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Rock metaphysics . . . and laughs
Saves the Day and Something Corporate
BY SEAN RICHARDSON

"Iíd rather be here/Than anywhere with you/Ooh," sings frontman Christopher Conley on "Anywhere with You," the first single from the new Saves the Day album, In Reverie (DreamWorks). With its stampeding guitars and ace harmonies, itís one of the most rockiní songs the New Jersey all-ages faves have written. But if you think itís also just the latest version of that old emo stand-by the snotty break-up song, youíre wrong.

"As soon as the album came out, I read reviews where it was like, Ďlovelorn lyrics,í and all this stuff about boy-meets-girl," Conley marvels over the phone from a recent tour stop in South Florida. "I was like, ĎWow, thatís weird, it has nothing to do with that.í But after I read the lyrics, itís like, ĎDuh, they really could be read as that.í But you know, I used to think the Beatles were singing, ĎI love you, you love me,í and once I got older, I realized they were singing about a lot more.

" íAnywhere with Youí is just about longing to be in a better place. All the songs are about my struggle to accept myself and to accept the world around me. Thatís been the history of Saves the Day. Itís me feeling like shit one day and longing to be in a place where I accept how Iím feeling, even if itís a bad feeling. Just trying to keep my head above water."

Conleyís lyrical themes might be the same as ever, but there have been a lot of changes in the Saves the Day camp in the two years since the release of their previous album, Stay What You Are (Vagrant/Interscope). The most prominent one is the bandís move from Vagrant to DreamWorks, though Vagrant boss Rich Egan remains in the fold as their manager. They also parted ways with two long-time members, guitarist Ted Alexander and drummer Bryan Newman. Next week, the group play three New England shows ó including one at Avalon next Friday ó with the similarly reconfigured Taking Back Sunday.

Alexanderís departure is especially significant, since it paved the way for Conley to strap on a guitar for the first official time in Saves the Dayís four-disc existence. He has always written songs on guitar, and he says he feels way more comfortable now that heís playing one on stage. One of the highlights of In Reverie is the sophisticated interplay between Conley and fellow guitarist David Soloway. "I write all the songs, but Iím nowhere near dictator. I really like listening to what the other guys come up with. Every time Dave comes up with something, itís exactly the right thing; itís more than I could have imagined. Weíll sit down facing each other with acoustic guitars and play through the songs just to get a sense of how they work, because our parts are usually very different."

Another big change on In Reverie is Conleyís voice: a lot of the rough edges are gone, and his Beatles influence shows up in the psychedelic melodies on "Anywhere with You." In that department, the singer gives a lot of credit to platinum producer Rob Schnapf (Beck, Toadies), who first worked with the band on Stay What You Are. "I grew up singing punk, and the delivery was very tense: I really had to push to get the notes out. After playing 20 shows like that, I would always lose my voice. Over the years, Iíve been learning how to let the notes happen rather than force them out. I learned a lot from Rob after we did Stay What You Are, because I was still writing songs that were a little out of my range. He called it finding my instrument."

Conley, Soloway, and bassist Eben DíAmico are the core of Saves the Day, who first made a name for themselves in the late 1990s with a pair of stellar releases on the East Coast punk label Equal Vision. In Reverie is their first disc with veteran drummer Pete Parada, who came to them from recently disbanded Vagrant labelmates Face to Face. "Iíve learned a lot from Pete about how to keep cool and remember that itís a long haul, because heís been doing it for a long time. Itís not trying to get a big hit, you know? Because I have to be honest ó I would love to play music for everybody on the planet. But with Peteís perspective on things, he helps us focus on one step at a time, and just enjoying playing the songs."

