Mom Jeans. Live at the Worcester Palladium:

“LOUD EPIC EMO MUSIC”... and Summer Salt

Words: Judd Karn
Illustrations: Kaia Bennett
May 5, 2024

Thousands, largely late teens to early twenties and indie-emo, packed into the Worcester Palladium on a Sunday St. Patrick’s day night, most there to be a part of Berkeley’s Midwest emo heartthrobs, Mom Jeans.’s, legendary crowds. Some, like me, were more familiar with one of their three openers: Summer Salt, Hunny, or Born without Bones, two of which, Summer Salt and Hunny, arguably just as popular as headliner Mom Jeans.

Let’s backtrack: a couple months ago (December maybe?) I was looking through the ‘Live Events’ section of Spotify—it basically just gives you a list of all the upcoming shows of artists you follow playing near you—and saw one of my favorite bands of recent, the indie/soft rock/jazz cafe-esque Summer Salt, was performing at the Worcester Palladium. I was in a little disbelief, though, when I saw that they weren’t headlining, but instead opening for the indie/pop punk band Mom Jeans. for a self-advertised “LOUD EPIC EMO MUSIC” show. If nothing else (apart from seeing one of my favorite bands live again) I was dying to see how this show, composed of three quintessential indie punk/grunge acts—Mom Jeans. (notorious for insanely active crowds and even more insane mosh pits), Hunny, and Born Without Bones—and Summer Salt, a band on the complete opposite side of the indie spectrum, would play out.

Fast forward three months, two other members of WBRU’s Indie station (Naile Ozpolat and illustrationist Kaia Bennett) and I were on highway 146 to the Palladium. The indie grunge sounds of the three bands filled the white jetta, interspersed with some Summer Salt, of course.

After a seven minute walk from the parking garage, we arrived at the Palladium (adorned with a beacon-like marque, at least in comparison to the not-so-bustling downtown Worcester block), greeted by two friendly faces who, after patting us down, taking and depositing every non-essential possession we had into a storage box—filled with countless rings, loose keychains, and a mound of sharpies—opened the door for us.

I chuckled a little at the lobby’s ornateness given tonight’s genre (prior to the Palladium 261 Main Street was a bustling movie palace of the ‘20s called the Plymouth; remnants of this palace are sprinkled through the semi-modernized venue). Juxtaposed with the grunginess of opener Born without Bones that pierced through the walls—quietly echoed through the speakers in the lobby—the humor of it all was quite apparent. This sound shifted as we walked closer and closer to general admission’s double doors.

The crowd was about what I expected: indie-ified grunge outfits, sprinkled in with some classic emo and alternative fits, populated the venue (although, the three of us shared confusion and many remarks about the insanely high amount of overalls in the crod). The venue itself had opera-like upper decks on both sides with a handful of people looking down from them, and gold-like ornate insignias across the stage’s sides, both of which felt stuck in a weird limbo; it wasn’t quite ornate enough to feel like a theater or opera house, but it was also extremely out of place for a rock venue.

We landed somewhere near the merch booth during Born Without Bones’ set, who were midway through blasting their hit “Stone” through the mismatched speakers surrounding them—some postered with Summer Salt’s graphics, others with those of Born Without Bones. The four-piece moved through the equipment-filled stage (made even more cramped by a second drum kit behind them) as much as they could, pouring their heart and soul in for the crowd. Many, like us, were just getting acclimated; others were actively entering in and out of the pit to complete their concert errands (drinks, merch, restrooms, etc). A few songs after we entered, the band closed out and roadies swarmed the stage, removing a couple amps and tuning the guitar of the next opener, Hunny, in what felt like seconds.

Between sets, we weaved our way to the center of the pit and, after a couple minutes waiting (and a heartfelt crowd-wide sing-a-long of “Stacy’s Mom”), Hunny ignited the pit with a newer song of theirs, “JFK.” The crowd seemed to have adapted to Hunny’s sound, one slightly more youthful and new wave emo: people moved slightly faster and more violently, and within seconds of the band’s first drum kick, dozens of fans hovered above the crowd, riding their way to the barricade, where security guards waited to catch surfers at the end of their wave and funnel them back into the crowd. We moshed and moshed. An uncountable amount of overalls (something I was, in the back of my mind, still so curious about), leprechaun hats and miscellaneous St. Patty’s accessories, and a surprisingly well put together Borat costume all passed my eyes. Around halfway through the set, a guy apologized for flat tiring me, asking if I was alright; I responded with a, “no worries” and thanked him for being so considerate; he introduced himself as Steve and concluded our brief interaction with, “see you around,” and we both went back to moshing.

After a couple exchanged glances and nods of each others’ assurance of wellbeing between Steve and I, as well as an insane reaction from the crowd to Hunny’s hit single “Televised,” the set concluded. With that, only one more opener was left: Summer Salt, the set I was most excited for.

