[PHOTOS + REVIEW] The Wonder Years + Boston Manor // Oxford Art Factory // 10/12/18

Western Sydney trio Zen Haircuts traverse genre to the point of being nearly unclassifiable. They’re math-rock by trade, but their approach to the sound is far less jolting and abrasive than your average hammer-tap merchants. They blend in the twinkly side of second-wave emo and the hustle-and-bustle of 2000s indie rock to land on something identifiably theirs. Vocalist/bassist Kieran Baskerville apologises at the top of the set for his sickly voice, but an encouraging group of early-arrival attendees encourage him to persevere – and, in all honesty, you probably wouldn’t have even noticed had he not already pointed it out.

In 2011, Popjustice’s Peter Robinson declared a movement of music called “The New Boring,” referring to the likes of Adele and Ed Sheeran infiltrating the airwaves with safe, adult-contemporary balladry. While this was certainly an issue within the pop world for a hot minute, it’s infiltrated rock scenes over in the UK too. This, somehow, feels more offensive to the ear – music that appears to possess edge and danger, yet poses as much of a threat as Mumford & Sons. With this in mind, meet Boston Manor – the new new boring.

Coming from the over-produced mould that gave us the likes of Nothing But Thieves and Deaf Havana, the band deal in red-level guitar and big-swinging choruses. The issue is that none of it sticks. None of it feels meaningful. Nothing they do pricks your ears to attention and commands presence. It passes by without any real impact or consequence in a wash of quantized, grid-locked complacency. It’s not for nothing that the two sole lyrics remembered from their entire set are a trope from western movies (“Put your hands up now/It’s a stick-up”) and a paraphrased quote from Muhammad Ali (“You float like a butterfly/And sting like a bee”). There is not an original bone in Boston Manor’s body, and given the quality of both the opener and headliner you can’t help but feel we deserve better.

For those of a certain age, The Wonder Years have been a lifeline. For any late teen and twentysomething trying to figure out their place in the world, albums like The Upsides and Suburbia made them feel less alone. That’s something you can never quite shake once it’s happened to you, and it’s for this reason that The Wonder Years’ live shows provoke such a visceral reaction. People clamour atop one another to surge forward and scream the words back in vocalist Dan Campbell’s face – and even those that remain grounded could collectively drown out the PA on any given chorus. It’s intoxicating, invigorating and meaningful bonding – whatever differences the hundreds in attendance may have outside of this hour-and-change, they don’t matter in this moment.

The Philadelphia natives know their way around peaks and valleys within their songs and albums, and this plays into the performance itself. The wrought, tender “Flowers Where Your Face Should Be” from this year’s Sister Cities lulls the audience into gentle sways before “Don’t Let Me Cave In” sends the room into a flurry of body movement. On occasion, they achieve this within the same song – see the slow-burn waltz of “Cigarettes and Saints,” which reaches its crescendo as Campbell stands arm in arm with a fan singing the bridge. Whatever they set out to do, The Wonder Years do it with the utmost of heart and conviction.

The night closes out with “Came Out Swinging,” the opening number to 2011’s Suburbia. It’s replete with handclaps, pogo moshes, crowdsurfing and all-in sing-alongs – everything you’d hope for from a classic pop-punk show. For the final verse, Campbell hurtles the microphone into the crowd. “It’s yours now!” he says. Better yet: It’s ours.

Review – David James Young
Photos – Britt Andrews