With a 15-year track record, Brand New is anything but. Since reaching semi-consciousness way back in 2001 with Your Favorite Weapon, the New York band has taken incremental steps to transition from mid-eschaelon pop-punkers lamenting being home on a Saturday night into reclusive rockers with jagged and downcast post-hardcore hymnals about Jesus and taking the “highway to hell.” Along the way, Brand New put out two critically-acclaimed but commercially-disappointing records on Interscope before self-releasing Daisy in 2009, and, in doing so, completing the metamorphosis that left the band utterly unrecognizable from the one that unflinchingly referenced Jude Law in songs eight years prior.
It’s been six years since the band put out its best and most off-putting body of work into the world and—save for last year’s Summerfest appearance and a select few lucrative festival one-off appearances—the boys in Brand New haven’t exactly been road warriors to support their kindergarten-aged collection of subversive songs. None of that appeared to matter in Milwaukee on Wednesday night, as thousands of patrons from all age groups stood atop every spare inch of metallic bleacher and bleacher-adjacent concrete at Summerfest’s Miller Lite Oasis stage to brave the brisk early-summer conditions and scream along with every word.
Following a tight, intense, and crowd-pleasing 8 p.m. performance by Atlanta indie rockers Manchester Orchestra that included impassioned and extended versions of “Shake It Out,” “The Ocean,” and some select cuts from their latest, Cope, the absence of between-act music and the pitch blackness usually impeded by the neon glow of light beer signage signaled Brand New’s presence. As an almost Pavlovian reaction, kids enjoying their college break sparked their dankest nuggz and waited for the act that had some in attendance camped on the bleachers since early that afternoon. A woman next to us (probably in her 30s) remarked, “Sixteen-year-old me is dying right now!”
The silence was cut with an unfamiliar drum roll, which signaled the start of “Mene,” a song the band quietly dropped online two months ago and the first/only song they have released this decade. They immediately chased that with two of Daisy’s more brash numbers—“Sink” and “Gasoline”—as what sounded like the majority of the bursting mid-week crowd screamed along. From there, Brand New started its traverse of its entire catalog with “Millstone” and “You Won’t Know” off its major label swan song, The God And Devil Are Raging Inside Me, which gave way to Déjà Entendu fan favorites “Sic Transit Gloria…Glory Fades,” “I Will Play My Game Beneath The Spin Light,” and “Okay, I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t.” The latter song sent the audience—some of whom were in the thick of elementary school when the song was released—into hysterics. Not a syllable of the wordy song went unsung.
Jesse Lacey, who hid under a hood for much of the performance, issued his first of minimal crowd interaction. “Hey. We’re called Brand New,” he said before continuing the reverse chronological catalog slide with “Mix Tape” and “Seventy Times 7” from the aforementioned outlier of a debut record. On the whole, Lacey’s vocals were sloppy and occasionally late, but one can only assume it was part of the manicured aesthetic that is post-Déjà Brand New. After that, Brand New bounced from album to album and fans followed every step of the way. The subdued “Jesus” served as the (pre-encore) set closer, as well as the bridge connecting the two divergent age groups of people at the Oasis. Some sang along nostalgically, affixing the aural entertainment to memories of bygone days in which Brand New served as the soundtrack. Others were making Summer Shandy-dulled memories they’d surely draw upon in years to come.
Milwaukee turned out in huge numbers to see a band that intentionally tries to alienate its audience with each album, an act who tours infuriatingly seldom, and a group of musicians who don’t really seem to give a fuck whether you like them. It was awesome.