In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.
I never thought I’d see The Broadways, at least not in person. The group’s lone full-length, 1998’s Broken Star, was released the same year the band broke up, splitting its members into two like-minded punk bands: The Lawrence Arms and The Honor System. These two acts would go on to reach levels of success and acclaim that The Broadways never did, and as the years passed and the band’s members moved into various new endeavors, it seemed like the closest I’d ever come to seeing the band live was on a bootleg VHS tape that features two shows (one of which was the band’s very last, as bassist Brendan Kelly and guitarist Chris McCaughan had quit the band and ditched the show).
Two years ago the band reunited for a single show in honor of its label Asian Man Records, and that seemed like the extent of its reunion. The Broadways remained quiet until the band was announced on Chicago’s 2013 Riot Fest lineup; a development both exciting and worrisome, raising questions about how the band’s set, or its politically charged anthems, would work in such an environment. On the day of the show I arrived early with friends—notably my friend Ryan, who bought that VHS tape in college and passed it down to me some years ago—and we secured spots a few rows back from the stage. Anticipation grew, and when the band dove in to “What Happened?” from its posthumous collection album, Broken Van, we were swallowed up by the small crowd. We screamed the words to every song (even the politically misguided ones), and for a brief moment everything melted away. I knew the words to “The Nautical Mile” seemingly out of muscle memory, and the cries of “You’ll still have someone on your side” while having my arms wrapped around some of my best friends reminded me why I got into (and stuck with) this whole punk rock racket. The Broadways found a way to transcend the externalities of the festival, creating a facsimile of the shows on that VHS tape—the only difference being that all the band members made it to the show this time.
Punk rock has always had a layer of idealism and naïveté underlying it, and as it ages that mentality has a tendency to turn to jaded cynicism. It can be hard to avoid that sourness, but hearing McCaughan’s astute observation that “Life’s so much bigger / So much bigger than all this,” I felt like a kid again: Awash in music, singing with my friends, and escaping into that moment. It’s something that happens less and less the older I get, but it’s nice to know that if I ever need to, I’ll have that memory. And that VHS tape.