The Bijou Theater in Knoxville, Tennessee is a beautiful venue.
Built in 1909, it has been a staple of Knoxville for more than 100 years and walking into it for the first time was a nothing short of breathtaking. You see the gold trim with mythological characters crafted into them with care and patience. You can envision gentlemen in their tails sitting with their wives dressed in their best ball gown, taking in the newest play they read about in the Knoxville newspaper.
I walked into the Bijou in a pair of cargo shorts and my Flatfoot 56 t-shirt, which now shows two aged worn holes in each under arm, to watch a pop-punk show. This isn’t the early 1900s, but I was wearing the equivalent to tails in the pop-punk world. I was dressed in my best concert going attire to see pop-punk royalty. I was there to see Relient K.
If there was one band that carried the legacy to perform in a venue with the prestige of the Bijou, it’s Relient K. The band has been performing since 1998 with 8 full-length albums released during that time frame and have built a big fan base with just minimal mainstream success. We’ve seen them grow from mop-headed teens singing about the girl in math class to young adults with real world problems and now 30-somethings that are reflecting on life as a whole and the unknown future that lies ahead.
And to make it even better, I was there to celebrate the 10th anniversary of my favorite Relient K album, 2004’s Mmhmm.
Mmhmm is the album that made me a Relient K fan. Don’t get me wrong, I like “Sadie Hawkins Dance” as much as the next pop-punk fan, but Mmhmm was a good mix of their smart and self-aware pop-punk lyrics with a more mature pop-rock sound that made me gravitate to the album more so than their previous releases. Mmhmm was the album that I finally jumped on the Relient K bandwagon. It is one of the few albums I can say I enjoyed as a complete work. I can honestly say that it is one of my top albums of all-time and, like great albums tend to do, hold up just as well now as it did when it was released.
We walked into the Bijou and it automatically felt like a special show (and the fact we had padded seats was an awesome bonus after our last concert going experience exposed us as old people). The theater, even in all of it’s period grandeur, is more of a smaller venue which made the show have a bit more of a intimate feel to it. We we took our seats in the front left side of the theater, seats my wonderful soon-to-be-wife bought for us, a bit late and missed the opening act, Birds in the Airport, almost entirely, but was lucky enough to catch Golden Youth from Sacramento, California. After a quick Google search, we found out that singer and keyboard player Stephanie Lauren and guitarist Kyle Monroe were the only permanent members of the band and they rotated their musician friends to fill out the band when they played live and toured. You could tell they were really excited to be there and played a great set of experimental pop-rock that we both really enjoyed. Lauren’s voice was astounding and it fit perfect with the overall tone the band was looking to invoke. It’s always great to find new music you enjoy listing to, but to discover a band for the first time ever live is always something special and I was more than impressed with what Golden Youth brought to the table.
The main event was up next as Relient K came out on stage and proceeded to play tracks from Mmhmm. The band played fan favorites “The One I’m Waiting For”, “Which to Bury, Us or the Hatchet”, “Be My Mistake,” and “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been.” The small venue was perfect for a crowd that knew every word of every song the band played and it became one giant sing-a-long, which always makes for a great concert experience. Even though this was billed as Mmhmm’s time in the spotlight, the performance that night was more of warm up for the real tour that begins in October and that allowed the band to play some material from other albums as well. They played favorites from Forget and Not Slow Down including “Sahara”, “Savannah”, “Over It”, and the title track along with “Boomerang” and “Don’t Blink” from their newest album Collapsible Lung. They even brought out “Sadie Hawkins Dance” to the delight of the crowd and my fiancee, whose face lit up when those familiar chords came trickling from the house speakers.
The best part of the night might have been the banter between the only two original touring members of the band, frontman Matt Thiessen and guitarist Matt Hoopes, Both cracked jokes on each other and interacted with the crowd on numerous occasions. Thiessen even took a “selfie” with a fan down in front who was celebrating his birthday and conversed. It was a great experience to see a band be so loose with their fans and having just as much fun performing for us as we did watching them.
At the end of the night, I realized how much Relient K contributed to the soundtrack that continues to play in this film called life. To finally get to see them live, and with my wife-to-be to boot, is a special moment I wouldn’t trade for the world. There are many reasons why music is a big influence on my life, but the biggest reason is the memories that have been built upon each performance I have been blessed to experience with the people I love the most. This one was no different as it gave me one more track to add to that aforementioned soundtrack.