I cover one of the most anticipated AP Tour lineups in years!

Note: This article was originally published in the UMass Boston Independent Newspaper, The Mass Media.

Last Saturday was perhaps the most claustrophobic I have felt in my 13 years of concert-going, and for good reason. Plenty of pop punk fans were stoked to witness two of the scene’s premier acts—Neck Deep and State Champs.

Both acts released bombshell albums in 2015, and are currently riding that success as the feature acts on this rendition of the Alternative Press tour.

Of the many times I’ve enjoyed a concert at Paradise Rock Club, I often stood atop the balcony, peering out into the sweaty masses of teenage angst.

However, I started my night on the floor of the sold-out venue, amid the smirks of men showing off their band shirt allegiance while discussing their newly acquired vape flavors—to which I lost track of how often I shook my head, while women with X’s on their hands discussed which songs they wanted to hear from Neck Deep.

Like Pacific. Photo by AP Magazine.

Newcomers to the scene, Canada’s Like Pacific, opened the show playing tracks from its fresh new LP, “Distant Like You Asked,” released on Pure Noise Records last month. While this was my first exposure to the band, the crowd was into it from the start. Some folks had even clearly done their homework on the band and were already singing along to the newborn album.

Up next was Knuckle Puck, a band that evolved a lot in 2015, as it released its debut LP, “Copacetic.” On “Copacetic,” the band shed its pop punk roots—heard on previous EPs—and went for an experimental approach to the genre. The band seamlessly blended elements of emo, post rock, and hardcore, en route to creating a sound that rendered the band virtually unrecognizable to its most devoted fans.

The subtle, yet somewhat eccentric album
art for Knuckle Puck’s 2015 LP, Copacetic.

The band gained a lot of attention in 2015, as it set a new bar for how to conceive of and interpret the genre—a risky move, as the band has noted online that it may have lost some fans with its new direction, but the move was tactical and necessary for the band to evolve.

I was still on the floor of the venue at this point, despite my claustrophobia.

Derek Discanio of State Champs. Photo by Katy Hamm.

Yet the few in the crowd of legal drinking age were getting increasingly more intoxicated, which was funny at first. However, I knew I was done when State Champs came out to a flurry of cheers and screams, and a dude next to me repeatedly yelled the one song title he seemed to know by State Champs—”All You Are is History,” which the band didn’t play until mid-set.

So I moved to the balcony for a better view.

New York’s State Champs put on a lively set and the crowd never relented.

This was my first time seeing the band live, but I have given its newest album, “Around the World and Back,” many listens since its release last summer.

An expanded version of the album art for State Champs’
2015 LP, Around the World and Back.

Upon my first listen to the album, I immediately thought, “well, this is the next radio pop punk band.” Sure enough, the band exploded worldwide—which is great for the band and for the genre, as it has evolved a lot since the days of the fun-time pop punk stylings of Blink-182, Sum 41, New Found Glory, MXPX, and many others.

Pop punk today is still fun, but also visceral, raw, and emotional. It’s also very political, ideological, and cool—again. Pop punk still mostly resonates with young listeners, which makes it serendipitous for the current political revolution.

The crowd was pretty rowdy when Neck Deep took the stage.

Hailing from the UK, Neck Deep doesn’t make it to the states often, so any chance to take in their eccentrically well-crafted brand of pop punk is essential.

Ben Barlow of Neck Deep. Photo by Katy Hamm.

In 2015, Neck Deep released perhaps the most important pop punk album of the last decade. “Life’s Not Out to Get You” is an album that focuses on mental health, suicide, and self-care through positivity and self-preservation. Neck Deep’s track,“Can’t Kick Up the Roots,” was the catchiest song of 2015 for me—alongside Kendrick Lamar’s “King Kunta,” and Veil of Maya’s “Mikasa.”

Neck Deep attracts many fans who struggle with some form of mental illness—depression, anxiety, suicidality—and the positive lyrical and ideological messages the band shares are clearly medicinal for its dedicated fans. Many crowd-surfing teens found themselves, for a moment, holding onto the hand of vocalist Ben Barlow—it seemed, for that one moment, all of their pain and struggles disappeared.

I’m glad I made my way to the balcony so I could witness those moments of beauty.

While I merely returned to the pop punk realm in 2014, it’s safe to say I returned at the right moment in history. Neck Deep and State Champs are at the forefront of a reborn musical revolution.

Many bands are pushing the genre, using their tunes to push young folks into good, honest political realms, while challenging their listeners to ignore what they once thought about pop punk. It’s pretty damn inspiring.

Special thanks to my incredible partner, Katy Hamm, for taking the photos at this show and for getting back into this brand of tunes. It was such a fun night in spite of the claustrophobia!