In Reverie splits the difference between the upbeat pop of Saves the Dayís early days and the darker, mellower side they started exploring around the time they hooked up with Vagrant. The exuberant rave-up "Morning in the Moonlight" zooms by in less than two minutes; the more nocturnal-sounding "Driving in the Dark" sports the discís most wistful refrain. Conley opens the buoyant "In My Waking Life" with a line that, along with the title track, sums up his outlook here: "Iím never in my waking life/Dreaming is my all the time." And indeed, though the frontman seems down-to-earth enough in conversation, he admits to a fascination with the metaphysical. "Who knows if life is actually happening to everybody else around you or if itís all just in your head? Not that I walk around thinking about that all the time, but life is very surreal to me. You know, who knows what happens when you die? I walk around just thinking that things are more than they seem."

At 23, Conley is only a few years removed from delivering one of emoís all-time classic lines, "I miss my mom," on the 1999 album Through Being Cool. Since then, Saves the Day have toured with scene legends Green Day, Blink-182, and Weezer and watched their one-time opening band Dashboard Confessional rocket to stardom. "Weíve been very lucky to have been in the right place at the right time a number of times. When we were juniors in high school and we got signed to Equal Vision, that was earth-shattering. We recorded our first album in winter break of our senior year. As soon as we graduated, we started touring, and it just led us here. When we started out, I never once thought about, ĎOh, someday I want to be playing big shows and be on a major label.í I never played rock star growing up ó I wanted to be a football player."

"WHOA-OH-OH-OH/WEíRE 21 and invincible/Whoa-oh-oh-oh/Canít wait to screw things up," sings frontman Andrew McMahon on "21 and Invincible," one of the catchiest and funniest songs on the new Something Corporate album, North (Cambria/Geffen). McMahon might be a few years younger than Saves the Dayís Chris Conley, but right now the two bands are on the same level, with competing tours and new discs that debuted in the upper echelon of the Billboard 200 album chart within weeks of each other. Next Sunday, November 23, Something Corporate headline the Palladium in Worcester.

The band burst out of Southern California two years ago with the EP Audioboxer and an enticing novelty video for "If U C Jordan" that featured cameos by American Pie actor Chris Owen and a couple of Playboy models. Eye candy aside, McMahon still emerged as the star attraction, thanks in part to his signature prop: a piano covered with punk stickers. By the end of the video, he was standing on top of it, stomping on the keys with both feet. He put the ivories to more dignified use on the bandís full-length debut, Leaving Through the Window (MCA), and now violin-toting punks Yellowcard are following his lead in gracing rock radio with instruments usually reserved for the softies on the pop and country stations.

The biggest surprise about "Space," the first single from North, is that you can barely hear the piano over the guitars. Thatís because the song was penned by guitarist Josh Partington, who doesnít do lead vocals but does split the writing duties with McMahon. Itís a riff-fueled adrenaline rush with an undercurrent of sadness centered on an urgent request from an exasperated lover: "Hey, give me space so I can breathe." No Hollywood types in the video this time, but the trackís pop smarts make it a natural for the soundtrack to the Fox TV hit The O.C. if the network ever gets around to making one.

On the rest of North, Something Corporate continue to prove themselves one of the most tuneful outfits in modern rock. Partington cranks up the guitar again on "Only Ashes," and McMahon glides in and out of a sleek falsetto on the dark power ballad "Down": "I hear sound echo in the emptiness/All around, but you canít change this loneliness." When their middling tempos start to bleed together about halfway through the disc, the band sound as if they were striving for a level of maturity thatís not quite within reach. So itís a relief to hear them get goofy again on the closing "21 and Invincible" and "Miss America," the latter a piano-led slow dance about partying too hard in Amsterdam. Something Corporateís star has risen quickly; their best may be yet to come.

Saves the Day perform this Sunday, November 16, at the State Theatre (207-780-8265) in Portland, next Thursday, November 20, at the Palladium (508-797-9696) in Worcester, and next Friday, November 21, at Avalon (617-262-2424). Something Corporate perform next Sunday, November 23, at the Palladium in Worcester; call (508) 797-9696.


Issue Date: November 14 - 20, 2003
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