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SLO Brewing Company (SLO Brew) was packed to capacity Friday night as Yellowcard reminded us why it is still relevant in the music industry: It can still put on a good show.
As I held my press pass and looked over my interview questions, the 13-year-old in me could barely breathe, while my more objective, tame 22-year-old self was thinking, “Please don’t bring up your middle school breakups, this is serious.”
Yellowcard — now an anomaly in the music industry for nearly two decades — brought enough pieces of its past into the show to satisfy both old and new fans.
Violinist Sean Mackin is Yellowcard’s longest-tenured member. He said he has been with the now-five-piece ensemble since its second-ever show in 1997.
“We have a great mix of fans that are loyal and stay with our band,” Mackin said. “And we have a nice mix of younger, new fans who are now sort of singing the gospel of Yellowcard.”
Mackin said that even after nearly 20 years, the group is still growing as a band. Friday night’s performance was proof.
To start their set, the quintet — each in a black shirt — played the first three songs off their new album, Lift a Sail.
After the new material, lead singer Ryan Key broke the ice: “I know when some of you heard we were playing (at SLO Brew), you went and told your friend, ‘Hey, Ocean’s Boulevard is playing.’”
The crowd met the joke with easy laughter.
I was apprehensive about the energy for the night when, after a few songs, half the audience seemed to lose focus. Fortunately, right before one of their slower-paced hits “Only One” Key told the crowd to get off Tinder.
“We won’t use our phones during the show if you don’t,” Key said. After that moment, I didn’t see many faces illuminated by cell phones.
Cal Poly graduate Liam Hedriana said the positioning of, “Only One,” was particularly meaningful.
“(They stuck) ‘Only One’ in the kinda beginning-middle of their set,” Hedriana said. “I feel like it was really nice of them for their old fans and for everybody that came out.”
Just as the more casual fans found familiar footing through the “Ocean Avenue” hit, the tone grew serious leading up to “Lift a Sail,” the title track of the group’s newest record.
Key said they wrote the song during an emotional time for the band: “(We’re) trying to help you get through whatever you’re getting through with our music.”
After the pep talk, the venue erupted with the fans’ rhythmic shouting peaking between cymbal crashes.
Afterward, Mackin got real with his audience and said, “(It’s the) best feeling in the world to look out and see you guys singing our songs.”
Key later introduced “One Bedroom,” the show’s first acoustic-guitar-centered song.
“I want you to find your best Chris Martin, Coldplay voice (when I go) ‘oo-ooh-oooh,'” Key said.
Key took advantage of the guitar swap following “One Bedroom” to introduce the band members. When guitarist Ryan Mendez’s turn came, Key had a little fun with the crowd.
“Did you know he has pneumonia? Did you know he has tonsilitis?”
Mackin chimed in: “He’s literally collecting as many viral diseases as possible.”
Key then decided it was time to introduce the bassist: “Ladies! Josh Portman on the bass,” and after a brief pause, “Men! Josh Portman on the bass.”
Key reached for the ignition as the setlist approached its final turn. They climbed an emotional peak with “Believe,” one of the many hits off the platinum-selling Ocean Avenue.
The song, which, according to Mackin, was “meant to sort of commemorate the heroes of 9/11,” ignited energy in the venue. Mackin pumped his fists during the choruses, matching the intensity of the fans closest to the stage.
“That’s my moment,” Mackin said. “That’s the eye of the storm for me. Every night, just watching people sing, ‘Everything is gonna be alright.’”
The song’s conclusion brought a feeling of camaraderie between Yellowcard and the crowd. It’s easy to find value in any stanza of Key’s lyrics, and “Believe” gave the crowd a necessary attitude boost.
Key then opened up, admitting the band was tired after touring for 10 consecutive weeks with no breaks. He proceeded to thank the crowd at SLO Brew for the night and for how quickly the show had sold out once tickets went on sale.
“We needed the energy tonight,” Key said.
Every member except Key exited the stage. He sat front and center with a NORD keyboard, serenading the crowd with “California.”
After the final track off their latest album concluded, the crowd begged for an encore.
And they got it: three more songs.
“My friends, are you tired yet?” Key said as the band re-assumed their positions onstage.
They opened the encore with “Fighting” as Mackin tossed the remains of a water bottle over those closest to the stage. There was a brief tension in the crowd through the encore, as Yellowcard still had not played their biggest hit.
Soon the palm-muting began and worries transformed into cheers.
Key began, “There’s a place off Ocean Avenue…”
The audience got its final wind, jumping wildly. I spotted the first crowd surfer of the night, and my ears began to ring.
They still haven’t stopped.
Check out their whole set-list below: