Unlike punk rock, which became as strictly codified as a branch of the military by the time it reached the mainstream, the emo genre has diffused to the point where it can take in anything from the caffeinated bubblegum of Fall Out Boy to the avant-metal of Avenged Sevenfold. And while neither of the bands that hit Gotham on the inaugural MySpace tour hit those extremes in terms of sound, they were clearly working from separate poles in terms of personae.
Say Anything, who took the stage first — the bands have been alternating order throughout the tour — may well be the most intriguing band currently tilling emo territory, largely due to the raw, captivating presence of frontman Max Bemis. The singer, who seems to have disabled all his natural filters, writes with an often painful openness about his struggles with mental illness — his hospitalizations have sidetracked the band at several junctures in its career — but manages to do so without slipping into pathos.
On this evening, Bemis and his bandmates kept the energy level high, heaping on the gang vocals and bumper-car guitar interplay, which reached peak intensity on “Skinny Mean Man” and the closing “Alive With the Glory of Love.” Twin brothers Jake and Jeff Turner traded off lead and rhythm duties with deceptive deftness, parting the band’s wall of sound to reveal surprisingly sophisticated melodies on “Woe” and the new “Baby Girl, I’m a Blur.”
Although the show came just a week after the release of the band’s new J release “In Defense of the Genre,” only three songs off that double album found their way into the perf. Given the stylistic gymnastics of the new disc — which bounces from electronica to power balladry like an updated (if less mature) “Sandinista” — it made sense to cull only its most basic shout-along material for airing here, but one couldn’t help but wish the band would’ve pushed the sonic envelope a bit more.
Co-headliners Hellogoodbye created a considerably lighter atmosphere by fusing sensibilities borrowed from three decades of airy predecessors — daubing Merseybeat pop touches over a synth-pop canvas and raiding their folks’ collection of ’70s soft rock hits for good measure. The resultant blend had the appeal of a fast food meal: plenty of instant gratification, but, aside from frontman Forrest Kline’s arcing vocals, precious little to digest in the long run.