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Show Review: The Wonder Years (10/4) in Charlotte, NC

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written by contributor Aaron DiDonato

These years, these wonderful years. I can’t even begin to explain the amount of
inspiration The Wonder Years have given me since witnessing their set for the first time during 2011’s Warped Tour. The reflection of their growth and the adversity they have faced over time seems to have matched mine (and could match yours) seamlessly. “Growing up” and being at different stages of life was undoubtedly the theme of the album trilogy The Upsides, Suburbia.., and The Greatest Generation. The latest LP from 2015, No Closer To Heaven, continues to describe Dan Campbell’s (Soupy’s) battle with depression but most of all, regretting past mistakes while being angry at the world.

While Soupy seems to be that everlasting centerpiece in the group, it is incredibly
understated but recognizable, that the rest of the members have added their touch
with dynamics, harmonization, and instrumentation that sets TWY where no artist with Pop
Punk roots has ever been before. That rings especially true on their latest acoustic EP Burst & Decay: songs bunched together and reimagined from their last three LPs. To my surprise and my original doubt of this album, the intricacies are more present here than ever. It was even more surreal to be in live attendance of a show replicating such a raw but identical sound to the recording.

The Wonder Years have been visualized in the past as loud and unrelenting, with slower ballad-type songs. Here in this instance, we saw the same energy and tempo on an acoustic level brought by the full band, with emphasis in piano chords from Nick Steinborn. The best part about the performance is that they reimagined heavier songs such as “A Song For Ernest Hemingway” and “Cardinals”, but could make slower songs such as “There, There” and “You In January” sound completely different. On a note of those last two tracks, special shout out to Laura Stevenson (performed before TWY) who featured on both. My favorite moment of the night was witnessing “You In January” as Soupy and Laura exchanged lyrics, which took the sound and lyrical shape of a musical. Absolutely beautiful and quite honestly tear jerking. The wildest part about seeing my favorite band for the 8th time wasn’t the performance, or the fact that I was chugging craft beer at an alarming rate, or that I was hanging out with my friends in the workplace of my part-time job. It was the celebrity who was in attendance with only a few hundred other fans: Nascar driver Dale Jr.

The significance of this brings everything full circle for those who understand The Wonder Years as a band and the life of Dale Jr. Dale lost his father, Dale “3” Earnhardt Sr., tragically during the 2001 Daytona 500 after a fatal crash. His grandfather, who was also super successful in the sport, tragically passed from a heart attack right before Jr. was born. Encompassed by a sport that has delt him a hand of death throughout his life, Dale Jr. seems to align with how Soupy deals with death, especially on The Greatest Generation. The most significant thing about all of this is the fine example of music bringing humans together. Dale recently quoted President JFK, denouncing the actions of 45  in relation to kneeling before the National Anthem. The NASCAR fan base is largely, but not entirely, those who fuel 45’s base. This also makes Dale’s position upon inclusion and equality of all people align where The Wonder Years have loudly and blatantly had a socially progressive footing.

Regardless of who is in attendance at each show from this progressive pop-punk staple, The Wonder Years are an emotional gem. Don’t miss them on the rest of their acoustic tour, and don’t forget your tissues.

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