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A Dare To Be Great Situation: Say Anything at Sonar, Nov. 12

November 15, 2010

If there’s any one band that rises above the past decade of the increasingly mediocre, derivative rock subculture known as emo, it’s Say Anything. Between the fascinating, hilarious lyrical persona of frontman Max Bemis, distinctive and creative guitar work, and proggy, ambitious song structures, Say Anything is simply one of the more unpredictable and rewarding bands of its era, in any genre.

But the group that once named an album In Defense of the Genre is also not shy about the genre it’s most associated with, and is currently on a fall tour with other emo A-listers such as Motion City Soundtrack and Saves the Day. During Say Anything’s set in Baltimore on Friday night, Bemis praised Saves the Day as the “greatest band of all time.”

Bemis is a bit like Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices in that while he guides much of the sound and instrumentation of Say Anything’s albums, onstage he simply holds the microphone and focuses on vocals, letting his five-piece backing band pound out his triumphant guitar anthems. He also comes off as much a passionate nerd about his band as any of its fans, constantly thanking the crowd and saying how great the tour’s going, and taking the time to introduce almost every song while also fastidiously noting which album it’s from.

And the audience reciprocated that enthusiasm, singing along to “Alive With the Glory of Love,” the closest thing the band had to a radio hit during its recently concluded major label tenure, as well as to more obscure cuts like “Colorblind,” from Say Anything’s commercially unavailable but widely bootlegged 2001 debut Baseball.

Though the set spanned the band’s whole career, from Baseball up to last year’s excellent self-titled album, the emphasis was clearly strongest on the breakthrough album that won the band its devoted following, 2004′s . . . Is A Real Boy. At one point, Bemis brought Saves the Day’s Chris Conley and David Soloway onstage to run through “Crawl,” a song from their Two Tongues side project’s 2009 self-titled album.

The drum machine-driven synth pop songs on Say Anything’s albums don’t sound like likely candidates for live show highlights, but “Do Better” and “Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too” worked surprisingly well onstage. Instead, it was some of the band’s more linear, disjointed songs like “Plea” and “Spay Me” that provided the few lulls in excitement. And whenever that happened, a fist-pumping anthem like “Belt” or “The Futile” was always around the corner to whip everyone back into a frenzy.

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