The Wonder Years - Washington DC

Every so often, a band comes around that understands the dynamic of a live show better than just about anyone. From the quality of light design to the energy on stage, to the connection to the crowd, and even the choice of support acts - everything comes together for an experience that nobody in attendance is soon to forget. For the last decade, The Wonder Years have spent their time honing their live experience into something that borders on spiritual. Seeing them perform for the first time in Washington, DC at the historic Howard Theatre was no exception. The show was intimate, the energy was high, and it was everything I’ve come to expect from The Wonder Years in a live setting.

One thing that I feel The Wonder Years have always done well is selecting support acts that make sense for their fans and sound, building the experience over the course of the evening to a culminating point in their set. This show, featuring support from The Color and Sound, Super Whatevr, and Hot Mulligan, showed that they are still taking the same care to choose support acts that make sense stylistically and are in line with the overall experience that they want their fans to have at a show.

First to the stage was the Boston-based band The Color and Sound, a fantastic choice to kick off the evening. Their light-hearted stage presence combined with their fun, almost folky, sing-song style made for a really enjoyable listen. They are a band with great chemistry on-stage and it’s clear that they value the perception of their live set. Sonically, they had a fullness to their sound that you don’t always hear from bands in this genre due, in part, to the band having a fantastic keys player filling up all the space that may have been left by the other four band members.

Next up was Super Whatevr, a quartet hailing from Costa Mesa, CA with a laid-back vibe to match. Super Whatever, on the whole, was a more subdued and reserved experience than any of the other bands on the bill, but still with spurts of energy that kept things moving forward and the crowd engaged. Their subtle use of melody was very akin to “No Closer to Heaven”-era The Wonder Years and I was very glad to see a band like this included on the lineup. Putting them in the middle slot between two higher-energy bands made for a nice ebb and flow of energy of the course of the night and, again, shows the care that The Wonder Years take in crafting the live experience. Not just within their own set, but over the course of an entire night.

When Hot Mulligan took the stage, they came out swinging with their own brand of high-energy, emotional pop punk and the crowd responded in a big way. Everything had a harder edge to it, more people were moving in the crowd, the band had a more aggressive and commanding presence on stage. Everything about Hot Mulligan’s set added up to the entire evening getting kicked up a notch. With a biting, high-energy sound that harkens back to some early releases from The Wonder Years, they proved to be the perfect band to set the stage for the masters themselves to take the stage.

From the moment The Wonder Years took the stage, something was different about the room. Everyone packed in a little tighter, the voices got a little louder, and everyone was moving a little bit more. And when they opened the show with the title track of their new album, “Sister Cities”, everyone in the room knew we were in for a special night. Dan “Soupy” Campbell sounded raw and powerful right from the beginning and set the tone for the emotional roller coaster that the band would bring the crowd on. With tracks from every era of their catalog-spanning almost ten years, as well as two songs, getting their live debut from the new record, there truly was something for everyone. And in true form, they went out with a bang, closing the show with an encore of “Came Out Swinging” as the crowd gave whatever they had remaining and left it on the floor.

Sonically fantastic. Emotionally engaging. Spiritually Captivating. All phrases I would use to describe the live experience put forth by the Philadelphia legends, The Wonder Years. There are only so many words to describe the feeling of connection and intimacy you feel like a member of the crowd at their shows. The only way to truly understand what makes this band so great at what they do is to go see it for yourself. When The Wonder Years makes their way through your town, just go. You won’t be disappointed.

Photos & words by Rob McKenney