The price of stardom can be a profound and heavy one. Bands are easily caught in the fast coming success of today's industry. It is displeasing when a band loses sense of what got them where they are; and for as many bands that take this problematic and troubled path, there are enough who stay on course. They give back to the fans and proudly rock out at the places they call home.
Pennsylvania based The Starting Line are one of those bands who have not forgotten their pedigree. Through their success they have managed to keep themselves grounded. On Saturday, April 17th, The Starting Line took a trip from Asbury Park, New Jersey, where they were playing the annual Skate and Surf Festival, to a small, cozy Christian Brothers university in Philadelphia. Along for the ride were good friends Motion City Soundtrack.
This concert was unique as it was a private show for only 400 LaSalle University students (although it seemed to only reach 200 students). Tickets were free and were on a first come first serve basis. Set up in a small auditorium with a low-rise stage, the show was remarkably warm and intimate. With the rising popularity of The Starting Line, their local Philadelphia shows have become regular sold out events, and the students of LaSalle were fortunate to view The Starting Line in such an informal milieu.
The show opened with Motion City Soundtrack taking the stage and ripping into an energized set list with songs primarily from their Epitaph debut album, I Am the Movie. The Moog-infused power rock of their songs made for an ideal opening act to jump-start the evening. The eccentric time changes and quirky lyrics delighted the small crowd. A muted aspect however, was a sound guy that spent more time checking his cell phone than saving the crowds ears. He had absolutely no clue that having the drum volume cranked so loud could cause permanent ear damage. He even managed to block out the entire drum monitor at one point so drummer Tony Thaxton couldn't hear a damn thing. To Tony's credit, he didn't miss a beat. Despite our quality sound man, the band managed to work around him, and made a fantastic start to the night. After Motion City Soundtrack delighted the crowd, it was time for the hometown boys to charm LaSalle.
After about fifteen minutes, The Starting Line took the stage and opened with the sore-to-the-touch "Cheek to Cheek," a track the band has rarely played live during their past Philly shows. From there, The Starting Line played a host of songs from their full length Say It Like You Mean It with little down time between songs. One thing you can never knock The Starting Line for is lack of energy and emotion of their live set and this show was no different. Bassist and lead singer Kenny Vasoli led the bedlam on stage with his high-energy expressionism. As they continued to play, the crowd seemed to get more animated and enthusiastic. The Starting Line also played a few new songs, which added a nice change of pace. One of my only moans is that they have been milking Say It Like You Mean It since its release. They have so much material that was never released that I wish they would incorporate into their live shows a little more. It was definitely a delight to hear a few new songs. The Starting Line performed their songs with heightened competence and sounded really tight-knit while the set flowed together extremely well. They are without a doubt, progressing musically as a band. I also noticed the particular enhancement in the drumming of Tom Gryskiewicz. I used to think he was a step behind at times, but he has really improved and advanced his timing and sounded exceptionally proficient behind the kit.
When bands like The Starting Line play small, private shows like this, to me, it is something special. It shows that some bands are still willing to do the little things to make their fans feel distinctive and unique. I can honestly look at them and know deep down, it doesn't matter if they play in front of ten people or 10,000. In a music industry where more and more labels and bands have their noses to the air, it is nice to know there are still some good guys around; especially that quartet from Pennsylvania known as The Starting Line.
April 30th, 2004