On March 1st of this year, Streetlight Manifesto announced that they“will no longer be touring year round, nor will we be touring much at all anymore. We have decided to step away from the table before we get sick of our favorite meal…”. I, and many Streetlight fans, felt like we had been punched in the gut. Not because there was any feeling of betrayal, but an immense sense of loss. Streetlight Manifesto has been one of the most toured bands in all of Ska-dom. It was not unheard of them to stop in the same city three times a year, in between jaunts overseas to play shows and festivals in far-flung countries, only to turn around and do it again the following year. And the next. And the next. Reading that this was coming to an end, was, for a lack of better term, heartbreaking. A multiple-times-a-year pilgrimage to whatever venue they were playing was coming to an end. A concert staple of mine since I was 17 was coming to an end. I have seen them every time they stopped in Arizona, and on July 3rd, I made the trek to the Rialto Theatre in Tucson, Az, to see them one last time.
The opening bands (Empty Orchestra from Flint, MI, and Rodeo Ruby Love, from Indiana) were good, but the rabid fans packing the old vaudeville theatre on Congress wanted one thing and one thing only: Streetlight Manifesto. At 10 pm sharp, the crowd got what they wanted and more. Streetlight Manifesto took to the dark stage amidst a thunderous applause, and, without saying a word, launched into “The Three of Us,” the opening track off their latest album The Hands that Thieve. At once, the crowd began undulating and screaming at the top of their lungs along with lead singer and main songwriter Tomas Kalnoky. I briefly noted to myself, as I would at numerous points throughout the show, that we fans knew the words as well as Kalnoky did, and due to sheer number, were just as loud as he. Whereas standard concerts involve the audience listening to the band, Streetlight Manifesto fans become a part of the show, singing and screaming along with the lyrics (and the majority of the instrumentals). From the first song to the last echo of the encore, Streetlight played dimly or back- lit, adding to the illusion that there was not a song on which Kalnoky did not have over 1000 backup vocalists and chorus members on stage with him.
Moving on from The Hands that Thieve, Kalnoky and the rest of Streetlight (Jim Conti, Chris Thatcher, Mike Brown, Pete McCullough, Matt Stewart, and Nadav Nirenberg) played fan favorites from every single one of their albums. Notable selections include “40 Days,” a 10 minute version of “A Moment of Silence” and “A Moment of Violence” (off of their first album Everything Goes Numb). Off the same album, Streetlight played “A Better Place, A Better Time.” Starting out relatively soft, the crowd took an extended break from moshing and circle pit-ing to sing along in unison with Kalnoky. For a solid three minutes, not a movement occurred on stage nor crowd, save for singing. Then the chorus hit. And the moment of stillness erupted into crowd-consuming circle-pit and skanking violence. As of one mind, the entire crowd began jumping, moshing, and running in massive circles (all the while singing along perfectly to Chris Thatcher’s frenetic drum beat, of course).
Another personal and crowd pleasing moment occurred after Kalnoky played the opening chords to “Down, Down, Down, to Mephisto’s Cafe” off of Somewhere In The Between. All stage lights went dark, and a spotlight appeared on trombonist Nadav Nirenberg, who had stepped forward toward the crowd. With every single eye in the Railto on him, Nirenberg closed his own (whether from concentration or being blinded by the spotlight, I will never know), and tore into a bone chilling trombone solo. It was one of the most powerful breakdowns of the entire show, and the crowd certainly showed their appreciation with the deafening applause which followed.
Streetlight careened through the rest of their nearly two hour set nearly without break, save for some atypical crowd banter. At one point in the show, Kalnoky took a moment and addressed the elephant in the room: Streetlight Manifesto’s long running, and very public, legal battles with their label, Victory Records (with whom the are parting ways with at the end of this summer). As a result of ongoing rights, ownership, and royalties fight, Kalnoky further implored the audience to boycott the sale of their latest recording through any venue but their website. A hearty “Fuck Victory Records, I want you to steal this album” was met by a raucous approval, and Streetlight launched into more frenetic paced playing. Closing with “The Big Sleep,” Streetlight exited the stage at the end of a nearly 2 hour set. Immediately, the crowd began begging for an encore. Not in the business of ignoring their fans, Streetlight Manifesto took to the stage once more for 20 more minutes, opening the encore with “Here’s to Life” and closing with an incredible, extended version of “Somewhere in the Between,” the title track off their 2nd album.
Before departing the stage for a final time that night, Kalnoky and Streetlight Manifesto thanked the sweating, still screaming masses, proclaiming Arizona as one of the bands favorite stops. He then did something which made even the screaming, sweaty masses stop in their tracks: Kalnoky hinted that there may be one, final, last show in Phoenix before the year is out. For a few heartbeats, the entire crowd was dead silent, then, as one, old and young, new fans and longtimers, went completely berserk (myself amongst them).
Last week, Streetlight Manifesto made good on this hint. They announced “The Final Leg of the Final Tour: The End of the End of the Beginning.” Starting on October 1st and ending with a two night stint at The Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ (fittingly, this is where everything started a decade ago), Streetlight Manifesto will be careening through 36 shows in nearly as many days. And yes, Phoenix, Tomas Kalnoky and crew will be making one final stop here. I hope the Nile Theater knows whats coming, because it’s going to be a party like no other.
[flickr-gallery mode=”photoset” photoset=”72157634688870910/”]