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ESSAY | Me, “Panic Stations,” and Meeting Motion City Soundtrack

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by EJ Coleman

If you’re talking about alt-rock or pop-punk in Minnesota, odds are Motion City Soundtrack is going to come up sooner rather than later.

That’s how it was for my aunt at least, who put them at the top of the mixtape she made for me seven years ago when she heard my family was moving here. She claimed it was part of my “Minnesota Music-ation” and assumed that since I was already obsessed with bands like Fall Out Boy and Weezer that I would like them too. She was right, of course, and even before the boxes were packed and the moving truck was loaded up, I had already planned out what I would do if I ever ran into them. The odds must be pretty high, right?

Well, wrong. Despite the fact that I now lived in their city, their expansive touring took them basically everywhere but home. By then I probably had a better chance of seeing them if I’d stayed in Virginia, but that ship had set sail as they went on basically every Warped Tour in the next seven years.

But September 19th I finally did it. I saw Motion City Soundtrack. And it was everything ten-year-old me had ever dreamed of.

In celebration of the release of their new album Panic Stations, they were to play and do a signing at Electric Fetus for everyone who bought the album there. The tweet announcing it drifted through my feed a couple weeks before the show and I immediately knew I had to go. I’d been to this kind of thing there before and the fact that Electric Fetus was another part of my original “Minnesota Music-ation”, well, I was excited, to say the least.

Thanks to the rain and traffic, I only got there a few minutes before they were supposed to let people stand in front of the stage. When they said you were only guaranteed entry if you preordered the album, I was worried it would be super crowded, but that wasn’t really necessary; a fair few people showed up, but not enough that it was ridiculously packed.

Standing somewhere between Joni Mitchell and Muse (in retrospect, right in front of the rest of Motion City’s discography), it wasn’t that long before my side of the crowd had to shuffle in closer to make room for the band to get to the stage. As mics were adjusted and guitars were plugged in, casual conversation flowed between those onstage and off. The entire setup was low key and comfortable, one of the best parts of any show at Electric Fetus.

Once everyone was ready and tuned and everything, the band launched into “TKO,” the first single off the new album. They were tight and in sync, and it sounded almost as though someone had shut off all the amps and just played the actual album instead. It makes sense, seeing as that’s how they tracked the album in the first place; all playing together in one room instead of separate takes for separate instruments. They did it to capture the energy of their live performances and, after listening to the actual recording after, I have to admit that they did.

Justin Pierre, the lead singer, was a little all over the place in every way; hair wild as always, forgetting which songs they’d already released, but still looking like he was having the best time. It was only fitting then that their next song was “Lose Control,” also from Panic Stations. Despite the fact that the stage was barely big enough for all five of them to have their own space, they were still giving it all the energy of a stadium show. Even with so many people in the way, it was easy to spot drummer Claudio Rivera as he rocketed out of his seat with every bass kick and the tiny fan in front of him blew the hair out of his face like he was in a cliché music video.

“It’s so hard to rock out in a two inch area,” Justin said, “but I’m trying.” Everyone was. It was fantastic.

When he forgot that they’d already released the next song, Justin decided to listen to guitarist Joshua Cain’s advice and take a break to draw inspiration from Tom Waits, his idol, whose face was hanging from the ceiling nearby on a sign promoting his most recent album. Justin had an entire conversation with it and eventually his hyperbolically low Waits voice gave him the strength to pull it together for the next song. They played a couple more songs from Panic Stations, including the brand new “I Can Feel You”, and told some more jokes about Justin living in the basement of the record store before finally delving into that expansive and well-loved back catalogue of theirs.

When they played “Last Night”, the first song of theirs I ever heard, that feeling from before came rushing back. It was everything ten-year-old me who’d never been to a concert before thought it should be; loud, intimate, and just plain fun. Even when Justin dropped out for a few seconds as he forgot the words, the crowd carried the song for him until he could jump back in. “Everything is Alright” was next and had that same feeling of gut-wrenching solidarity with everyone shouting back the lines “yeah, everything is alright” whenever Justin leaned back from the mic.

As soon as they had finished, people started clearing the stage and immediately lining up for the signing afterwards. The sizable crowd whittled down to mostly just those who had preordered their vinyl or whatever, but it still took a while for the whole line to wind its way through the rows of vinyl back to the counter. Waiting in that line you pretty much immediately became friends with the people next to you; the people behind me and I recommended albums to each other as we slowly edged towards the front, we made jokes about weird album titles and the fact that pretty much all of Celine Dion’s discography was in the discount bins.

Eventually it was my turn and thankfully I didn’t feel nearly as nervous as I thought I would be. Seven years had been long enough for me to mellow to the idea of meeting them so when I walked up and they immediately struck up conversation about my Star Wars shirt, it felt familiar and casual. Apparently the keyboardist, Jesse Johnson, knew someone high up at Disney who had already seen the new movie, which led to them talking about how long they’d been fans of the series, which I took as my opening to mention how long I’d been fans of them.

Josh immediately laughed out an apology, but they seemed impressed as I explained about my aunt’s mixtape seven years ago. “You’ve been listening to our music longer than my kid’s been alive,” Josh remarked, which I suppose is true. I told them this was the first show of theirs I had been able to go to and that it was just as great as I had always hoped it would be. Justin promised they would see me again sometime, we took a semi-awkward picture, and I left and tried not to have a breakdown on the way to the car.

When I told them it was everything I’d hoped it would be, I got the feeling that they thought I was just saying that because I felt I had to, but I wasn’t. Words failed me in that moment, but listening to my new (signed!) CD on the ride home, I figured out why it felt so incredible. It was joy.

Pure unadulterated joy has always been an important part of any Motion City Soundtrack record and, while it got a little lost for a few albums in the middle, the new one brought that back in full force. Panic Stations is fun, with that same synth-heavy pop punk sound that has become Motion City, and hearing them perform those songs are even more so.

Its new melodies to get stuck in your head for weeks on end. It’s more lyrics that hit you in just the right place. It’s exactly why the ten-year-old version of me loved them from the first song, and it’s why seventeen-year-old me had the best time of their life seeing them last week.

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