Since A Loss For Words recently announced that they will be disbanding at the end of the year, I thought it would be appropriate to publish an article I wrote about them for my pop culture writing class last semester. Happy throwback Thursday!
Abington, Massachusetts looks like it belongs in a cliché romantic comedy about high school sweethearts growing up in the middle of suburbia. Even major roads are relatively quiet by the time rush hour ends, and quaint Hollywood-ready pastel-colored houses line the roads that make up the 20-minute drive through town from the Braintree stop on the Red Line. Hidden among these residential streets is a small ballroom-style space called Emerald Hall. The dark green carpeted floors are scattered with tables covered in white tablecloths, and the back wall is home to a full bar. In the center of the carpet, there’s a large hardwood dance floor with plenty of room for large crowds to dance or gather for a ceremony. It’s the kind of place a couple would hold a small wedding reception, or a sports team might hold an end-of-season banquet.
But this hall was home to a very different crowd on the night of March 28. Tattooed, pierced, and dressed-down punks of all ages filled the warm-toned, dimly lit room that was much larger than what’s typically necessary for a local pop-punk show. The musty smell of sweat filled the air, and tables of various bands’ merchandise lined the walls. Abington-based pop-punk band A Loss For Words reserved the hall for a special “Remember The Fallen” honorary show to pay tribute to their friends who passed away in recent years: Lao Garcia, Michael Gabriele, Jeremy Russell, and Sgt. Daniel Vassellan.
A Loss For Words sought out View From An Airplane, The Moms, Wind in Sails, Paris, and Veara to open the extremely personal benefit show, which also served as a kick-off to their nationwide spring tour with the latter three acts.
Half of the proceeds from the show were donated to charities in their friends’ honor and their families to pay respects to their lost friends and support their beloved survivors. The Sgt. Daniel Vassellan fund, the Jeremy Russell fund, the Garcia family, and the Gabriele family each received $500 after the show, totaling $2,000 donated. A Loss For Words are notorious for their pride for their hometown, and this show to benefit these families was a perfect example of the difference a small, tight-knit music community can make, even if it’s just a few hundred dollars.
In an interview about the band’s roots, A Loss For Words’ front man Matt Arsenault discussed his love for his hometown, saying “It’s hard to explain to someone, but there’s so much passion and emotion and friendship. It’s a really cool place to be.”
Boston-based View From An Airplane and New Jersey natives The Moms started off the show with high-energy sets that would certainly get the crowd ready for a loud, rambunctious evening of angsty, passionate performances. But the crowd still remained on the outskirts of the wooden dance floor, leaving an awkward 15-foot gap between the performers and the audience. Although Wind in Sails, otherwise known as the ex-front man of Vanna, Evan Pharmakis, slowed things down with an entirely acoustic performance, he really drew the crowd in. He encouraged spectators to gather around him as close as possible, and drew in those who were reluctant by throwing an old Vanna song into his mix of originals. He fostered a sense of community and acceptance by taking a moment of his stage time to recognize his former band mates, how much their sound has changed, and congratulate them on their success. By the end of his set, the crowd was, without a doubt, hyped for the remaining sets.
Paris immediately brought the tempo of the show back up, seamlessly following Evan’s impressive performance with a solid set to a crowd that was particularly excited to see them perform. The general attitude of the crowd shifted to a much bouncier, rowdier feel than the previous sets, and the band may have Evan to thank for that. The crowd remained tightly wrapped around the performance area, screaming the words they knew, and shouting and cheering during the songs they weren’t so familiar with. Front woman Lynn Gunn stole the hearts of all who attended the show that night with her charming stage presence and powerful vocal range, and the rest of the band flawlessly complimented her voice with their instrumental contributions. The band’s entire set was full of an intoxicating energy that captivated every listener in the hall. Veara followed suit and kept the energy in the room high, encouraging the inner punks of the audience members to really let loose. They incited mosh pits with every song they played, and most members of the crowd went absolutely crazy for their performance. Although it was the heaviest, and quite possibly the most violent of all the sets, it was the perfect way to set the stage for the headlining act of the night to follow up and take the stage.
Although the opening bands set the scene nicely, there was still a drastic change in the Hall’s vibe as soon as A Loss For Words began setting up their equipment. Fans who had been sitting at tables all night rose from their seats, suddenly weaving their way through the dense mass of people to get as close to the band as possible. Since the show was at the hall and there was no stage, if anyone was under six feet tall, the only way to see anything was to be in the front row. But those lucky few in the front didn’t have it so easy. As soon as their set began, lead singer Matt Arsenault submerged himself into the crowd, singing with fans and friends from beginning to end. This resulted in some serious shoving forward, demanding some intense physical strength from those front row dwellers, unless they wanted to be thrown head-first into a drum head or amplifier.
But the disorderly behavior of the crowd isn’t to say it wasn’t an enjoyable performance. Unruly audiences have become such an engrained part of pop-punk shows and culture that tame crowds often yield poor reviews from concertgoers and are discouraging to the performers. This explains why artists often explicitly encourage this kind of conduct while performing, despite its potential safety hazards. The more rowdy the crowd’s holistic reaction, the more fun they are perceived to be having. And the members of the crowd for A Loss For Words’ set seemed to be having the time of their lives. Pop-punk fans really know how to take care of one another, too. They picked each other up as soon as someone went down, and everyone was always looking out for the people around them, whether that meant deflecting a flying elbow, holding them back from being unwillingly thrown into a mosh pit, or blocking a crowd surfer’s foot from hitting them in the head.
A Loss For Words opened their set with a single off The Kids Can’t Lose, “Stamp of Approval,” which was appropriate considering the show was a kickoff to a tour celebrating the fifth anniversary of the album. Surprisingly, though, the only songs off the album performed for the rest of the night were “Hold Your Breath,” and the especially hard-hitting and personal band favorite “Mt. Saint Joseph.” Although the theme of the tour may have left some fans wanting more off that album, that didn’t take away from the passion behind the performance. The latter song was especially hard-hitting at this show in particular. “Mt. Saint Joseph” tells a gut-wrenching story of a friend lost too soon, a theme that many in attendance could relate to that night.
“When I play music, it lets me kind of vent,” Arsenault says, “and it’s cool when kids feel the lyrics, and come up to me like ‘yo, I can relate to that because I lost a friend to drugs too and I don’t have anyone to talk to. But I put on that song and it makes me feel good that there are other people out there that feel the same way.’ That’s really special.”
However, the band played a variety of songs released over the past five years, including the two singles off Before It Caves, “Distance” and “Conquest of Mistakes,” and even their rendition of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” off their Motown Covers album from 2009. Each song evoked more and more passion from the crowd. They never slowed down from the moment the opening riff to “Stamp of Approval” began. The band’s lead singer, Matty Arsenault, dedicated nearly every song to a friend of the band, whether they were there watching the show or the show was being put on in their honor. This, paired with the fact that the band and audience were both physically on the same level, made this set particularly personal and intimate.
The environment created by this intimacy was so special that, by the end, each and every audience member was friends with one another. As the night of moshing in these lost men’s honor came to a close, attendees and performers lingered among the Hall to introduce themselves and talk. It wasn’t the average post-concert atmosphere. There were no lines of kids waiting for autographs, or crowds of people waiting to take pictures with the bands. It was just groups of people – hundreds of people – talking amongst each other as music lovers trying to make a difference in one way or another. It was refreshing, to say the least, to see people come together as individuals to enjoy live performances and raise money for meaningful causes that hit so close to home for both the audience and the artists.
*This article was originally written by Tori for Eric Marshall’s WR-121 class at Emerson College