When Mumford & Sons played the first show in over 20 years at the legendary Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens NY (the venue previously hosted the U.S. Open tennis tournament until 1978), it was understandable that the venue would had some problems. While the band’s performance was top notch, some of the bigger issues, including the unbearably long wait time to exit the venue and people with a ticket being refused entry, were so bad that it made the local and national news. With a number of hot-ticketed events scheduled for the summer of 2014 (including The Replacements and a Lil Wayne/Drake co-headlining show), all eyes returned to Forest Hills to see how the venue’s staff would handle these complaints in order to create a better experience this time around.
When Brand New, one of my all-time favorite bands, was announced to perform a co-headliner with indie rock giants Modest Mouse, I jumped at the opportunity to attend the show that would be taking place less than 15 minutes from my home. The show eventually sold out, bringing up questions about whether the venue had once again oversold the show and about how this would affect the overall experience and the ease of getting in and out. Luckily, after arriving at the venue early in order to ensure less problems, there was a considerably higher number of police and event staff in the surrounding streets (already more reassuring than the previous year). Additionally, parking was far easier to find in the surrounding area than had seemed possible after reading the pre-show announcements and lines to enter were shorter. And probably the greatest change the arena made was sectioning off seats so as not to create an “every man/woman for themselves” scenario of procuring a seat or standing room spot in GA. GA tickets were sold and guaranteed to the ticket holder, as were individual seats, and benches were added in place of sitting on the hard, uncomfortable concrete (although I was lucky enough to get a standing room spot on the floor, I was happy for that change for all the people sitting down, as those concrete seats were not comfortable at all.)
Brand New promptly took the stage at the unusually-early time of 6:30 under a partly cloudy but still bright sky. Frontman and local Long Island fan-favorite Jesse Lacey greeted the sold-out crowd of over 15,000 quickly with “Hello New York” before diving into the aggressive “Sink” off their latest EP Daisy. As Brand New has become accustomed to doing, they sectioned their setlist off by album, beginning with Daisy before moving into Deja Entendu and Your Favorite Weapon and ending with a heavy dose off The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me. The band, which have been known at times to not sound their best in larger venues or outdoor arenas were on-point in front of their hometown crowd, who received them warmly from the get-go. Even tracks off Daisy, which has received a lukewarm-at-best reception from critics and fans, got the crowd moving, as a mosh pit opened up during the slow 6-minute epic ”You Stole”.
The usually secretive band opened up to the crowd moreso than they usually do, as Jesse proclaimed, “I get used to telling people that it feels good to feel like you’re at home, but it feels even better to feel at home when you are home, so thank you so much.” Brand New, who have picked up their touring far more this year, seemed to be fully enjoying their 90 minute set and relishing in the crowd’s enthusiasm. The middle of the set inspired raucous participation from the adoring audience, especially on the band’s most beloved songs “Sic Transit Gloria…Glory Fades” and “Seventy Times Seven”, which got the crowd singing along to the song’s famous bridge. While Jesse’s vocals at times appeared strained, he didn’t let that stop him from unleashing his full range of emotions on the audience. Musically, the band was connecting on all levels even in the scorching summer heat. The band closed their set with the emotionally-draining “Degausser” and “You Won’t Know”, resulting in 10 minutes of cathartic chaos. The only downside was the band being forced to cut “Soco Amaretto Lime”, which appeared on printed versions of the setlist.
Headliner Modest Mouse took the stage half hour later as the sun finally finished setting and gave way to darkness. While small sections of the crowd emptied out after Brand New, a majority of the audience stuck around for the Washington band. Though I have never been a big Modest Mouse fan, I was impressed by their energy and their stage presence. Having only listened to a few songs (which I could not identify with), I found their live sound much more enjoyable than their recorded music and found Isaac Brock to be very funny and forthcoming with his adoring crowd. The group went nuts and warmly received the band, who even broke their reputation for skipping their most famous song and played “Float On” in the encore.
Overall, the venue fixed many of the biggest problems from their lone 2013 concert and gave the crowd of over 15,000 tri-state area folks a memorable experience. While ATM and food lines remained long, the entry and exit was far easier and security and personnel were far more helpful this time around. With only three concerts held at Forest Hills Stadium in over 20 years, the venue could have done far worse, and with three more shows planned through September, things look to be improving rapidly. Fans heading to Forest Hills for any of those shows should be ready for a fun time.