During one of his multiple monologues at the Smoothie King Center on Saturday night, Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz professed himself pleasantly surprised to find his band still headlining arenas in 2016. His surprise is understandable.
By the normal laws of contemporary pop culture, Fall Out Boy should have fallen to earth long ago. The quartet broke out of Chicago in the mid-2000s with a spunky, punk-y take on emo rock, a strain of alternative rock marked by more complex, and often more self-involved, lyrics than more literal-minded brethren. Thanks in no small part to Wentz’s emergence as emo’s tabloid poster boy, Fall Out Boy quickly built a devoted, young fan base.
But such a fan base can be fickle, and the pressures of sudden fame took a toll on the musicians. After releasing four albums in five years, Wentz, vocalist/guitarist Patrick Stump, guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley embarked on an open-ended hiatus following a show at Madison Square Garden in the fall of 2009.
Four years later, older, wiser and perhaps more aware of the advantages of what they walked away from, the quartet returned with an album titled, ambitiously, “Save Rock and Roll.” Against all odds, they are more popular than ever, one of the few rock bands still competing on the charts. At the Smoothie King Center on Saturday, they demonstrated why.
They are in a particularly sweet spot, career-wise. They are no longer susceptible to flavor-of-the-month whimsy, but neither are they classic rockers coasting on their catalog. The two albums they have released since reforming have yielded a string of clever, undeniable singles, including the unconventional “Uma Thurman” and the anthemic “Centuries.”
They are a rock band who understands the value of spending a little extra on their live presentation. A flurry of faux snow – in keeping with the “Game of Thrones”-inspired title of the current Fall Out Boy tour, Wintour Is Coming – heralded the quartet’s arrival on a multi-tiered stage with bridges to a V-shaped catwalk. Fans with special tickets filled the center of the “v.” The back of the stage consisted of a large LED video wall. Lasers, confetti streamers and confetti cannons were all involved. During “Save Rock and Roll,” a red lightning-bolt motif appeared on screen; eventually, a portrait of the late David Bowie materialized behind it, the bolt crossing his face a la Ziggy Stardust.
Much of Saturday night’s electricity flowed from Stump. He has come a long way as a frontman. Moving to various microphone stands around the stage complex, contributing nearly as much guitar as Trohman, Stump heaved himself into every song. Early on, his pleading rasp tore up “The Phoenix,” one of the strongest songs of the night. He swaggered his way through “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race.” He handled much of “Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes” alone at a baby grand, compelling enough on his own before his bandmates joined in.
As Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith is to Will Ferrell, Fall Out Boy drummer Andy Hurley is to mixed-martial arts champion Conor McGregor -- each could pass for the other’s twin. Hurley’s dragon-themed body art is even more impressive than McGregor’s. While his bandmates wore matching jackets embroidered with their names and an intricate logo, Hurley drummed in only a pair of shorts, eschewing shirt, shoes and socks. His intensity was palpable; next to Stump, he was the band’s main source of charisma. His big beat kick drum pushed songs along, especially “Save Rock and Roll” and “The Phoenix.”
Wentz, Fall Out Boy’s primary lyricist, wandered around strumming his bass and offering occasional observations along the lines of, “Your last failure is the last thing that happens before your first success.” He remains a curious, inscrutable presence.
Trohman is not an especially flashy player, and Fall Out Boy’s arrangements are not necessarily known for six-string intricacies. In “The Take Over, The Breaks Over,” he took an actual guitar solo – a relative rarity for his genre. His urgent riffing elevated “Grand Theft Autumn/Where Is Your Boy.”
A bold “Centuries,” showcased against footage of male lions in full roar, wrapped up the regular set. An encore of “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up),” the anthem that launched Fall Out Boy’s revival, and “Saturday” wrapped up the show at a tidy 22 songs in 90 minutes.
At times, the presentation felt rushed; songs were banged out one after another with little pause, a seriousness of purpose, and few extemporaneous moments. If Stump, Wentz, Trohman and Hurley learn to relax a bit more and have fun, their rare second act will be even more satisfying.
Follow Keith Spera on Twitter, @KeithSpera.