I was excited because of how much I love their live sets and them as a band, but I was also dying to see what this mosh-loving and self-described emo crowd would think of the iconically chill indie soft rock band. It was definitely smart to place them at this position in the lineup (if any), kind of as a break and time to chill in between—a palate cleanser and break between the hard-hitting Hunny and the insane crowd that erupts from Mom Jeans.’ headliner sets.

Summer Salt had a slightly longer set up time than Hunny and Born Without Bones as they had to wheel in a new drum kit (outfitted with chimes and all). They opened with one of their more upbeat tracks, “Life Ain’t The Same,” to a slightly confused crowd; many were antsy after waiting for the fifteen-ish minutes between sets; a few began preemptively shoving. It took a minute or so for the crowd to get fully adjusted: some had grown bored of Summer Salt’s relatively relaxed playing and started conversing, some quietly nodded to the beat, and some lifted themselves and began surfing (borderline coasting) over the crowd. As the set went on, more and more mumblings of antsy-ness emanated from the crowd—most of which were Mom Jeans.’ fans dying to mosh to their favorite songs. Simultaneously, though, more and more heads bobbed and arms swayed. A mini pit had formed: arms over each other, swaying back and forth. Many began surfing, holding up heart-shaped hands to the crowd, up until they were ushered out by one of the eight guards.

Summer Salt themselves seemed pretty pleasantly surprised by the activeness of the crowd, reflecting this in their playing and, at times, seeming even more energetic than their headliner gigs. Drummer Eugene Chung, (the very little that I could see of him through the crowd, that is) maintained his signature style that mesmerized me the past two times (he has a loose but precise style and always has the biggest grin on his face when playing, you know he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else). The rhythm guitarist Anthony Barnett and bassist Winston Triolo were decently active and shared many solos with lead guitarist Matthew Terry, playfully moving around while one or the other soloed. The mini pit grew (as did the woman next to me’s desire to mosh again, evident by her complaints to a fellow local she’d recognized from prior concerts) little by little as time went on. By the time Summer Salt closed with “Going Native,” the pit had grown to a solid twenty-ish people. Summer Salt closed out with a vivacious drawn-out finish and, after two and a half hours of openers, Mom Jeans. was soon to start.

I complimented the Borat cosplayer’s stick-on mustache, he remarked “thanks I grew it myself” in a surprisingly good impression, afterwards photographing then sharing a short conversation with him and his two friends, also wearing costumes of some sort. Meanwhile the roadies stripped the stage of virtually everything, leaving only the previously unused drum kit and three amps tucked in the back half of the stage. Mom Jeans. chants brewed in and out, but eventually it was time.

“Oh that’s why everyone’s wearing overalls” Ozpolat remarks.

The three string players of the band, lead guitar and vocalist Eric Butler, bassist Sam Kless, and guitarist Bart Thompson, all outfitted in overalls, ran in to a Boston anthem, Dropkick Murphys’ “I’m Shipping Up To Boston.” From the start it was clear that the three would use the now extremely open stage to their full advantage. Kless and Thompson spun, jumped, and traversed the stage in whatever way you can think of countless times throughout the concert; when Butler wasn’t restricted to the mic stand he would join them. Drummer Austin Carango (the only one lacking overalls), on the other hand, was restricted within his kit, but could be found sharing solos with Kless or Thompson throughout the set. The band had a loose but tight feel nurtured out of their many years of experience together. This feel is a major part, in tandem with their excellent crowd work, of what makes them such a fun band to see; and, I imagine, is a major reason why so many devout fans, dawning their overalls, filled the crowd.

What was most interesting to me, though, was Carango not having that typical indie punk drummer style; what usually would be hard hits and impulsive hand whips were replaced with an extremely precise, almost drum-machine-like performance, though still maintaining that classic indie punk sound that Mom Jeans. helped define. It didn’t detract from the performance at all, it was just an unusual and novel combination to see. But, in retrospect, wasn’t the entire concert? “Epic emo music” being played in an opera house-like rock venue, Mom Jeans.’ emo anthem “Death Cup” being played alongside Summer Salt’s jazz cafe-esque indie hit “Driving to Hawaii,” and a room full of overalls, St. Patty’s day memorabilia, and Borat. On paper, it shouldn't have come together, but it did. People were having fun: whether they were creating their own mini mosh pit of love, trying to crowd surf as much as possible, meeting someone they already partly knew, simply watching from the mezzanine upstairs, or being enthralled from the merch booth, getting to also see the almost mesmerizing mosh pit and its never-ending wave of crowd surfers. The show was duct-taped together in this “do whatever the fuck you want, just have fun” attitude that perfectly encapsulates Mom Jeans.






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