May 23, 2003

Alkaline Trio disappoints old and new fans alike

There are two kinds of Alkaline Trio fans: those who have been listening to the Chicago natives since the halcyon days of 1997's Goddamnit and those who caught on after their last two albums, From Here to Infirmary and Good Mourning. At their sold out Riviera show on Thursday night, Alkaline Trio attempted to please both kinds of fans but failed.

Positioned in front of a black, white, and red banner depicting three graves marked by crosses on a hillside, the band assumed that most of the audience had never heard Goddamnit and then failed to provide an innovative set list even for these imagined newbies. On top of that--speaking as someone who has seen them at Fireside shows and their earliest Metro gigs--the band's live performance isn't what it used to be.

For all of the songwriting creativity and talent of Skiba and Dan Andriano in the studio, they no longer have the same fervor for playing live. This is too bad since their catalog of morbid punk-emo rock that make for an overwhelming amount of diverse, good tunes, should be energetic and perfect concert material.

It's not that the Trio is bad. Its past concerts weren't bad. What's bad is its rise to popularity that ultimately landed the band between the unfamiliar pillars of the Riviera. Alkaline Trio's sound is out of place in such a sprawling venue. The Riv has seats, and it's big. What do Alkaline Trio fans need seats for? At the Metro, their energy is so contagious that even the wimpiest watcher feeds off of the enthusiasm and finds themselves shirtless in the middle of the mosh pit. At the Riviera, the fans were so spread out between the bar, pillars, and wall that the community feeling--the shared sense of witnessing beautiful rock 'n' roll in the making--was lost. So newer fans have no idea that an Alkaline Trio show is supposed to be different, and older fans feel this disappearance all too keenly.

Despite this, the crowd devoured all 13 songs and got seconds during the two-song encore of "'97" and "Tuck Me In." Because Good Mourning dropped on the Tuesday before the show, Trio played six songs that all resulted in rambunctious screaming from the crowd. The fluent opener "This Could Be Love" immediately drew the fans into Skiba's macabre world with the lyrics, "You took me hostage and made your demands, I couldn't meet them so you cut off my fingers." Likewise, the catchy "All On Black" flowed effortlessly from guitar, bass, and drums and incited testosterone moshing within seconds.

Unfortunately, the set list included many songs that the Trio plays live so often that even the ad-libs are predictable. "My Friend Peter" has been overplayed so much that when Skiba substitutes "Chicago" for "friend" when singing the lyrics "need my friend Peter to tell me what to do," the excitement in the room stems only from Trio-concert virgins. Memorized lyrics are expected for a band in its hometown, but some innovation would have increased the excitement.

The newer fan may have left completely satisfied with the show, never knowing what it could have been, but the old fan could not be as forgiving. Maybe Alkaline Trio's popularity swell within the last year or Skiba's infidelity to the Windy City (he moved to California two years ago) incited a change in the band's live style. Whatever the cause, the Trio is no longer the great live experience it once w