Despite it being years since that iconic ‘Sugar We’re Goin’ Down’ video, Fall Out Boy’s antler-toting emo past still stalks them. Often pegged as one for the kids, last year’s ‘M A N I A’ LP proved there was far more to Pete Wentz and co.’s ambitions than grumpy demeanours and a Hot Topic gift card. As they prep for an incoming Reading & Leeds headline slot with a massive UK and European arena tour, those gloomy days are cast aside once and for all.
Taking to the mammoth O2 Arena stage and kicking straight into ‘The Phoenix’, fire cannons and all, their pop credentials are sky-high from the off. Their goth-pop compatriots My Chemical Romance may have topped festival bills and filled this same room in years gone by, but they never quite shook off their emo past. Tonight, Fall Out Boy are a crossover act like that scene has yet to manage – a pop behemoth with their eyes on stadiums. An early drop of ‘Sugar…’ proves that they’re leaving all expectation at the door.
With a catwalk that extends from the stage right through to the back of the arena, they make even the O2 feel as intimate as their sweaty punk shows of lore. It’s far from stripped-back though – a huge screen flanks the stage, and those aforementioned flamethrowers are set off at every opportunity. ‘Immortals’, their contribution to the Big Hero 6 movie soundtrack, sees streamers pop off from the rafters. No page of the arena pop rulebook is left unread, but it’s Patrick Stump’s voice that proves their greatest weapon. He’s rock’s rarest fruit – a vocalist who can fill an arena without a backing track or ten, and while it’s proved time and time again tonight, a solo piano rendition of EDM banger ‘Young & Menace’ is his crowning moment.
The translation of ‘M A N I A’’s pop oddity to an arena-ready rock show is nothing short of masterful. The industrial clatter of ‘Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea’ fills the room with punishing electronic drops, while ‘The Last Of The Real Ones’ sees Wentz dedicate the track, in suitably emotional style, to “protecting things because you love them, because love is the most powerful thing in the universe.” It’s an on-the-nose sentiment, but it fills The O2 with screams of adoration.
From there on out, everything’s turned up to 11. Drummer Andy Hurley – who eschews samples and electronic pads for the hard-hitting power of his hardcore punk past at every opportunity – takes to the centre of the arena for a drum solo that riffs on everything from Kendrick Lamar’s ‘HUMBLE.’ to Blur’s ‘Song 2’, before the rest of the band emerge on floating platforms in the middle of the room. ‘Dance, Dance’ and ‘Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)’ see Stump and Wentz float about the place, before a message of “state your name, cuz” is projected onto the side of the podiums during ‘Thnks Fr The Mmrs’ – a nod to local lad Stormzy, who sadly fails to make an appearance. Maybe next time. T-shirt cannons soon follow, in case there was still any doubting Fall Out Boy are full-throttle, every-trick-in-the-book entertainers, before ‘I Don’t Care’ comes backed by a screening of pop culture’s greatest middle fingers, from Vine compilations to Rick & Morty, Mr Bean to 8 Mile.
It’s that balance of teenage sentiment and pure entertainment that’s become Fall Out Boy’s calling card. Once the emo runts of the 2000s’ pop litter they’re now battling with the megastars of the age for pop supremacy (they’re billed as high as Kendrick at this year’s Reading & Leeds, in case there was any doubting their appeal). While they keep their emotional past close to their broken hearts, they’re not a slave to it – if ‘M A N I A’ didn’t prove that, tonight undoubtedly does. First album pop-punk thrasher ‘Grand Theft Autumn (Where Is Your Boy)’ sits alongside ‘M A N I A’ cut ‘Church’ with ease – there’s teen angst and pop potential in both, and the contrast only highlights their similarities.
London = unbelievable ✨✨ pic.twitter.com/uItg4KNZMG
— Fall Out Boy (@falloutboy) April 1, 2018
At their best, Fall Out Boy have always been a pop band. Strip back the distortion and eyeliner of their early days, and there’s a catchy-as-hell heart to every one of their chart-bothering singles. As they close on the cherry-picked highlights of their career – a triumphant ‘Thriller’, hip-shaking ‘Uma Thurman’ and chirrupy ‘My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark’ – there’s a final nod to their punk past with ‘Saturday’. Wentz strips off his hoody to reveal an England football shirt beneath (one last bout of showmanship, for the road), and the group let loose their earliest single to confetti, flames, sparks and the kitchen sink. With that headline slot at Reading & Leeds looming large, tonight proves Fall Out Boy are fully deserving of such huge billings – more than ‘the emo band done good’, they’re a musical megaton all of their own.