AUSTIN, Texas — Is it possible that Pete Wentz is really a poptimist? Despite his dark bangs and Black Cloud missives, his best Fall Out Boy songs were always, at their very core, spiky slabs of pure pop. And no matter what may be going on in his personal life these days, his new project Black Cards seems to be solely focused around the idea of optimism.
So yes, perhaps he has been — and always will be — a poptimist at heart. And that much was certainly clear during the Cards’ Wednesday night performance at South by Southwest, a 45-minute set that was as heavy on sparkly synths and bubbly dub as it was on, well, pure poptimism.
Wentz even said as much himself, telling the crowd that his new mission is to “broadcast sunshine,” and that “sometimes it’s good to have summer all the time.” He declared, “It’s good to be onstage and see people smiling,” slapped high fives with strangers, and closed the set by inviting everyone in Austin club Maggie Mae’s to join him and his bandmates onstage for an impromptu dance party. And in keeping with the spirit of the night, nearly everyone in the place obliged.
And in between the sunshine and the smiling, Wentz spent the majority of the Black Cards’ set pogoing around the stage, thumbing out wobbly, delirious bass lines, and generally looking happier than he has in years. In fact, he seemed perfectly content to let someone else have the spotlight — the fans, his friends in the audience (most of whom received shout-outs) and, of course, frontwoman Bebe Rexha, who was more than willing to accept.
All hips and lips and breathy exclamations, Rexha quickly proved to be the perfect foil for Wentz, whether she was getting low during the Cards’ dubbier, clubbier numbers (“Dirty Little Fingerprints,” “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Fame”), vamping it up (on upcoming single “Summer Nights,” when she removed a pair of handcuffs from her belt, snapped them on the wrist of a fan and then serenaded him in sultry fashion), or just plain old belting it out (on a cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”). Patrick Stump she most certainly isn’t, and perhaps that’s for the best.
Because, really, the Black Cards’ SXSW set wasn’t about Pete Wentz’s past so much as it was about his future. With his new project, he not only appears to be having a blast, he just may have stumbled onto something big. By combining dub, a touch of rock-steady and a whole lot of pop, he’s uncovered a recipe for something new … for him, for his fans, for everybody. “Summer Nights” seems destined to be a radio staple, “Dominos” is a starry burst of synths and bass, and performance-closing “A Club Called Heaven” probably would’ve gotten the fans dancing onstage even if Wentz hadn’t invited them to.
It was, in short, poptimism, pure and simple. Not exactly new, not entirely old, with Black Cards, Pete Wentz may very well end up proving the old adage correct: Optimists are nostalgic about the future.