IT’S 2001. A young band called Yellowcard, fresh transplants to California by way of Jacksonville, Florida, is playing its first ever sold-out show. The city is Anaheim, California and the venue is Chain Reaction, a cramped but legendary punk rock club that has become a rite of passage for all up-and-comers.
The five members onstage aren’t the most polished live performers, but they have bounds of energy and display a promising potential. The drummer is a stickmaster with some of the quickest hands you’ve ever seen and the lead singer displays a surefire ear for melodies. But what stands out most is the presence of a violinist, which you think is an odd novelty for a rock band at first yet surprisingly fits in well.
The show ends and the band members can be seen filled with gratitude, knowing they left everything they had on the stage in the biggest night of their career. The crowd slowly disperses, but the memory will never be forgotten.
There’s a place off Ocean Avenue
Where I used to sit and talk with you
We were both 16 and it felt so right
Sleepin’ all day, stayin’ up all night
IT’S THE NIGHT OF YELLOWCARD’S FAREWELL CONCERT, 16 years later. The band takes the stage and a sea of homemade thank-you signs, passed out amongst the crowd moments before, are held aloft to greet them. Lead singer Ryan Key tries not to look, afraid of getting too emotional before the show has even started. As the old adage goes, there’s no crying in rock and roll.
“We knew that tonight was going to happen for a long time. We knew that we were going to get here, but until today it didn’t seem real until we woke up this morning,” Key would later say. “I think this has been the fastest day of my entire life. But knowing that you guys were going to be here tonight, knowing that this show sold out in minutes, we came out here ready. I know that it’s hard to hear, but we’re ready now.”
Although Yellowcard originally started in 1997, it wasn’t until after Key came aboard for the group’s third album, 2001’s One for the Kids, that things began to coalesce. It was also when the band relocated to Southern California, which would become its adopted home base the rest of its career. It would become the place comprising the band’s most devoted fanbase, the place where a life-altering major label record deal would be signed, the place where most of its music would be recorded and the place fittingly chosen as the journey’s final destination.
The first song of the night is “Way Away,” the opening track off the record that came as a result of that life-changing deal, 2003’s double-platinum Ocean Avenue. A mosh pit quickly opens up in the middle of the floor and other churning rockers follow, among them “Lights and Sounds,” one of the band’s most popular hits.
THERE’S A BREAK IN THE ACTION and Key gives his first of many speeches on the night, joking how he is trying to stall to make things last as long as possible. “I wish you could be up here watching you. It’s a sight to see tonight,” he says. He introduces two selections from the band’s final release, 2016’s Yellowcard, how they knew it was going to be the last one and how it was their parting gift to fans.
“We’ve gotten to write a lot of music, we’ve gotten to record a lot of songs, and it’s all because you guys continued to give us this chance to keep making records for you. Thank you for the opportunity to be songwriters for almost two decades,” Key says. The theme of appreciation is a common touchstone throughout the two-plus hours. He adds that he hopes fans will continue to support the music opportunities everybody onstage plans to pursue in the future.
“Our band has seen a lot of ups and downs, in both our professional and personal life, as every single one of you has as well,” Key affirms. “What we’ve tried to do with these records always is take our lives and make them relatable to you so that maybe it can help you get through the things in life that you’re struggling with and the things that try to keep you down.”
Key takes a moment to single out his personal favorite, 2014’s Lift a Sail, even though he describes it as “predictable lead singer behavior” to do so. He mentions how the record saw the band go in a different sonic direction and hopes its departure has had time to grow on fans. He talks about going through some of the hardest times in his life during its writing and how it is about everyone that supported the band through those rough waters.
“I can always forever go back to that record when I’m down, listen to it and remember the strength that I found through songwriting,” he says before waxing more philosophical. “I know tonight is happy and it’s sad. There’s a lot of emotions going around, but even after the show is over tonight, the fact that we were able to write all these songs, these records are going to live until the end of our days. That’s something that’s amazing about recording songs. They last forever.”
A FEW SONGS LATER VIOLINIST SEAN MACKIN, the only original Yellowcard member remaining in the band, has his turn at the microphone. His and Key’s moms flew out from Florida and he takes the opportunity to express his thankfulness.
“I tried to quit the violin probably 50 times when I was little, but she made me play,” he explains. “I wouldn’t be here on this stage if it wasn’t for her. So I just wanted to say, ‘Thank you, mom. I love you.’” He then proceeds to do a final backflip off the extended stage risers, a trademark move of Yellowcard’s live show, and the band segues into the 9/11 heroes anthem “Believe.”
