10 thoughts on my first Joyce Manor show (Feat. Shawn Cooke)

Shawn and I travelled to West Virginia to see the indie-punk maestros in a sold-out 250-cap room.

10 thoughts on my first Joyce Manor show (Feat. Shawn Cooke)

I finally saw Joyce Manor.

That feels like a crazy sentence to even type because I've been a fan of this band for at least a decade and it seems wildly improbable that I somehow didn't catch them live in that time. But I didn't! They never came to Albany, NY, when I was going to college there, and they never toured through Rochester, NY, during my summers home. Since I moved to Pittsburgh in 2017, they've played in this city a small handful of times, and I've always managed to be out of town whenever they came through.

But at long last, I caught 'em. On Friday March 15th, I trekked down to Morgantown, West Virginia, with good friend of the blog Shawn Cooke, who had the instinctual wherewithal to recognize that this was a rare and incredible opportunity to see this band we both love. Not only was it a Joyce Manor headlining show, but it was a Joyce Manor headlining show in a 250-cap venue called 123 Pleasant Street, a locally famous punk haunt that's been hosting shows since 1998.

If Joyce Manor swung through Pittsburgh on a headlining tour, then they absolutely would've been playing an 800 or even 1,500-cap venue, because at this point in the game, the Cali indie-punk outfit (or emo revival — or pop-punk — depending on where you situate them) are a legitimately big band. But for whatever reason, they visited the college hamlet of Morgantown, and easily sold out the intimate little club. I didn't even know we were seeing Joyce Manor in such a small setting until Shawn told me on the drive down, and now I can't imagine a better place to have witnessed them rip through 25-some-odd songs of beer-splashing, voice-shredding, emotively-finger-pointing indie-punk.

And, as bloggers do, we had thoughts on the whole sojourn. Below, Shawn and I take turns recounting our observations of the night, from Joyce Manor's buzzy tour support Liquid Mike to the peaks — and even higher peaks — of Barry Johnson and Co.'s deliriously entertaining set.

But before you read...Shawn recently launched his own newsletter Even Better with fellow scribe Elliott Duea, and they're already off to an incredible start. Read and subscribe to that bad-boy if you know what's good for you.

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1) SHAWN: In Rozwell Kid’s West Virginia, we got our first taste of the band that’s been hailed by some backers as their heir apparent. Those are big shoes to fill for us specifically, and not just in their home state, but it’s easy to see how Liquid Mike’s live show has made believers of casual onlookers. For a band that seemed to appear out of nowhere around this time last year, the power-pop riff machine sounds remarkably assured; tight, precise, and loud. That’s a band right there.

If there’s something lacking at times both on record and at the live show, for me, it’s the sense of personality, looseness, or nerdy charm implied by the name. At the very last second, we caught a glimpse of it from frontman and titular Mike, Mike Maple, who sharply turned from the mic to hammer away at his own guitar part, but I came away thinking he’s still growing into his bandleader confidence. Once he does, this crew could really be cooking.

Liquid Mike

2) ELI: I was happy to see Liquid Mike were on this bill so I could get a better sense of what's making them the most-hyped new indie-rock band in certain Music Twitter circles. I thought their 2023 self-titled album was pretty good riffy, Jeff Rosenstock-inflected power-pop, but I don't think its follow-up, last month's well-regarded Paul Bunyan's Slingshot, achieved the sonic progression that I hoped it would. People who compare it to Rozwell Kid are severely underselling that band's singular charisma, melodic chops, and guitar-hero proficiency, three areas where Liquid Mike are serviceable — and sometimes great! They absolutely have some great songs. But overall, something in their delivery, on their recordings at least, just feels like it's lacking the abundance of charm that other critics seem to hear in their output.

I thought it came through much better live. The songs are solid, the band were tight, and the crowd seemed to really take to them. I didn't see a single person in the room who visibly appeared to know who they were, but after their first track I saw a guy turn to his friend and say, "it's good!" After a couple more tracks, one guy yelled, "You guys fuckin' rock! Like a lot!" while Liquid Mike were tuning. Maple smiled bashfully, but he still seemed a little nervous up there and wasn't really comfortable working the crowd or building off the energy of his own songs. I think that's understandable considering the band essentially went from local nobodies to Joyce Manor tour openers within a year's time, and I'm sure those kinks will get worked out the more stage hours they log.

