Pop punk can be a tricky tag for genre artists to ditch the shackles of. Once omnipresent, only a handful of bands pulled off the change from bratty power chords; yet all found themselves at the alter of backwards baseball caps and plaid shirts again eventually, unable to outrun their past.
Scene veterans New Found Glory – whose mid-noughties dalliance with nuanced maturation brought them critical plaudits and little else – have chosen to happily kneel; at Leeds’s O2 Academy, on their 20th anniversary tour, they are playing their two biggest LPs, Sticks and Stones and Catalyst, in full.
It could be a tacit acknowledgement by the Coral Springs quartet that their best days have gone – but as former Warped Tour kingpins, they evoke a seminal zeitgeist when fast, fun rock ’n’ roll still ruled the airwaves.
Typically, full-album performances rob any sense of surprise or spontaneity, no matter how beloved the record, so the group sidestep this problem by interpolating both in a pick-and-mix fashion. It helps compensate for the short-change in sound; now a power-trio plus vocalist and no hired hands, NFG’s chaotic racket lacks the additional musical embellishments that furthers their on-record counterparts.
Failure’s Not Flattering sees its Cars-esque new wave keyboard shorn away; I Don’t Wanna Know still pushes emo-angst front-and-centre but minus the cod-orchestral touches, falls shy of the good old-fashioned lighters-out power ballad it can be.
Frontman Jordan Pundik still bounds across the stage with the energy of a man half his age but he leaves much of his heavy vocal lifting to the crowd, an oddly muted presence away from the microphone in between songs.
But these are songs that are catchy, packed with niggling hooks; they still have the capacity to charm and entertain. The double-time hardcore-scuzz of Never Give Up, the thrash-guitar fills of At Least I’m Known for Something, the buoyantly stacked riffs that light up Understatement and All Downhill from Here; they all offer youthful longing and simple escapism.
Who Am I, which hurtles forward with a contradictory wistful abandon, perhaps best illuminates pop punk’s lingering curse; NFG are the musical equals to Peter Pan, longing to grow up but destined to never get older.
It makes for a strangely melancholy notion; but as they tear messily through the cheerful anthemics of My Friends Over You, one that is appropriately accurate. Frantic yet feelgood, and so it should be.