I Saw Alkaline Trio Four Nights in a Row

Originally posted on Bullets & Bloodshed April 26, 2015
written by Jimmy Weber

You know you like a band when they play 96 songs in four nights and you can still name five or six songs you wish they would’ve played.  That’s my relationship with Alkaline Trio. I’ve loved this band for so long, I honestly don’t remember when I started listening to them.  These songs have been in my life for so long, they feel more like real memories than memorized lyrics.

Annie has been in love with this band about as long as I have, so when we found out about PAST LIVE (Alkaline Trio performing all 8 studio albums, four nights in a row at the Summit Music Hall) we bought tickets immediately.  We were a little anxious about surviving four nights of shows when we’re not really in show-going shape anymore.  But the last four nights were an absolute blast and something neither of us will ever forget.  Here are some notes on the whole thing.

Pinhead Circus - Colorado’s Favorite Sons opened for Alkaline Trio.  I will write an entire essay about Pinhead Circus some day.  But to fill you in, they are a legendary Colorado punk band and are as influential in my life as Alkaline Trio.  Pinhead broke up a while ago and have reunited a few times since.  I hope they keep doing it because they sounded fucking great.  Some of the songs sounded better than I remember them sounding in 1998.

Set Up Times - Seeing Alkaline Trio play 96 songs in four nights was a pleasure.  Watching the 45 minute set up each night wasn’t.  Poor Handsome Mark, the lonely Trio roadie, had to set up the entire stage by himself each night.  We got to the venue when doors opened the first two nights so we could get a table seat and watch Pinhead.  The second two nights, we attempted to get there right when the Trio hit the stage.  But for whatever reason, on Friday and Saturday we STILL got there when the opening band was playing.  So we had to watch Handsome Mark set up each and every night.

Trio Sounded Awesome  - The setup time was a small price to pay.  Every night, the Trio sounded totally great.  After a little technical hiccup with Skiba’s guitar throughout some of My Shame is True (1st album, 1st night) they glided through all four nights.  Since the band has been around for 19 years, they have a WIDE range of sounds.  Their songs include everything from voicemail messages to orchestras.  I was curious how they would pull this off night after night.  Understandably, they used a sample machine which I thought was fitting.  I’ve seen them play with a second guitarist in the past who would play backstage.  That was weird.  The samples were booming loud and kept the song the way you remember it…as well as keeping the band as a “Trio.”  One fun surprise was an actual trumpet player during that one song on This Addiction(2nd night, 1st album).

Dudes Are Funny - Matt, Dan and Derek are funny guys.  They’ve been touring for decades now and know how to manage a crowd.  The banter was always a welcome break.  They would play 3-5 songs, take a breather, say four or five sentences, then start up the next 3-5 songs.  We heard all kinds of great little anecdotes.  Skiba gave us a tutorial on which Lincoln Continental to get (“Take it from a Lincoln guy…” he proclaimed) while Dan talked about stoned businessmen at their stuffy hotel.

The Sets - There was so much chatter about the album order.  People would tap on your shoulder “What album are they playing?”  Some say there was a “pattern” to the album order.  On the first night, they played their eighth album first and then their first album last.  On the second night they played their seventh album first and their second album second.  Third night, sixth album then third album.  And so on.  I don’t know if this was the actual idea or if they just picked it out of a hat, but I thought it worked perfectly.

I’m am happy Annie and I went all four nights, because I wouldn’t have been satisfied had I only seen one of these shows with this line up.  It felt like everyone (band included) was on the same page with which songs they wanted to hear.  They blasted through the first album of the residency, using it as a technical warm up.  Skiba got his pedal board situated and everyone else had their in-ear monitors tuned.  The crowd was glassy eyed and quiet.  Then it happened…Skiba started jamming the opening chords to Cringe (aka every Alkaline Trio fan’s favorite fucking song ever).  I’ve seen a million shows in my life and a billion songs, but there is something about seeingCringe live.  Few things in life are that great.

This also allowed them to end the four nights with Crimson (5th album) and Good Mourning (4th album).  That night was a fucking hit machine.  Hearing those two albums back-to-back reminded me how god damned catchy this band is.  Blue in the Face is a pretty good way to end a series of shows.

Screw Ups - But since the album order and setlists were such a big deal, it made it that much funnier when the band screwed it up every single night.  One night they totally skipped over a song and went back to it after.  On Saturday, Skiba proudly shouted “Fatally Yours!” indicating it would be the next song before Dan leaned forward and correctly shouted back “Emma!”  Derek started up Emma and they moved on.  I mean, they were playing 20-25 songs a night so it makes sense.  It’s just funny considering hundreds of people in the room knew exactly which song was next but the band didn’t.

My Friend Peter, Hell Yes, Warbrain, 97 - Even though Alkaline Trio played an entire career’s worth of material in four nights, they still have two full length records that aren’t “Studio Albums.”  There’s a dozen great songs between those two records.  So each night, after playing two studio albums, they’d come out and encore with another classic jam.  Our new favorite game became “Which Song Will They Play Tonight?”  We would both guess two or three songs they might play.  We felt like O.G.’s for getting it right 3 of the 4 nights (I ignorantly forgot about 97 and figured they’d go withGoodbye Forever [O.G. status revoked]).  I felt genuinely privileged to see My Friend Peter and Hell Yes live again.

But overall, I think my biggest takeaway was just how many songs these three dudes are responsible for.  Song after song after song after song.  It’s so easy to listen to these albums and remember the lyrics and pump your fist on the hooks.  But these guys sat down and wrote these songs.  Any Trio fan will tell you some of the songs sound similar.  But it’s not until you see every one performed in front of you that you realize how rich and successful their career has been.  These guys have done almost everything you can do as a band and they’ve done it without ever having major national exposure.  

And this is all without even mentioning the other bands they have been a part of.  I mean, Derek was the drummer of The Vandals and The fucking Suicide Machinesbefore he joined Alkaline Trio.  Dan was in Slapstick and is now part of The (mighty) Falcon with Slapstick frontman Brendan Kelly.  And it seems like every couple years we have a new project from Matt Skiba.  From his solo split record with Kevin Seconds to the current Matt Skiba and The Sekrets records, to Heavens, one of the best one-and-done bands in history…Skiba always has something cooking.  Oh yeah, he’s also currently filling in for some other band called Blink-182.

Which makes me realize these guys aren’t going anywhere.  A part of me thought, “Soak this up now, this might be the last time you see these guys.”  But after the four nights and 96 songs, it honestly doesn’t feel that way.  It felt like they are doing this tour now so they can go home, take some time off and then start working on the next 8 records.

- Setlist photo courtesy of Derek Grant’s instagram.