It was cool to see Liquid Mike, but this was a Joyce Manor show.

3) SHAWN: This marked the third time I’d seen Joyce Manor, the others being in the same, nearly twice-as-large Pittsburgh venue. It’s cool that they’re playing in these smaller markets on short notice — after Morgantown, they popped over to Millersville, PA — and playing smaller venues not because that’s all they can land, but because they seem to get a genuine thrill out of packing them to the gills and turning back the clock.

Watching this band of mid-to-late thirtysomethings (to Wikipediestimate Johnson’s age, it’s 36-37) pounding Modelos and joking about being a “Modelo heiress” in the 250 cap rock club, I marveled at how gracefully they’ve been aging and are basically still in peak form a decade after their breakout. While Guided by Voices have been a common comp (short songs, consisting of only the good parts), it’s pretty nice that they’ve let the catalog breathe a bit more, slowing the super-prolific early ‘10s output for a near-bulletproof run of gradual refinement and the sort of maturing that lets them stay fun as hell.

4) ELI: I think my favorite Joyce Manor song is "Beach Community." I probably blew the guy in front of me's ear out letting that chorus rip when the band pulled it out early on in the set. My other favorite Joyce Manor songs are "Last You Heard of Me," "Leather Jacket," "Heart Tattoo," "Falling In Love Again" and mmmmm maybe "Silly Games," to include one that isn't a "duh" pick. They played all of those songs besides "Silly Games" (which is cool, the harmonies in that tune probably wouldn't work that well live) and every one could've been a set closer. Basically any Joyce Manor song could either be a show opener or a finale, to be honest. They could've bowed after every track and I would've been like, "Damn what a show...Oh shit, they're still goin!"

5) SHAWN: Every time I’m listening to “Eighteen,” it feels like the best song I’ve ever heard. Every time I see “Eighteen” live it really feels like the best song I’ve ever heard, and you’re deprived of the option to run it back six times in a row, which only cements its power further. A lot of Joyce Manor songs are like this though, and for some reason the comparatively lackadaisical rockers, where the guitar hooks are big, sticky, and catch maximum hangtime, become my favorites. (“Gotta Let It Go” feels like the newest standard in this camp, and captured the room best of any post-Cody track.)

6) ELI: Barry Johnson is extremely attractive. The man is just...he's a good looking man. I've seen pictures of him. I've heard my friends who are attracted to men praise his good looks. But seeing him in person confirmed to me that he is indeed wildly handsome. Good for Barry!

7) SHAWN: If they’re going to cash in on the blank check of Never Hungover Again anniversary shows either this summer or fall, Friday night sure felt like their very first rehearsal for one of the deep cuts. Johnson began the encore by pointing around the crowd for requests, and after taking someone up on Cody’s “Stairs” — one Joyce Manor song for the price of three — he fielded some tricky asks. (He passed up on “Orange Julius,” among others, since it has so many words.) But despite similar hesitance and rustiness, he decided to give “Heated Swimming Pool” a crack, after calling it one of his favorite Joyce Manor songs.

For a band that’s so remarkably dialed in, pumping out nonstop, immediate gratification every time I’ve seen them, it was a little refreshing to see just Johnson and guitarist Chase Knobbe slowly piece together the lyrics and chords as a duo, as if writing it for the first time all over again in their living room. (While almost certainly incomplete, Setlist.fm only logs two all-time plays for “Heated Swimming Pool” before our show, tied with covers of “Helena” and Tigers Jaw’s “I Saw Water” — making it one of the least-played songs in their entire catalog.) Maybe a break from the propulsion, but a reminder of the songwriting being what helped them pull away from the pop-punk pack.

