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Bands turn frowns upside down at Sad Summer Fest 2023

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Olivia Reid
Adam Lazzara, lead vocalist of Taking Back Sunday, takes stage at Sad Summer Fest. Photo by Olivia Reid (She/Her)/ Photography Editor.

If there’s anything the performing bands at Sad Summer Fest 2023 know, it’s that sometimes smiles fade in the summer. The festival featured accomplished acts: Stand Atlantic, Mom Jeans, Hot Mulligan, The Maine, PVRIS and was headlined by Taking Back Sunday.

Sad Summer Fest is a recurring tour, and for the 2023 edition, bands took a detour from the usual Worcester Palladium to perform in Boston. The day-long affair took place at Leader Bank Pavilion in the Seaport district of Boston Sunday, July 16, and thankfully, the heavy rain didn’t stop the onslaught of fans from pouring into the venue.

Sincere Engineer kicked things off at 2:30 p.m., and they got the night started on a high note. Their set livened the crowd and immediately set the tone for the festival ahead. They played some of their more popular songs for the set, including “Corn Dog Sonnet No. 7” and “Trust Me.”

After Sincere Engineer finished up, next came the Australian pop punk quad, Stand Atlantic. They opened up with the first track off of their newest record “f.e.a.r.,” which was “doomsday.” Frontwoman Bonnie Fraser was terrific on the vocals, and both she and her colleagues packed a punch with a time-constrained setlist. After breezing through fan favorite tracks “kill[h]er” and “deathwish,” they ended their set with “molotov [OK],” also from “f.e.a.r.”

Mom Jeans was the next band to take the stage. The group, who specialize in Midwestern Emo—and ironically enough, hail from northern California—brought the house down with their gig. Weather was a key point of banter throughout the festival, and it was brought up on multiple occasions in this set, along with the layout of Leader Bank Pavilion’s seating. Mom Jeans’ frontman Eric Butler—sporting his luscious locks and trademark high-strapped guitar—apologized for the downpour going on outside in the concessions area, as well as the lack of a mosh pit within the front rows. 

Their set had a well constructed mix of older and newer songs; “Poor Boxer Shorts” and “*Sobs Quietly*” from their 2016 album “Best Buds” rounded out the older portion of the mix, alongside the 2018 track “PICKLE BART” from “Puppy Love.” Both the band and the crowd were electric; their performance came to a climax with their final song—a fan favorite—“Edward 40hands.” The iconic riff among indie fans put the crowd into a frenzy the moment it was played, and both Butler and bassist Sam Kless erupted the crowd with their on-stage antics. Butler jumped off his amplifier in the middle of the song, later imitating Chuck Berry’s famous “duck walk,” while Kless threw his bass into the air near the end of the song and threw a towel into the crowd below.

Mom Jeans left the stage for its other half in a dynamic duo, Hot Mulligan. Once again, it was time for more banter in light of the catastrophic weather. Vocalist “Sades” Sanville made a joke how the “person upstairs” seemed upset at the city and the rainfall was its punishment. He introduced himself and his bandmates, and after playing “Drink Milk and Run,” Hot Mulligan performed “Shhh! Golf Is On” from their new album “Why Would I Watch.” They also played more popular songs from their catalogue, including a medley of “Featuring Mark Hoppus” and “Losing Days,” which play back-to-back on their album “I Won’t Reach Out to You.” Sanville’s raw emotion was on display with raspy, high-pitched vocals; he consistently maintained higher notes that complemented the studio version of the songs perfectly. 

While the group only performed eight songs, they drew the crowd in with their captivating stage presence and banter. Sanville told the crowd, “It’s time to play Brandon [Blakeley’s] favorite song of the night, ‘This Song is Called What’s it Called.’” This got the audience to cheer, both at the expense of the song being played and Sanville’s clever joke. The final two songs of the set are arguably two of the most popular songs the band has put out in “*Equips Sunglasses*” and “BCKYRD.” Hot Mulligan left with an array of applause and suspense for what was to come in the final three acts

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There was a last-minute switch in the lineup. Initially, PVRIS was going to play at 6:55, with The Maine taking the stage at 8:00. However, The Maine went first with some magical moments for the audience. Their opener was one of their newest songs, “blame,” which gave fans a taste of the direction the band was going. 

Their third song of the set brought a special guest on stage, which wasn’t the only guest to come up during their set. Adam Lazzara, the vocalist for Taking Back Sunday, led the way with the vocals for “Loved You a Little.” In the midst of their act, The Maine’s frontman John O’Callaghan had a touching interlude in which he jumped atop the engineer’s table in the center of the crowd. O’Callaghan asked the onlookers to take their cell phones out, listen to the music playing and sing along if they knew it. 

Afterwards, they got through a few more songs, including “Into Your Arms” and “Sticky.” Although, nothing in their set compared to what O’Callaghan did during their final song of the night, “Black Butterflies and Déjà Vu.” Earlier in the set, O’Callaghan provided comedic relief with some banter and crowd engagement, during which he befriended a young New Hampshire lad named Jacob. When performing the final song, the frontman brought Jacob on stage to have him sing the final chorus, giving him a memory to cherish forever and an iconic moment the audience can look back on. 

PVRIS did a tremendous job in The Maine’s usual place. The Lowell, Mass. based band playing in front of a hometown crowd was the cherry on top. Frontwoman Lynn Gunn’s band-turned project had garnered a lot of applause, and they started with their 2021 single “Monster.” PVRIS featured a lot of new material in their set including songs from their newest album, “EVERGREEN,” which dropped just two days prior on July 14. Gunn and her colleagues provided fun as the penultimate act and helped set the stage for the headliner, emo rock legends Taking Back Sunday.

The crew came out firing and delivered an 18-song set that brought the house down with ear candy to all attending. Lazzara, alongside bassist Shaun Cooper and lead guitarist John Nolan, wore matching red tuxedos for the occasion. The five piece band got things going with the two-decade old headbanger “A Decade Under the Influence,” followed by another oldie in “Liar (It Takes One to Know One).”

Taking Back Sunday mixed up their setlist well, incorporating classic tracks from earlier albums with newer tracks released in the past decade. Numbers like “Set Phasers to Stun” and “One Eighty by Summer” from their 2004 album “Where You Want to Be” were played, joined by “Tidal Wave,” “Stood a Chance”  and “Flicker, Fade,” newer releases over the past decade. Their newest single “The One” came out a week before the tour began and was played in the middle of their act.

In the closing stages of their show, Taking Back Sunday thanked the crowd for coming out in the pouring rain to watch them and the supporting acts play, and gave fans a treat by playing their fan favorites, including “You’re So Last Summer” and “Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut From the Team).” The band wasn’t finished there; Lazzara acknowledged that, for the most part, bands usually play the hits during sets, but in the case of Taking Back Sunday, they went against the grain and asked fans to listen and take in a new, unreleased song. However, Taking Back Sunday made sure to leave the crowd with a treat before exiting, playing their biggest hit “MakeDamnSure” as the final song. The track left Leader Bank Pavilion buzzing and fans far from tired after a long day listening to bands they adore.

As it seems, neither the seating arrangements of the venue or the downpours rained on the parade of fans and artists and kept them from having an amazing time. The stage presence and frenzy of fans brought good times to many, and above all else, have people anticipating next year’s event.

About the Contributors
Nick Collins, Sports Editor
Olivia Reid, Photo Editor