Joyce Manor at the Phoenix Theater, by Derek Nielsen
Joyce Manor (photo: Derek Nielsen)

Droves of eager post-emo and punk kids filed into the Phoenix Theater on a chilly May evening, where jackets quickly peeled off, giving way to the seductive pull of a mosh pit. Under the vibrant haunt of red and green lights, Brown Bags exploded onto the Phoenix’s practiced stage, guiding the crowd closer, as if letting them in on a precious secret. The youthful mass (and their somewhat older counterparts) leaned into the lure of Brown Bags’ airtight melodies and impassioned singing, hanging on to every chord with an appreciative bob of the head. Brown Bags ended their set on a gut-wrenching note with “Walnuts,” from their recently released Twenty-Something Mutant Nobodies.

The crowd was rightfully warmed up to experience San Jose-based punk rockers awakebutstillinbed’s mix of upbeat and utterly heart-splitting tunes, including “Life” and “Floor” from their premiere record, what people call low self​-​esteem is really just seeing yourself the way that other people see you. Lead vocalist Shannon Taylor gracefully thrashed across the stage, burning like a brilliant gilded flame, while her band sang and played along with the closeness of friends who have been through the muck of life together, and came out the other end proudly bearing matching battle scars.

The electric buzz that followed, meandered up the Phoenix’s familiar skate ramps, washing over a whirring audience who was amped to jump and crowdsurf to Torrance, CA headliner Joyce Manor. It was refreshing to be amongst the fresh-faced youth in the audience who were all too excited to jump with gawky limbs sprawled, straight into the accepting crowd below while Barry Johnson, lead vocalist of Joyce Manor, poured his heart out on stage.

As the crowd continued to pulsate below, Johnson thanked fans for supporting the band at their inaugural Phoenix show, a venue he claimed to have had aspirations of performing at after hearing that one of his favorite local rock bands, AFI, performed there once upon a time.

He belted out songs "Heart Tattoo" and "Fake I.D." over a sea of singing fans, who had no trouble finding a beat to move to, regardless of the song's pace. Joyce Manor even belted out their own punk rendition of "Video Killed the Radio Star," much to everyone in the room's delight, inviting the older of us amongst the crowd to indulge in a bit of playful hip sway. The Phoenix's longtime owner, Tom Gaffey, joined musicians lining the colorful stage, that by the concert's end seemed to have taken on a life of its own. In looking across the room it was clear to see that no matter how you entered the show that night, you undoubtedly left feeling lighter and maybe even a little optimistic.

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