8) ELI: I was really curious to see how a Joyce Manor crowd would behave, especially in such a small venue. I'm old enough to remember the kerfuffle in 2014 when Johnson snapped at a stage-diver and called him a "patriotic straight-edge piece of shit" for jumping on a girl's head. Earlier that week, he chastised another stage-diver for leaping onto the smaller female fans upfront, asking the dude to reveal his weight so he could make an impassioned point about why it's dangerous for him to be diving to Joyce Manor's incredibly stage-diveable pop-punk songs. That shit was a genuinely huge internet controversy, back when discourse like that lasted for more than eight hours on Twitter, and it actually felt like a pretty seismic social media event within the scene.

I wasn't sure if that dust-up was ancient history, or if Joyce Manor still maintain Fugazi-style enforcement against rough-housing at their shows. Hell, just a few days before we saw them, several fans were detained for moshing at a JM show that got shut down when the crowd had a reasonably amped-up reaction to JM's music. I didn't see the band make a public statement about the situation, so I wasn't sure where they stood on it.

When we first stepped into 123 Pleasant Street, there were promo posters of old hardcore bands pasted all over the walls, and a mass of young fans were already pressed up against the tiny stage, with no barricade in sight. This room was positively ripe for stage-diving, and when Joyce Manor started playing and beers began sloshing into the rowdy pit that instantly broke out, I figured it would be a matter of minutes (that's three Joyce Manor songs) before someone climbed up on top of the crowd and surfed their way up front. It didn't happen. Not once.

The pit was filled with drippy, beardy punk dudes and tough-as-shit young women crushing Miller Lite cans in their hands and mashing their bodies back and forth the entire time. It wasn't violent, but it certainly wasn't some wimpy ska pit, and I got knocked around pretty hard just from standing on the edge of it. Again, I thought for sure that one of these slobbery, sweat-drenched whisker-biscuit boys was going to pull themselves up on their buddy's shoulders and ride across the maw of fans, which was compact in such a way that it was perfectly conducive to surfing across or diving into without falling down a gap.

But nope. Not one single fan crowdsurfed the entire gig, and the only person who vaulted off that stage was Johnson himself, who took a lunging leap at one point and rode out to the pit's edge before swimming his way back. What a patriotic straight-edge piece of shit thing to do!

9) SHAWN: I’ve certainly never left a Joyce Manor show wanting more — there isn’t any one song whose exclusion feels like a big missed opportunity, because the dopamine rush of hearing a 25 track run of greatest hits is just too dizzying to notice what they left on the table. Even if Joyce Manor isn’t your absolute favorite band, or my favorite band, it’s sure easy to wonder if they might be after a run like “Constant Headache” to “Christmas Card” to “Leather Jacket” to “Catalina Fight Song” (all while the beer and sweat-soaked pit achieves a new frontier of wetness). They know their strengths, they know their best songs, and they’re probably the highest-floor live act currently touring right now.

10) ELI: "Have any of you ever had a period in your life defined by folk-punk?" Johnson asked the crowd that with a cheeky, self-deprecating smile before the band launched into "House Warning Party," a ramshackle, quasi-acoustic jaunt from their 2009 debut EP. As scholars of the band will note, Joyce Manor have roots in the late-2000s folk-punk scene. Prior to JM, Johnson and JM bassist Matt Ebert used to play in a band called Fever Kids, who are commonly described as a post-hardcore band (including by Johnson himself), when in reality they were more of a sloppy mix of folk-punk, post-hardcore, and even a dash of ska.

Once that band called it quits, several members (including future Touché Amoré drummer Elliot Babin, who documented this hard-to-verify history on his Tumblr) formed the true-blue folk-punk band Koalacaust, while Johnson and Ebert started up Joyce Manor. That's where the playfully-titled JM song "Fuck Koalacaust" comes from, which features a riff that was allegedly co-written by Johnson and Koalacaust guitarist Austin Montanari, who used the same riff in the very folk-punky Kolacaust song, "Resolutions."

JM's "Fuck Koalacaust" appears on the same demo as "House Warning Party," and both of them are, if not straight folk-punk, then very folk-punk inspired. Moreover, JM's first-ever show found them opening for folk-punk kingpins AJJ, at least according to one Reddit historian. "OK...cool?" you might be asking yourself right now. I know, I know, but stick with me.

