The Wonder Years have had an impressive career arc since their inception in 2005. From their humble rise with the pop punk staple The Upsides to 2015’s epic, moving No Closer to Heaven the band has grown at an exponential rate, selling out most of their shows to perform for a deafening fan base. But just over two weeks ago, The Wonder Years decided to toss us a curveball in the form of an acoustic EP titled Burst & Decay, which consists of toned down versions of seven of their songs.
In support of the EP, the band is currently finishing up a short run of full band acoustic shows, and I was fortunate enough to catch their hometown date in Philadelphia last Friday. Typically, The Wonder Years are known for high energy shows, largely thanks to the aggressive passion of their fans. At their acoustic shows, the band turned their typical formula on its head, replacing cathartic punk and alternative rock with intricate, tender compositions that beg more for quiet understanding rather than an explosive pit.
For the second time, I made a quick trip out to Philly to experience the band in their hometown. The Wonder Years performed to a sold out crowd at the Theater of Living Arts (or TLA for short), probably the largest venue on the entire tour. The atmosphere of their hometown shows is almost indescribable; the city clearly loves the band as much as the band loves the city that shaped them. Hearing their new acoustic rendition of “Coffee Eyes” in the city was achingly beautiful, whose chorus has frontman Dan Campbell yelling, “There’s always been a table for me here.” Singing along with the Philadelphians brought a sense of belonging unlike any other show of theirs.
While the crowd’s singing still (and probably always will) rivaled frontman Dan Campbell’s in terms of volume, the crowd as a whole was able to experience a vastly greater intimacy with the band’s lyrics. Replacing riffs and chords with synth lines and acoustic harmonies shifted the focus onto the words that Campbell sang. As acoustic renditions, the songs feel less finite and gut punching. Campbell expertly navigates his lyrics on these new versions, using soft croons far more often than his signature booming vocals.
In forcing the audience into this intimacy, every plucked guitar string and flowing synth note held a greater emotional weight. If anything, these new arrangements prove that The Wonder Years is a band of incredibly talented musicians. Their intimacy cast a spell across the crowd, one characterized by a captivating stillness previously unseen at the band’s shows. While these shows are marked by this impressive change of pace, impressive doesn’t really do the band’s performance enough justice. The Wonder Years completely exceeded expectations, proving that they have come a long, long way as musicians whose roots are in pop punk.
The Wonder Years took a leap of faith with this acoustic EP and tour, and Campbell acknowledged this at the show. The band is well aware of their usual expectations and just how much they subverted them in performing acoustic. Yet, this high risk came with high reward. By taking the time to rework old music with new musical composition, they’ve given their long time fans a reason to reflect and grow with the band. With these acoustic renditions and performances, the band has shown a capacity for growth and change that is essentially nonexistent in their contemporaries — time after time again, The Wonder Years have proven that they are so much more than just another pop punk band. In gearing up for the release of their sixth album in 2018, The Wonder Years could not have more perfectly gifted their fans than with a gorgeously arranged acoustic EP and small, intimate performances to showcase their reworkings.