In retrospect, there was a time when it looked like Yellowcard might never make it this far. After 2007’s Paper Walls, which featured some of the strongest work of their career but received minimal support after Capitol Records was bought out, the band went on indefinite hiatus in 2008 to reevaluate the future and address personal matters. They would reunite in the second-half of 2010 and release the comeback album When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes the following year, bringing the dormant band left for dead back to life.
“The first time around in the early 2000s, it was a tornado of amazing shit and trials and errors. It’s the reason we’re here tonight, but I think we all agree the second time around was way better than the first. We knew what we were doing this second time,” Keys says, bringing up former bassist Sean O’Donnell to join in singing “Hang You Up.”
“You guys have been coming out to these shows for the last six years to support all these records we’ve made since 2011. We did all that together without any fucking radio or MTV or any of that shit. We did it because we love each other, because we love this music, and we love these nights hanging out and banging our heads singing these songs together. That’s how we do.”
THE NIGHT BEGINS TO MOVE FASTER NOW, the sensation Key had alluded to wrestling with earlier in the day. The main set draws to an end with a trio of album closers and fan favorites – “Be the Young,” Southern Air” and “Back Home” – each containing its own deeper meaning for those onstage. The inevitable encore consists of a pair of Ocean Avenue classics, “Breathing” and “Only One.” And then the time has arrived for Key’s farewell address.
“We’ve been on a journey for almost two decades, living our dreams every day, playing rock and roll music and hanging out with our friends and fans all over the world,” he starts. “We’ve had the chance to play rock and roll on six continents on this Earth. The things we’ve been able to do are so many of them things I don’t think we ever could have imagined possible for ourselves.”
He thanks Jimmy Brunkvist from the Swedish band Like Torches, who has been filling in on drums since the beginning of this final tour last fall. He thanks the crew, or “some of the most legendary men you’ll know” as he puts it, and then takes a step back to gather himself. He thanks the fans in the front that have seen Yellowcard 80 times, calling them the “fabric of this whole entire band” and the “glue that has made this thing work.”
“We’re never going to forget any of you guys. These are stories that we’re going to tell until our last day on this Earth. These memories we’ve made together are something we’ll carry with us forever.” He searches for a way to put the night and the band’s history in perspective. “I think we’re all going to look back and remember how unbelievably special it was that we were the ones chosen to be in this room together tonight to say goodbye to this community that we’ve created over the last 20 years.”
“Each and every one of you deserves a personal thank-you from us. I wish we had time to do that, but you know how much we love you and you know how much we’re going to miss you,” he continues, knowing the time for stalling is almost over.
“From all of us here – from everyone who’s ever been a part of this band, worked for this band, worked behind this band, worked with this band – we all are so grateful to you for your love and support. And it is now time that we say goodbye to you guys. For the very last time everybody, SING IT AS LOUD AS YOU FUCKING CAN! This song’s called ‘Ocean Avenue.’”
I remember the look in your eyes
When I told you that this was goodbye
You were begging me not tonight
Not here, not now
We’re looking up at the same night sky
And keep pretending the sun will not rise
We’ll be together for one more night
IT’S 2017. An older band called Yellowcard, whose members now live spread over the country, is playing its final show ever. The city is once again Anaheim, California but the venue has been upgraded to the freshly relaunched House of Blues, the rite of passage now complete.
Only two of the five members onstage are the same as before, but they are all polished performers and are still loaded with a seemingly never-ending supply of energy. As the band moves into the bridge of its defining single “Ocean Avenue,” arguably one of the finest pop-punk songs that will ever be written, frontman Ryan Key is visibly fighting back tears. The crowd sing-along, the loudest moment of the night, propels him and his bandmates to the finish line.
The last note rings out amid an endless cry of thank-you’s and a parade of waves. The show ends and the band members can be seen filled with gratitude, knowing they left everything they had on the stage in the biggest night of their career.
The closing track from Yellowcard, “Fields & Fences,” the final song the band will ever write together, begins to play over the loudspeakers, but the crowd refuses to leave. Guitarist Ryan Mendez stands off to the side, a white towel draped over his shoulder, soaking the scene in. Soon violinist Sean Mackin will come back onstage as well for another round of thank-you’s, cradling his sleepy daughter in his arms.
The song eventually finishes, another from the house mix takes its place, and the remaining stage onlookers depart. The crowd slowly disperses, but the memory will never be forgotten.
Originally appeared on Behind the Setlist