Fans First

Fall Out Boy and New Found Glory treat concertgoers to a rare club appearance.

Growing up is never easy, but for most pop-punk bands it's nearly impossible. Whether one blames the fickle tastes of adolescent fans, the genre's reliance on formulaic song structures or just a general dearth of creativity, ultimately there's no way around the fact that while singing about your high school locker may be cute when you're seventeen, by the time you're thirty-five it's just pathetic.

Yet current tourmates Fall Out Boy and New Found Glory are part of an elite group of pop-punk bands who have not only endured but evolved in the face of these circumstances. The former's list of accomplishments is impressive on paper: 2005's multiplatinum-selling From Under the Cork Tree, countless hit singles (including the still-ubiquitous "Dance, Dance") and a Best New Artist Grammy nomination (an award it lost to soul crooner John Legend). On top of that, Fall Out Boy have taken onstage acrobatics to shocking new levels by incorporating gravity-defying spins and kicks into their performances — moves that are all the more impressive when you realize that they're still playing their guitars while executing a triple axel.

However, the fact that New Found Glory is still active — and relevant — after a decade is nearly as impressive. The Florida band recently finished headlining a club tour alongside up-and-comers the Early November and Cartel, while its fifth full-length, Coming Home, shows the band expanding on a pop-punk sound it helped pioneer: Songs like "Oxygen" and "On My Mind" still rely on power chords and whiny vocals, but they also show the group sharpening its pop chops and relying less on gimmicks and grandstanding to engage audiences.

Singer Jordan Pundik attributes New Found Glory's longevity to tireless touring and a loyal fan base, but also acknowledges that these days "there are so many bands out there that you have to reinvent yourself a little bit" with each release.

"I hate to say it, but we've grown up," Pundik says, aware of the connotations that phrase carries in a genre still dictated by teenage tastemakers. In fact, when asked if he has problems relating to NFG's tween fans, the 27-year-old responds: "Especially on the new record, we approached it more simplistically. Everything we've ever written is real; it's all shit we've been through in the band internally or with our family and friends. Our fans know that we're a real band and we write real things that happen in each other's lives. We're easy to relate to because we're just normal dudes who like music, too."

When asked if his band ever feels musically constrained by its fans, Fall Out Boy drummer Andy Hurley admits that "it's definitely hard to evolve because the fan base is younger." But like New Found Glory, Hurley and his bandmates have "sort of countered that by trying to keep the relationship between us and our fans as strong as possible."

And to their credit, Fall Out Boy's fans have given the band permission to grow — likely because the Chicago quartet makes its followers feel like they are part of the process, whether by hosting exclusive meet-and-greets for their fan club or giving out band members' AOL Instant Messenger screen names. For a band in Fall Out Boy's situation, having fans that mature along with its career is more important than anything a major-label marketing department could ever create.

In other words, when FOB singer Patrick Stump croons, "I wrote the gospel on giving up" on "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race," the first single from Fall Out Boy's highly anticipated full-length, Infinity on High, feel free to take it with an oceanful of salt.

"As a band you approach every record differently, because you naturally grow from your experiences," Hurley says of Infinity, which is due out February 6. "Of course it's kind of nerve-racking when we started tracking because you don't know if anyone's going to like the new stuff, but we just let it happen — and in my opinion, the new record is the best thing we've ever written.

"We're still the same four dudes and the same four best friends we've always been, so I think that took a lot of the pressure off. It's definitely an evolution and progression, but it has the elements that have always made up Fall Out Boy."

The fifteen-date tour — dubbed "Friends or Enemies" — will also be a rare opportunity for fans to see both bands up close before Fall Out Boy embarks on the amphitheatre circuit. Hurley says the decision to play small theaters was a conscious choice: "We really want to try to reconnect with our old fans who took us to where we are now." And so while FOB will be playing a few new songs, Hurley promises they'll be padding the set with fan favorites they've never played from 2003's Evening Out with Your Girlfriendand the same year's Take This to Your Grave.(While Hurley wouldn't name titles, he promises there's a song from Girlfriend that they always get asked to play, and while this writer doesn't know, he's "sure kids know what I'm talking about.")

Cynics may wonder how Fall Out Boy can possibly maintain its close relationship with fans when the band is playing packed arenas on a headlining tour with Plus 44 (which they begin immediately following their New Found Glory dates). But Hurley doesn't seem concerned.

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