I have unapologetically loved Alkaline Trio since I was 15 years old. Everything about them worked for me: the skate-punk chord progressions, the gothic imagery, the smart-ass cynical lyrics. I'll never forget the first time I heard their music, the first time I saw them live or the era of my life that their catalog so perfectly soundtracks. So I decided to permanently affix their signature heart skull logo on my body. I was 19, ink-happy and still reeling from watching them perform less than 24 hours before I'd stepped into the tattoo shop. My mind was made up, and there was nothing anybody could tell me about it. But I knew from the first time I looked at it, it wasn't quite right. It was a little bigger than I wanted, slightly off-center, and badly shaded. After a couple of years, I started to wish I'd gone to a different artist, then, I found myself angling selfies in such a way that it wouldn't come into frame. Eventually, I started planning a cover-up.
Time passed. I grew older, and while my love for The Trio never faded, my shitty tattoo did. Blame it on the Texas sun on my shoulder blades. Perhaps, on some The Picture Of Dorian Gray type of shit, you could call it a reflection of the back-to-back lackluster LPs (Agony & Irony, This Addiction) that the group released from '08 to '10. Whatever the reason, I realized during their recent show at House of Blues why it's still there. On my sixth time seeing them live, at least five years since the last show, I was reminded that this band is a part of me, and not just on the surface.
The stage lights dimmed, and the sinister bass line of Bauhaus' "Bela Lugosi's Dead" began to play as Matt Skiba, Dan Andriano and Derek Grant walked out in matching black and white heart-skull logo letterman jackets. Bauhaus faded down, and the opening chords from "Cringe" rang out. If I'd closed my eyes, I might have felt like a teenager again, but I didn't.
A good scan across the room proved just how much time had passed. Of all three band members, not a single one has been able to stave off going bald since I'd seen them last. Looking over the audience, I remembered a time when Alkaline Trio and New Found Glory on the same bill meant a room full of children, even though I was one of them. Now, it's just a bunch of quarter-lifers who grew up on this shit, and I was one of them. In spite of all of this, it wasn't as existential as it sounds. The deep cuts took me back to a simpler time, fan favorite B-sides like "Warbrain," "Dead and Broken" and "Standard Break from Life" especially.
"This song is about a girl from Texas ..." said Skiba before going into "Queen of Pain." It was a line from this song in script that I originally wanted for my Trio tattoo. I was reminded of it as I watched Skiba flub the line on stage, "Can't put out the fire that resides in you, my dear."
Toward the end of the set, Skiba had begun to struggle. His voice was growing strained, his memory for lyrics cloudy. Time has been kinder to co-vocalist Andriano, whose voice still sounded as it did on the records. Songs like "Take Lots with Alcohol" and "Every Thug Needs a Lady" were exactly as I remembered them.
Second to last was "This Could Be Love." A song off the Good Mourning album that they almost always close their live shows with. It's a big audience sing-along, and I've never known it to disappoint until now. Be it Skiba's loss of pace, or an error in tuning his seafoam blue Telecaster, it just wasn't right. It was the look on my face when I saw that tattoo on my shoulder for the first time.
Luckily, the night wouldn't end on a sour note. The Trio thanked Dallas, and closed out the night with one of their most beloved classics, "My Friend Peter." The crowd erupted and I even found myself doing a little light slam dancing. This was the moment I was looking for, the reassurance that my plans for a tattoo cover-up wouldn't be pondered again. So maybe it didn't look perfect, maybe the newer stuff still sucks, maybe Skiba is looking a little beat. None of that can erase the fact that this music is the soundtrack to my adolescence, it was my coming of age story on wax. Though we're not the spring chickens we once were, we're all still kicking.