Revisiting the All-American Rejects’ first LP today, one of the most noticeable things is how much range vocalist Tyson Ritter has gained over the years. The elasticity of his voice was reflected in his performance Wednesday night at the Beaumont Club – and I do mean performance. Jumping out with a wardrobe you would expect on a skinny Ricky Ricardo on a Saturday afternoon, Ritter rumbled and shaked across the stage from minute one and didn’t stop until the final song ninety minutes later (he even came back on stage once the lights had come up to hand out guitar picks and press lists).
It’s hard to talk about the show without talking about Ritter. In a state that appeared induced by both alcohol and a fistful of sugar, he behaved just as a lot of the teenage girls in the half-full audience surely hoped he would – flirty, non-threateningly abrasive, and big. He even sided in solidarity with the crowd when he asked “What the fuck is with curfews” while playing an improvised acoustic guitar crooner. Ritter, who is literally a model, knew who he was singing his band’s sweet power pop for, and he played the part with the finesse of a Ringmaster.
He wasn’t the only one on stage, but one could be forgiven for thinking so given how much spotlight his mostly silent fellow musicians let him have. In the ten years since their self-titled debut dropped, the All-American Rejects have been a source of catchy and guilty-good power pop. From singles like the perfectly-happy-to-be-heartbroken “Swing Swing” to preteen-anthem “Move Along“, the Rejects have amassed a surprisingly decent collection of songs with a poppy punch that would have made them much more popular had they been around a decade or two earlier.
They’ve tried to deviate from the straight Pop formula with recent albums, though. 2008′s When the World Comes Down, despite having song titles like as straightforward as “Damn Girl,” attempted to dabble with electro beats and staccato percussion that have followed along with a mainstream movement out of the Punk Pop burst of the early 00s and into a Billboard landscape populated more and more prominently by big beats.
Their fourth album, Kids In the Street, takes it further. It’s their most produced album – sometimes with success, like with its first track “Someday’s Gone“, which blows out some silly-huge “Na na na”s before bottling the energy up and letting it explode out at the end. Other songs, like “Fast & Slow“, feel over-produced just for the Production’s sake. They’re putting together some bits that work, but layered with lesser pieces, it sounds a little unclear.
Which was weirdly appropriate for this show. The Beaumont has a notoriously poor sound situation, and a lot of the Rejects’ music was barely noticeable. They brought along a musician for keyboards – an instrument showcased in more AAR songs than is obvious – but these parts were practically excised.
The final effect was mostly negligible. Despite their ability to craft a solid, straight pop song, a lot of AAR’s talent needs to exist in clean, recorded form to shine. None of them are particularly talented with their instruments, something made obvious by the fact that Ritter relegated his Bass duties to a touring musician for most of the songs, so there’s not much to add in a live setting.
What does come through from their recordings is an unapologetic energy. The simple but big guitar riffs don’t get lost in translation, and they were only aided by Ritter’s extravagance the whole night through.
For most shows, he would have been annoying. But as a member of a band with songs titled ‘Dirty Little Secret,’ ‘I Wanna’ and ‘My Paper Heart’ that avoid making you want to turn the Radio off, maybe he was just the right amount of appropriately annoying.
By Ian T. McFarland