For the next song in their set, Johnson asked the crowd, "Have any of you ever had a period in your life that was defined by early 2010s emo revival music?" The specificity got a hearty chuckle out of me, which morphed into an ecstatic yowl when the main riff of "Constant Headache," Joyce Manor's quintessential song, started ripping through the monitors.

It's largely due to "Constant Headache" and the songs on Joyce Manor's 2014 LP, Never Hungover Again, that the band are lumped in with the emo-revival movement that happened to be coalescing around their come-up. I think it's undeniable that Joyce Manor were a part of that revival, even if sonically, their music has more in common with the "orgcore" that predated the revival and the post-revival, "weed-emo" bands who have more JM in their sound than, like, Empire! Empire! (Prince Daddy, Donovan Wolfington, the first Remo Drive album, etc.) JM toured with Algernon Cadwallader in 2012, and then later with The Hotelier in 2016. Their "Fans also like" tab on Spotify features Tigers Jaw, Free Throw, Sorority Noise, and The Hotelier in the top four, which means that people (and data-driven algorithms) lump Joyce Manor in with the emo crowd.

I've long tagged Joyce Manor as "emo-revival" without really thinking about it, much to the chagrin of my dear friends Miranda Reinert and Hugo Reyes, who always "but actually" me with facts that counter my easy generalization: Joyce Manor's association with the orgcore (see: punk, not emo) label Asian Man Records, their folk-punk foundation, or the fact that they don't actually sound anything like the other emo-revival bands, and have way more California punk in their DNA than emo. All of that is true, but it still feels wrong to say that Joyce Manor aren't fourth-wave emo (the era that encompasses the early-'10s revival). The emo-revival was a lot of things (Snowing, Tigers Jaw, Dousing, TWIABP, Modern Baseball) and Joyce Manor was one of them.

Seeing them live didn't get me any closer to solving the "are Joyce Manor emo?" quandary. If anything, it just made them that much more unclassifiable. I don't necessarily think Joyce Manor are an emo band, but they're also not a pop-punk band. But they're also not an indie-rock band. And they're definitely not a folk-punk band. And I think they're more than just a "punk" band. Maybe they're just...Joyce Manor. A band whose crowd consisted of twenty-something punks with the Jeff Rosenstock 666 weed flag on their walls, stylish zoomers who call The Front Bottoms "Midwest emo," normie-ish bros who have Menzingers calf tattoos and the Barstool Sports app on their phones, and nerds like Shawn and I who had A Moment with emo-revival acts like TWIABP and The Hotelier nine years ago and are now in our Guided By Voices era.

Joyce Manor's fanbase encompasses all of those groups, and I think it's because their sound encompasses several styles of rock music — some similar, some contradictory — in a way that literally no other band ever has. Their affable pop-punk demeanor is undeniable (Johnson wore a Smoking Popes shirt onstage and cracked jokes that were kind of amusing but would've been funnier if I was drunk, which is extremely pop-punk coded), but their effortlessly cool composure while performing had an elegance to it that rings more of power-pop than pop-punk. Songs like "Leather Jacket," "Beach Community," and the arrested-development anthem "Stairs" (which they played upon someone's request, sadly) are all dripping with emo melodrama, while "Last You Heard of Me" is written with a degree of narrative detail that favors vivid world-building over exaggerated pathos (not very emo coded).

"House Warning Party" sounds hella folk-punk, and when Johnson pumped his fist during the third verse, I could almost imagine one of those hats (you know the one) materializing atop his head. But when they played "Constant Headache" and the whole room squealed and blathered back the self-pitying salvo, "You hang me up unfinished/With the better part of me no longer mine"....that shit was emo as fuck! And when they burned through "Catalina Fight Song" and "NBTSA," I really don't know a better tag than "punk rock" to describe what those songs sounded like.

I guess my point is that Joyce Manor are a plurality of things, but they manage to cohere them all into just one thing, and that thing is Joyce Manor. Special band, special sound, special feeling.