When you buy a concert ticket in the upper deck of the Erwin Center on the far end of the arena, it’s a given that you’ll be a long way from the action. Just being in the room is good enough if you really love the band, but you’re prepared for the performers to look pretty small from way back there.
So fans of Fall Out Boy who were in those seats must have been delighted when the Chicago rockers introduced an ingenious gimmick midway through their Sunday night show. First, drummer Andy Hurley and guitarist Joe Trohman set up on a platform at the end of a long runway that extended from the stage. Then suddenly singer Patrick Stump and bassist Pete Wentz appeared on another platform even further out, all the way at the other end of the arena.
As the band launched into their 2005 hit “Dance, Dance,” those faraway fans suddenly found themselves with quite a close-up view. Then the platforms gradually rose from suspended cables. By the time the band segued into “Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)” from their new album “Mania,” Stump and Wentz’s stage had elevated all the way up to mezzanine level. Those nosebleed-seat purchases now seemed like a steal.
That was the high point (literally and figuratively) of a stage production that sometimes seemed to be the star of the show. With seven albums and a slew of hit singles across a two-decade career, Fall Out Boy has been one of America’s most prominent rock bands of the 2000s. Even so, at times their musical performance almost seemed to be the canvas upon which some incredibly creative production designers created a spectacle of pop entertainment.
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Consider the video component. Behind the band, a huge screen displayed ever-changing thematic visuals for each song. A giant squid thrashed about in footage that accompanied “The Phoenix,” followed by majestic mountain scenes for “Irresistible.” Pixar-quality animation told a story behind “Immortals,” giving way to amusing scenes of giant muppet-like animal creatures playing instruments in a make-believe ensemble called the Rockafire Explosion as the band blasted through the opening track on its new album.
Then there was the song with zillions of emojis twirling in the background. Plus those action bits from the viral video game “Fortnite” for the early fave “Grand Theft Autumn/Where Is Your Boy.” And, naturally, scenes from various Uma Thurman films when they played their song titled “Uma Thurman.” Plenty more examples could be cited — the Princess Diana historical footage when they played “Champion,” anyone? — but you get the idea.
Oh, and the pyrotechnics: Lots of showering sparks and bomb-like blasts, plus bursts of fire including one stream that shot out from the headstock of Wentz’s bass on a couple of songs. Lest we forget the two dudes dressed in giant llama-like costumes who came out to toss T-shirts into the crowd while the band was making its way back to the main stage from the platforms.
The irony is that behind the razzle-dazzle, musically Fall Out Boy remains a pretty basic, straight-ahead four-piece guitar-drums-bass rock band. Stump is a powerful and tuneful singer, a perfect delivery vehicle for Wentz’s often angst-ridden lyrics. Shirtless and heavily tattooed Hurley attracts attention behind the drum kit; Trohman is less flashy but carries a lot of the musical weight on his shoulders with his guitar leads.
Their fans are hard-core devotees. Though the Erwin Center was a bit short of full for this show, maybe 75 percent of capacity for its south-stage setup, almost all in the house stood for the entire 90-minute set, and many sang along loudly throughout the evening. Fall Out Boy hadn’t played Austin in more than three years, and their last Erwin Center appearance was more than a decade ago. For their faithful followers, clearly it was worth the wait.
Two opening acts made for a longer-than-usual concert evening. In the middle slot, Machine Gun Kelly was somewhat hit-and-miss, trying hard to rev up the crowd with his energetic performance but never really getting the entire arena fully engaged. His music’s pretty different from the headliner, drawing heavily on rap music. A late-set highlight had a local connection: Kelly’s recent hit “Bad Things” cribs its catchy chorus from “Out of My Head,” a 1999 top-20 hit for Austin band Fastball. (Expect to hear it again at ACL Fest from Camila Cabello, whose supporting vocal was delivered via prerecorded track during Kelly’s performance.)
Opening act Nothing, Nowhere was different yet again, a heavily dramatic emo band from New England that has released three records since 2015. Leader Joe Mulherin charged through dark songs such as “Hopes Up” (as in, “I don’t want to get my hopes up”) and “Nevermore,” advising the crowd that “If you struggle with mental illness, keep fighting and stay positive.” Music seems to have been the right outlet for his own battle. His band may never reach mass-headliner status, but as an opener on a three-band bill, they held their own.