If you listened to the radio at all back in the mid to late 2000’s, there were a ton of artists you simply couldn’t escape, but never got old. These bands had songs that demanded an obligatory, on the spot performance any time they occupied your speakers. There’s a specific group you can’t leave out in the age-of-pop-rock’s-flourishing discussion, a group of rejects who ironically prevailed in their reign of chart-topping hits and anthemically catchy choruses. They sing “when I see your face” and you know immediately to follow it with “I hope it gives you hell.” They walk your way and you know it’s The All-American Rejects.
On Thursday, August 17th, The All-American Rejects stopped in Philadelphia on their headlining Wet Hot All-American Summer Tour, the first time the Oklahoma-based rockers visited the city since 2017. A lot can change in six years, but nothing could rattle attendees’ love for the band whose music had now been in their lives for over two decades.
It was dark as the crowd awaited the entrance of The All-American Rejects. What could not be seen was heard; fans anxious for the band’s first note sounded a note of their own in screams of anticipation. Then, the time had finally arrived. That iconic string of keyboard notes that start “Swing Swing” chimed from what felt like every corner of the night sky and it only took the first double-strum of the guitar to elicit a chest-reverberating eruption. Physical and emotional palpitations rumbled from within and reveled in their chance to escape; we were all suspended in the nostalgic key of yesteryear.
In an extravagant scene of bodily convulsions and vocal quivers, vocalist Tyson Ritter invited us to join him in his time machine on a journey to the past. “Back to 2019, 2018, 2017,” he said as a pretend electric shock wave moved through his body. “2008, 2007, 2006,” he continued in a backward buildup. Our voyage of reminiscence paused when we made it to our destination. We stepped out and into 2002, the year the band’s very first album, The All-American Rejects, released. It only felt fitting for them to follow this display with the opening track to the album, “My Paper Heart.”
Everything about the way the band performed was sensational. Their presence was a larger-than-life spectacle of emotive movement from Ritter strutting around, falling to his knees, and rolling around on the stage in his sheer, striped jumpsuit to guitarist Mike Kennerty wielding his guitar into the air in between limb-lifting leaps around the stage. The dramatics of it all made the experience feel special, like we were a part of a moment that would evocatively imprint itself in our brains for the rest of our lives.
“You want us to get a little dirty?” Ritter asked before dedicating “Dirty Little Secret” to the high school version of ourselves and tapping into the facet of our pasts that appreciated this song. Every voice in the crowd soared as the band invigorated the teenager out of us, friends shouting the lyrics into each other’s smiles. When it came down to it, we were all still the kids fueled by the words and sounds of The All-American Rejects.
Bright, twinkly lights danced on the stage as they mirrored the sonic glimmer of “Kids in the Street” next. The end-of-summer, August glow complemented Ritter’s earnest reflection of what it once felt like to be young. Lyrics like “we’d dance all night under the sky” and
“we’d drive until that jealous sun fell down just to wash ourselves in the moonlight summer sounds”
saturated the air with that feeling of weightlessness that comes with having your whole life ahead of you and new experiences at your fingertips. It felt like the perfect opportunity to recognize our appreciation for the band and their ability to serve both the younger versions of ourselves we were reflecting on and the older versions of ourselves doing the reflecting.
Then the lights dropped and out rolled a giant version of the AAR logo that turned on to illuminate Ritter and guitarist Nick Wheeler who teamed up for the acoustic “Mona Lisa (When The World Comes Down).” “You can sit beside me when the world comes down” Ritter sang while buckling at his knees, lying on the stage, and seemingly letting the weight of the world flow out through his words. In a moment of amiable support, Wheeler joined his longtime friend on the ground and smiled. It felt like we were witnessing a sweet memory happening in real time.
Toward the end of the set, the band played “It Ends Tonight” during which they stopped to let the audience carry the show for a few seconds; the crowd’s response was astounding and still plays so vividly in my mind. “When darkness turns to light, it ends tonight” echoed in perfect synchronization into the sky loud enough for what felt like the entire world to hear. This moment and the entire night perfectly represented the solidified impact The All-American Rejects had successfully maintained over the years.
The band returned for an encore where they reminisced on the past, Ritter referencing an American Pie movie and that one LEGO Bionicle commercial that the band’s songs somehow found their way to. What seemed to stand out the most in this speech, though, was a moment of endearing relatability validating everyone that showed up that night. “We were always the rejects, but maybe you guys are rejects too,” Ritter stated before sharing his experiences with meeting people who had accredited the song they were about to play as a source of empowerment that carried them through difficult times. Then, thanks to drummer Chris Gaylor, those powerful “Move Along” drums blasted a little piece of 2006 sentimentalism our way.
“We were always the rejects, but maybe you guys are rejects, too.”Tyson Ritter
Toward the end of the set, the band played “It Ends Tonight” during which they stopped to let the audience carry the show for a few seconds; the crowd’s response was astounding and still plays so vividly in my mind. “When darkness turns to light, it ends tonight” echoed in perfect synchronization into the sky loud enough for what felt like the entire world to hear. This moment and the entire night perfectly represented the solidified impact The All-American Rejects played the “Gives You Hell,” the ultimate song of triumphant sass that transformed into something even more exhilarating live. Everyone was roused to shout the lyrics at imaginary faces they may have once wished to deliver these words to, tangible feelings flooding the crowd a whole 15 years post its release. It’s this finale to the evening that revealed how deeply the band had defined a generation of music listeners years ago, yet how much power there continues to be in the everlasting presence of The All-American Rejects.
If you’re up for a show that beautifully bundles the weird, the wild, and the pull-at-the-heartstrings nostalgia, consider catching The All-American Rejects on a date of their Wet Hot All-American Summer Tour happening right now through the middle of October!
Show Date: 08.17.23 | Philadelphia, PA @ The Mann | SEO Title