Review: Set It Off turn their hometown 'Upside Down' at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg
On the eve of their album release, the eve of the next phase of their ambitious and globe-trotting career, Set It Off couldn’t help but look back.
“This is where we got it started,” singer Cody Carson told the crowd at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg. “We played the State Theatre to nobody. We played at Crowbar to nobody. We played at Neptune’s up in Tarpon to nobody.”
That last one is the one that got the cheers. Only a hometown band would reference North Pinellas’ favorite all-ages punk hangout during its nightly shout-outs to the audience. But that’s what made this night special for Set It Off, one of the most successful Pinellas bands ever.
Nationally signed, with numerous Warped and international tours on their resume, Set It Off celebrated their new album Upside Down, which drops Friday, amid family, friends and fans who’ve been rooting for them since 2008. And a celebration was exactly what it felt like, with Carson, guitarists Dan Clermont and Zach DeWall, and drummer Maxx Danzinger frequnetly dancing and grinning from ear to ear.
With the stage color-blocked in black, white and tasteful teal, the group played about half of Upside Down, starting with the irresistibly infectious Something New, a song that makes clear just how much of the “punk” half of their pop-punk label Set It Off has shed these last few years.
Like Panic! At The Disco and Fall Out Boy (to whose singers, Brendon Urie and Patrick Stump, Carson bears a passing vocal resemblance), Set It Off isn’t afraid of a big, pure pop hook. They still leaped and stage-dived and split-kicked like good Warped veterans, with Carson balancing up on fans’ hands and Clermont and DeWall skidding back and forth across the stage toward one another. But they did all this to songs like Me Without Us, which infuses its pop-rock groove with a hint of the ineffably Caribbean R&B vibe that’s all over the top of the charts; and the rumba- and disco-tinged Life Afraid, a song so unbowed by its own huge ambition you really could hear it on TV.
This was not a night for deep cuts and oldies. Aside from the new songs, everything else came from Set It Off’s 2014 album Duality, including the chamber-punkish Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing and heal-the-world-type ballad Wild Wild World. Fans were more familiar with these cuts, screaming every word to dramatic tracks like Bleak December and the sing-alongish Ancient History.
Ironically, their voracious musicality might be Set It Off’s biggest weakness. For all the lofty strings and woodwinds on Duality, and all the horns and synths on Upside Down, the band remains just a four-piece — and a four-piece with no bassist, at that. It would be wonderful to hear the joyful, Chicagoan horns of Upside Down's title track performed with an actual horn section, or the theatrical The Haunting backed by an actual orchestra. That’s obviously not possible for a band at Set It Off’s level, but hearing so many of those pre-tracked elements coming through the speakers only serves as a reminder of what’s not on stage— particularly when it comes to the now-absent bass.
But it’s not Set It Off’s fault they’re drawn to writing such big-sounding songs, and they’re to be applauded, literally, for playing what they can live. Their joy was apparent on closer Why Worry, as big a song as they’ve ever written — a little punk, a little rapping, a little horns, a ton of energy — and the same seemed true of their screaming fans.
Upside Down drops Friday, but Thursday’s show already felt triumphant. It felt like a victory lap, even though Set It Off's next phase is far from over. This hometown show was just the beginning.
-- Jay Cridlin