To anyone who has not had the opportunity to see The Rocket Summer perform in the near twenty years that they have been a band — consider this our sincerest apology.
Bottom Of The Hill was on the brink of their max capacity Thursday night while eager fans packed in to see Bryce Avary’s performance. This was the band’s debut tour after the release of Zoetic in late February of this year — the sixth full length from Avary following his 2012 release, Life Will Write The Words.
Fans were teased with tracks off the latest album during his 2015 tour — a sneak peak of the new songs before they were ever released. This time around, the setlist was evenly packed with beloved favorites and more from the new album that we didn’t hear last time around. Tracks such as “Cold War,” “Same Air,” “UNI,” “White Fireworks” and “Get Over It” just to name a few.
Bottom Of The Hill always has an intimate feel to it — with the low fitting stage, Christmas strands of lights and the generally small venue, it is impossible not to feel like the experience that comes with shows here is a unique one. This is definitely no exception to The Rocket Summer’s show, as Bryce shows he is not shy about getting in the crowd not only to perform full songs (particularly “Roses” which was performed on a milk-crate in the middle of the packed crowd) or to even jump around and sing verses to fan favorites (such as a throwback track titled, “Brat Pack” which always gets the crowd going). Confetti covers us from overheard and one would think, after 14 songs, the night would be coming to an end, but this was only the beginning.
Avary slows things down to get a bit sentimental with us — explaining his process when having written Zoetic. The next song, he explains, is a particularly special one in which he couldn’t wait to play right here in San Francisco (we’d give Bryce a hard time, one of those ‘oh, you say that at every show!’ but Bryce has always shown an affinity for the Bay Area — as far back to when he first performed “Colors” in the area and claimed he wrote it with California in mind). He begins the chords to “FL, CA” a heavy track in which starts off slow until reaching an explosion of chords and emotion on the studio version — something that doesn’t fall short as it is performed live with such energy that the crowd is left stunned. iPhones fly up by the dozen to record this song in particular, and we can’t blame them. This is our favorite track off the new album, the energetic anti-love song is everything you want in a good punk rock song which is something The Rocket Summer never fails to deliver. How can something written about two people destroying each other be so problematically perfect? Bryce Avary is a musical mastermind; always keeping both his albums and his shows fresh and begging to be seen and heard by fans who are without a doubt left blown away time and time again.
Perhaps it was due to the fact that this was the end of the tour but Avary’s energy seemed to overwhelm the small venue as if daring the walls to collapse outwards with the amount of positivity and love filling up the room. After a small break — Avary had to dip off stage for a minute to grab a towel and ensure the stitches he got from rocking out ‘too hard’ in Oregon were kept cared for. “When I was at the hospital, the nurse said, ‘now just keep this area dry and you’ll be okay’ She just didn’t understand!!” Bryce shared with us as he drips with sweat from his performance. These personal details are always what sets the bar for other bands — it’s Bryce’s willingness to share with his fans, to provide us with that intimate feeling. You can see it in everything he does, from the songs written, to the emotion that pours from him as he performs. He takes a second to thank the fans for attending the show, telling the crowd whether this is their first or their one-hundredth Rocket Summer show, we are all a family now. This sentiment is definitely show later as Bryce thanks his touring band — and Tara, his wife, who tours with him running his merchandise.
The venue grows as quiet as it can with the crowd still buzzing as Bryce Avary showcases an array of his skills from beatboxing to grabbing instruments one by one to play parts on loop to create a full track in which Bryce sings and dances around on stage to the words, “Everything is Zoetic — this is all Zoetic.” Surely, this has to be the end? How do you top such a driven, motivated, beautiful moment that could perfectly seal the memory of this evening in your brain…
By taking requests from the crowd, of course. Avary takes a stance back behind his iconic wooden keyboard and asks for requests from the crowd. He plays a medley of tracks, including “Never Knew” off of Hello, Good Friend and “A Song is Not A Business Plan” off of Do You Feel. San Francisco is in for a special treat with the next song. The wildly sought after, “Hills and Valleys,” off of Of Men and Angels, a song in which he admits he doesn’t perform often. He grabs photographer Ben Zucker, who captured the entire tour in beautiful photographs and videography, and explains to the crowd that Ben is also a drummer. He takes his rightful place behind a kit and Avary jokes that this must be the ‘dance edition’ to the beloved song but fans are ecstatic all the same to hear the beloved song. Avary also throws in covers of other bands — including snippets of Twenty One Pilots’ “Tear in My Heart” before showing off his looping skills yet again and prepping the crowd with our part in helping him cover California locals, Cold War Kids’ song “First” in all of it’s beautiful glory.
We all know by now the show is coming to it’s inevitable, but dreaded end. We are treated with a track not played on the majority of the shows from new album, “White Fireworks” which bled into “Get Over It.” This special treat was the perfect end to a show that wasn’t part of the tour line up to begin with, but how could Avary not come back to his beloved family in SF? He closes the night out with “Revival” and “So Much Love” can be found at the end of his set list — a track which he performs entirely while grinning from ear to ear. Avary even sets aside his guitar to crowd surf overhead, all the while still singing the chorus as he floats from the stage and back at the hands of the fans underneath.
Despite there only showing the 22 songs on the printed setlists taped to the stage, Avary doesn’t seem to want the night to end as much as any of us. A final track, perhaps unprepared but still as beautiful as ever is performed to dwindle down the evening. Avary gets behind his piano a final time, performing “You Are, You Are” off of Zoetic — a song that practically brings us to tears. His performance is raw, beautiful and everything you want a show to end on. The high note, the positive energy, the beautiful vocals… Avary has it all. This ballad on Zoetic stuck out to us instantly on the album. It contrasts beautifully between the higher-tempo numbers surrounding it on the album. And hearing it performed live? Especially a slow, acoustic take on the louder, stronger studio recording? There is little left to be said about hearing the crowd sing the words just as loudly as Avary is singing them to us — You are, you are… still are, still are… so beautiful — He sings to us before giving thanks, and a “See you next time” as kisses are blown and regrettably, the show ends, but Avary’s performance is one that will resonate with us for months to come. We cannot wait for that ‘next time’ or for what the future will hold for The Rocket Summer or the tricks up his sleeve for his next tour.