Even though the weather is finally getting warmer, it seems fitting that there was a chill in the air the night I went to see The Wonder Years at Phoenix Concert Theatre. The chill could be felt even inside the venue, and had everyone in the audience huddling close in anticipation. I had interviewed The Wonder Years ahead of the show to get a sense of their newest album, Sister Cities (2018). The band told me the record is all about getting people together in the name of the “connectivity and commonality about human existence, and a common feeling between one another.”

Before the main act, though, there were three diverse opening acts lined up: Worriers, Tiny Moving Parts and Tigers Jaw. 

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Worriers, led by the limber and lithe Lauren Denitzio, put on a good start with some straightforward punk rock as the room was filling. A standout was a song personal to the singer, the socially-minded “They / Them / Theirs.”

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However, the show really got going when emo revival trio Tiny Moving Parts took the stage. Frontman Dylan Mattheisen seized the audience’s attention with his earnestness and high energy, marked by his fingers flying across the guitar. The crowd was at its loudest and rowdiest during their performance, moshing all over the place.

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With the energy of the audience brimming, two-piece rock band Tigers Jaw came on and got everyone settled in with deep, moody tunes marked by the play of lights around them.

It was a long time coming, but when The Wonder Years got on stage it was absolutely worth it.

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They opened with the pensive “Pyramids of Salt,” marking the tone and tempo of the evening with a sense of urgency. However, ironically, their newer material is less angsty and much more emotional. The sound of the band is tinged with something like hopefulness, which emphasizes understanding over the edge in lead singer Dan Campbell’s classically pop punk voice.

The result is that while The Wonder Years is certainly as thoughtful as ever, the contemplative sound that they now possess allows for the connection they seek to provide to their audience. Campbell prefaced “Raining in Kyoto” with a nod to this feeling of connection with a story about the kindness of a stranger. At one point they got everyone to pull out their lighters and phones and put them out as the music swelled, bringing the audience together as a part of the performance.

Of course, their songs can still be heavy-hitting. The title track, “Sister Cities,” had people forming a mosh pit—there were moments when the floor felt like it was dipping, shaking as people grabbed and pushed at each other while singing along. At its wildest, I felt splatters from beer being thrown into the air.

I’m not the best with knowing the words to songs, but even I was able to get amped and yell along as the band launched into some of their older music, like “I Was Scared & I’m Sorry” off of The Upsides (2010) and “Cardinals” from No Closer To Heaven (2015). The unity and strength of the crowd was palpably euphoric.

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Throughout the show, Campbell would pause to express the band’s thankfulness in genuine and real words, his voice breaking and pulling us close. We all know The Wonder Years in different ways and to different lengths, but I would like to think we’re all at least similar to them in our belief in hope and better times. I especially felt this way when Campbell, once more, called out to those especially “who listen to them in their cars at 4 a.m”—just like me.

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