Nostalgia was in full bloom at The Observatory where die hard fans lined up outside of the venue with their faded, worn black t-shirts anticipating hearing the self-titled debut masterpiece that landed The Used the genre defying title and defined the Warped Tour era. The Used nailed it on their first try and inspired millions of ballpoint scribbles of “Goodbye to you” and “You’re taking up my time” on high school notebooks, desks, and homework margins all around the globe. The everlasting beauty is that it’s triumphant. After all, what better f**k-off is there than to scream at the top of your lungs, “I’m about to do all the things I dreamed of and I don’t even miss you at all”?
To this day, Bert McCracken still brings big stage presence to small venues. Last night, I did not see one of my favorite bands of all time. Last night, I saw a humbled, married man and father running his fingers through his straggly hair while awestruck by the impact his music has had within the hearts of diehard fans. Last night, I saw a sober Bert McCracken approaching emotional content while reminiscing upon the pain within the shattered heart of his former self as a severe crystal meth addict using needles to cope with everyday existence over painful screams and stinging melodies.
The band wasted no time diving head first into churning guitars and Bert McCracken’s trademark, scratchy half-screams. Bert meshes into the background fluidly and discreetly between his punchy, confrontational vocals and screams ensuring the crowd was roared up and ready to fill in the blanks. Although some words were half-sung, Bert’s disposition invited the crowd to join in on an all-inclusive experience. The self-titled debut album’s opener, “Maybe Memories”, truly sets the bar high for the remainder of the album, creating the strange sensation of meeting up with an old friend that you happen to bump into every few years yet pick up exactly where you left off. Bert’s humbling charm and stage presence (looking constantly in shock by the many shouts of “legend” from the audience), along with his passion for the music that led him to creating a career screaming his heart out, has power, beauty, emotion; everything a passionate fan brought out of a coma was seeking.
Close to tears, Bert opened up a platform for conversation pertaining to his beliefs and intention behind each song prior to performing them. He kicked off the album’s second track, “The Taste of Ink”, with a message to the crowd stating that he believed “music can save lives”, a powerful statement from a man that was once homeless on the streets prior to making it big with the band. “The Taste of Ink” is known for its soaring, heavy chorus and gentle verses which simultaneously bite hard and soothes as a well-known radio friendly rock hit. By the third track, “Bulimic”, which is about a very long battle with using cocaine as a coping method and knowing the relationship between him and the drug was bad from the get-go, the anthem of broken-hearted and angsty teens everywhere had the crowd riled up and forming circle pits that left a concertgoer pouring blood from her face and Bert humbly asking the employees of The Observatory over the mic how she was doing.
The guitars on the chorus as well as the vocals on the fourth track, “Say Days Ago” carry distinctive emo-ness, though heavier than the previous three tracks. The breakdown leading into the chorus defined paying homage to the album through this 15th anniversary tour; the crowd went wild. Bert’s been singing quite a different tune for quite a while now and taking life one day at a time after kicking his own drug and alcohol habit, and unknowingly created a cult of personality around him, forcing the infamous lead singer into an otherworldly dimension between musician and celebrity. Bert explores and refines the craft and asks the crowd to continue to be enthusiastic and childlike.
The set’s highlights, “Buried Myself Alive” and “Blue and Yellow” served as a reminder of how many timeless gems tinged with teenage angst and a fondness for more youthful times the self-titled masterpiece carries. Bert toyed with the crowd and celebrated their 15th year anniversary in a very special and intimate way. Bert did not hesitate to throw kisses to the human beings in the balcony and spill the beans on the untold stories of sex, drugs and rock and roll. This tour is absolutely one of a kind and covers two iconic albums that I look forward to playing for my grandchildren in the years to come.