recognizable. It’s good.