LOS ANGELES — Yellowcard have a problem. And that problem is popular opinion. For the better part of six months, they've gone out of their way to prove that they're not just another pop-punk act with a couple of "TRL"-approved hits under their studded belts, but rather a living, breathing rock animal. The challenge has been getting anyone to believe them.
With their new album, Lights and Sounds, Yellowcard are traveling a well-worn path, trying to make the leap from pretenders to contenders, but it's a path littered with casualties. They've said all the right things, (Lights is the album they were born to make), scored all the right cameos (the Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines sings on the album) and taken all the right press photos (black-and-white and somewhat arty), though it remains to be seen if the public is ready to accept them as an actual rock and roll band.
Which is probably why, at a pre-Grammy gig on Tuesday, Yellowcard decided to push the issue, launching a full-bore rock assault that was heavy on clichés (Jesus Christ poses, moody lighting, minimal between-song banter, an actual drum solo), excruciatingly loud and, in the end, actually pretty impressive.
But if they want to be taken seriously, YC might first want to consider escaping the heavy-handed corporate sponsorship. Tuesday night's show at Avalon could've doubled as a Verizon shareholder's conference, what with the signage posted throughout the club and the pre-show text-message screen above the stage displaying texts from fans between not-so-subtle reminders to meet the band at the Verizon Wireless store in San Francisco later this week.
The sad part is that with all the corporate synergy flying around, it was easy to miss the fact that Yellowcard have actually become a pretty tight band. Frontman Ryan Key (he of the Jesus poses) urged the crowd on through innumerable sing-alongs. Violinist Sean Mackin played the role of the energetic hype man, shouting into the front row and pulling off an eye-popping back flip from the stacks of amps. New guitarist Ryan Mendez rained notes on the audience, bassist Pete Mosley chugged along, and drummer Longineu Parsons snapped in time (and ripped through that aforementioned solo).
They peppered their hits throughout the set, leading off with the title track from Lights and Sounds, and closing with the title cut from Ocean Avenue. In between, they gave the new songs impressive punch (Mendez's spiraling fretwork on "Sure Thing Falling," Key's soulful yelps on "Rough Landing, Holly") and treated the older stuff with surprising reverence (Key even broke out the acoustic guitar for "Cigarette" off their 2001 album One for the Kids.)
But it was difficult to tell just whom they were trying to impress. The crowd at Avalon would've gone nuts even if YC decided to bust out in interpretive dance. Every song — new and old — was greeted with shouts, sing-alongs and cell phones held aloft. At one point, Key and Mackin physically divided the audience into "teams" for a good old-fashioned scream-off, creating a line right down the center of the general-admission section and ordering no one to cross until they said so (And no one did.)
At their core — and really, their best — YC have won so many fans because they are just like every audience member: full of big ideas and too young to know any better. They're not going to unite the globe like U2, and they're not going to release experimental electro-rock albums like Radiohead (at least let's hope they don't.) They might try and push the "important rock act" thing for a while, but Yellowcard's real power lies in being a bunch of kids from Florida who moved to Los Angeles and made it big. And as Tuesday night's show proved, there's no harm in trying to split the difference.
See the feature "Yellowcard: Split Decision" for more on the band's new beginning.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.
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