Fall Out Boy Were Unimpeachable in Toronto

Budweiser Stage, July 30

With Bring Me the Horizon

Photo: Pamela Littky

BY Adam FeibelPublished Jul 31, 2023

To a person of a certain age, Fall Out Boy are an institution of teenage angst, a band that belongs on the Mount Rushmore of 2000s pop-punk. "Sugar, We're Goin' Down" was inescapable on MTV and MySpace, high schoolers had magazine cut-outs of troubled heartthrob Pete Wentz taped to the inside of their lockers, and they were partly responsible for turning hoodies, skinny jeans, jet-black hair and eyeliner into the teen fashion of the day.

But by the end of that decade, Fall Out Boy had grown out of the pop-punk style, actively resented the "emo" moniker, and rebranded themselves as stadium-sized pop hitmakers. Three of their last four albums have debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. Despite their reputation among millennials, Fall Out Boy have been a platinum-status pop Goliath for longer than the five-ish years they spent in the spotlight of the mainstream emo explosion.

So, it was interesting to watch the crowd react to Fall Out Boy's wide-ranging, era-hopping performance at Toronto's Budweiser Stage on Sunday night. When an artist gets big enough, we tend to see them solely through the lens of the mass audience; a jaded person might ask, "Does anyone even listen to Fall Out Boy anymore?" Based on the roughly 16,000 fans in Toronto who went crazy for songs both new and old, the answer is, resoundingly, yes.

It was just as interesting, though, to watch the crowd's reaction to Bring Me the Horizon, their main supporting act on the 29-date tour that follows the recent release of Fall Out Boy's eighth album, So Much (for) Stardust. It makes sense on paper that Fall Out Boy would tour with the British metalheads: Wentz was a so-called "local celebrity" in Chicago's hardcore punk scene in the late '90s, performing in a number of bands including Arma Angelus and Racetraitor before he formed the pop-punk side project that would soon become larger than life. Meanwhile, Patrick Stump played drums in a grindcore band, and he linked up with Wentz and guitarist Joe Trohman after a pedantic debate over the genre classification of Neurosis. One of their earliest performances was with the Killing Tree, led by Rise Against's Tim McIlrath.

That's the short form, but suffice it to say that Fall Out Boy's relationship with heavy music is deeply rooted and well-documented. But this is not Chicago's underground hardcore scene. This is a Live Nation presentation at Budweiser Stage, with thousands of people here to see a band whose most-streamed song is "Centuries," the platinum-certified stadium pop smash that was a Top 10 hit on the Billboard charts back in 2014. (Technically, their top song on Spotify is actually their guest feature on Taylor Swift's "Electric Touch.") So, the throat-searing screams and pulverizing breakdowns of Bring Me the Horizon could be a little jarring.

That said, Bring Me the Horizon are powerhouses in their own right. By now, they're more accustomed to headlining tours than supporting them, and that showed in their performance. BMTH put on a spectacle, with singer Oliver Sykes easily winning over the crowd. (To be fair, many of them were there specifically to see them.) Plus, the band's recent flurry of singles tip further into the realm of electronic pop than the deathcore brutality of their earlier work, so there was some middle ground to be found among those who were just waiting it out for Fall Out Boy. Still, when they busted out the bone-crushing breakdowns and Oli Sykes' demonic growls in older songs like "Shadow Moses," there were more than enough BMTH fans in the crowd to make the ground shake. Like a seasoned hype man, Sykes demanded bigger cheers, bigger dance moves, and bigger mosh pits, and he got them. Afterward, some of the members of the crowd loudly announced their intention to leave the premises — yeah, yeah, we get it, you're too cool for Fall Out Boy — but the attrition was barely noticeable.

When they took the stage, Fall Out Boy immediately showed they're in the upper echelon of modern rock performers alongside the likes of Weezer, Green Day and Foo Fighters. Opening with "Love from the Other Side," the first track on So Much (for) Stardust, they blew the room open with a thunder clap of guitars, a flurry of flamethrowers, and an elaborate on-stage fireworks show, keeping it up with the fast-paced "The Phoenix" and then everybody's favourite "Sugar, We're Goin' Down." 

Throughout their nearly two-hour set, the Chicago superstars made their way through five more cuts from the new album, plus a handful from each of their previous albums — except for 2018's Mania, the only Fall Out Boy album that could be considered a flop, if only by Fall Out Boy standards; it's the first record since their debut to not produce a Billboard Hot 100 single, and the band ignored it entirely during this tour stop. They appealed to longtime fans with a cluster of songs from 2003's Take This to Your Grave, played several of the biggest tunes from their pop-punk era like "Dance, Dance" and "Thnks fr th Mmrs," and gave plenty of love to their 2010s rebirth albums Save Rock and Roll and American Beauty / American Psycho, as well as their oft-unappreciated Folie à Deux.

There were some brief lulls in the middle, as a couple strings of deeper cuts weren't met with the same frenzy as known favourites. Covers of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" and Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" won them some nods of recognition, but the general vibe among the crowd was that they'd love to hear Fall Out Boy play some more of their favourite Fall Out Boy songs. Wisely, the band decided not to perform their widely mocked cover of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire," opting instead to play it over the PA right before they took the stage.

The show was complete with lavish set design, pyrotechnics, and other special effects, including a magic eight-ball that helped them pick a couple of deep cuts to play. (One of them was the live debut of "West Coast Smoker" from Folie à deux, the 2008 album that saw their popularity dip before they went on hiatus.) They used fireworks to emphasize the biggest choruses, but it had somewhat of a counterintuitive effect: When you've just heard a cannon blast at approximately 100,000 decibels, it drowns out the music for a second and, until your ears readjust, a rock song seems small and cute by comparison.

Amusingly, Fall Out Boy's yin-and-yang logo was reflected in the opposing personas of the band's two main creative forces. Stump, his voice in top form, was infectiously charming and humble in a plain black T-shirt, a baseball cap, and a modest smile. Wentz continued to lean into his stylish celebrity status, wearing Fabio-like hair and a ludicrously capacious poncho before several wardrobe changes led to him donning a rose-adorned mesh top. While Wentz wore the expressionless face of someone waiting to collect a cheque — rarely has someone looked more bored playing rock songs to thousands of people — Stump was electric, radiating joy and appreciation throughout the whole set.

On the whole, Sunday night's show was a testament to Fall Out Boy's ubiquity: Even if you wouldn't call yourself a Fall Out Boy fan, you'd probably immediately recognize a third of the songs they're playing on this tour. While many of the bright stars of the emo days quickly burned up in the post-emo atmosphere, Fall Out Boy managed to keep putting out hits through multiple eras of their career. Some fans will still see them as a nostalgia act that they left behind when they grew out of their teenage years; others will have only discovered them in the last 10 years, when their hits were a world apart from the songs that made them famous. Regardless, the crowd in Toronto on Sunday night was thrilled about all of it. On this tour, Fall Out Boy are demonstrating that their rockstar status is, so far, unimpeachable.

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