15 Years of Iconic Emo Riffs with Senses Fail

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In 2003, Drive-Thru records released Senses Fail’s EP, “From The Depths of Dreams”. Full of now-classic tracks, such as “Steven” and “One Eight Seven”, the success of this record ultimately led to Senses Fail becoming one of the icons of the post-hardcore/emo bands of the 2000s.

Fast forward to March 2018. Thousands of nostalgic young adults, and enthusiastic teenagers lined up outside the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey, sporting their favorite generations of Senses Fail merchandise, and enjoying the now almost tolerable New Jersey weather as they waited to fill the room side-to-side and watch one of the most iconic bands of our time.

Senses Fails’ “From the Depths of Dreams” @ Starland Ballroom, Sayreville NJ

For one night, and one night only – Senses Fail would play the entirety of From the Depths of Dreams, their first EP. The tour was joined by newcomers Household, who are signed to Equal Vision records. After playing an incredibly enjoyable, oddly nostalgic-but-refreshing set, I have no doubt they’ll be a household name soon enough. *cue rimshot.* After Household, we “talked about your hair” with the emotional powerhouse that is Have Mercy, probably one of my newest addictions. Singer Brian Swindle has a way of explaining things in just enough detail to make you imagine it – and being there live was just an incredible experience. I thought to myself, as I frantically ran from one side of the room to the other to get as many good shots as possible, “I’m never going to forget this night”.

Then, I was introduced to Reggie and the Full Effect. I had heard of these guys before – nearly four years ago – when they announced a tour with Say Anything and Saves The Day. Unfortunately for me, I never listened to them. My first aural experience with Reggie was here, at the Starland Ballroom. Singer James Dewees (have I heard that name before? Oh yeah – he’s the keyboardist for The Get Up Kids) put on an excellent performance, full of wit and cheer. What a night!

As Reggie walked off, the projection screen at the Starland Ballroom came down, and the house music came on, playing the classic Emo Night hits (Fall Out Boy, Taking Back Sunday). The room filled with anticipation. Everyone was beaming. Suddenly, it was 2003 again, your worst problem was thinking about who you were going to go to the dance with, or that stupid project your science teacher had assigned, or how the hell you were supposed to figure out how to skate without wiping out in front of your friends. We were listening to Tell All Your Friends and What It Is To Burn and remembered what it was like when our parents just didn’t understand. And hey, as it turns out, it wasn’t a phase – we all met in that room for that night to celebrate one of our favorite records. You could feel it in the air. Everyone was so excited – we cheered every time the IHOP ad showed up on projector screen – and then it happened. The music stopped. The screen went up. The lights went off. The crowd roared – and there they were. Senses Fail.

Sporting a new lineup, they still rocked those old tones – the definitive SENSES FAIL sound. They opened with Family Tradition, a classic, and followed up by playing some of their new songs off of their brand-new record, If There Is Light, It Will Find You, which had just been released a few weeks earlier. Despite having only been out for a month, most of the crowd knew all the lyrics to New Jersey Makes, the World Takes, signalling that Senses Fail was here to stay.

Eager and excited fans were climbing over each other and screaming the words like it was their last day on earth. It was absolutely touching and fulfilling to be there – a truly exemplary moment for the 2000’s emo in all of us. They played a massive 12-song set full of old ones, new ones, some in-between ones, some slow ones, some fast ones – all the good ones.

Then came the REAL nostalgia.

After a brief break, singer Buddy Nielsen came out sporting a striped long sleeve, straight out of 2013, and played the entirety of From the Depths of Dreams, with a slightly modified order. After all, you can’t just play One Eight Seven before the end. That’s got to be the closer. Buddy showed his maturity and his emotional development by modifying some of the lyrics of “Handguns and Second Chances” by censoring the beginning. Nielsen stated in a Billboard interview earlier this year that he does this for himself mostly, since the crowd still sings the original lyrics. Senses Fail was one of those bands that somehow managed to always to follow my current mood, and it was very wholesome to see that you can still kick it, old school without having the old-school misogynistic lyrics mean anything. The second the riff for One Eight Seven started, everyone lost their minds. I’ve never seen more twenty-somethings lose it faster than the second those notes started playing. Buddy didn’t even need to sing – the entire room ERUPTED all the lyrics – throughout the entire song. There was never a pause in energy. It was amazing.

They even played two of their other iconic songs as an encore – Can’t Be Saved and Bite to Break Skin, bringing their set to an incredible 21 songs. After the long drive from Upstate New York, and knowing I wouldn’t be home til the wee hours of the night, I should have been exhausted – but I wasn’t. I was invigorated, I was inspired, and I was in absolute awe. Senses Fail still had it, they always had it, and they’re going to keep having it. I’m so much more excited to be a Senses Fail fan now than I ever have been.

Senses Fail, Reggie and the Full Effect, Have Mercy, and Household @ Starland Ballroom, March 17th, 2018 Gallery

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Matthew Alexander is an Atlanta photographer and digital marketer.

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