It’s been a crazy 15 years since the self-titled album by THE USED first came out, and the boys are ready to celebrate! The European tour celebrating their 15th anniversary has been all over the place, allowing the band to spend two nights in each city to play their first two albums straight-through. The European leg of the tour concluded at Tavastia in Helsinki on the 9th and 10th of March, and we had to be there to check it out!
I’ve only ever seen THE USED once before, though I used to love THE USED back in 2005. They were an anthem band for me when I was 18 years old and working at a mountain resort. That first gig back in 2012 had satisfied what I believed to be all of my needs when it came to THE USED musically, and I thought I’d never need to bother seeing them again. When this tour was announced, it was clear that I was wrong. I have always been a much bigger fan of THE USED‘s first two albums than their more recent music, so even though that gig 4 years ago had stuck to the material I liked best, there was no way I was going to miss the chance to see both of those albums in their entirety.
Day 1: “The Used“
I made my way down to Tavastia on the first night, in spite of suffering from a rather nasty cold, and found myself a cozy little spot on the staircase where I could watch the show in relative peace. The staircase also offers wee short people like myself a better viewpoint, so I could make sure to see the entire gig. I caught the last song from the opener, a band called THE NEW REGIME, and found myself surprisingly impressed by their sound, and certainly worthy of a further listening. It makes sense that I might be into them, since I’ve always had a passing fondness for LOSTPROPHETS and PARAMORE (who have at one point or another shared their drummer). I was surprised to note that the crowd was largely comprised of quite young people – these albums came out over 10 years ago, so it was a bit of a shock to see fans of such a young age (they all had to be at least 18, after all… which would put some of them at age 3 when these songs came out). It’s really cool to see that no matter when these songs were written, they had an audience.
Naturally, the main event of the night was THE USED. The stage change-over went only a few minutes late, and the lights dimmed and a siren started blaring in tune with some blue spotlights, and the band came out to play “Maybe Memories,” against a backdrop of their first album.
Now, normally at this point in a review, I’d tell you a bit about the setlist, a bit about the stage banter, and a bit about the performance. However, this was a special occasion and if you’re a fan of THE USED, you likely already know what the setlist was. Besides, one of the most fantastic parts of this gig was that Bert McCracken (vocals) was giving speeches between nearly every song, telling us about how music has affected him, telling us the meanings behind the songs, and so on. So with that in mind, I’d rather give you more of a play-by-play of what I learned about this band during these shows.
After “Maybe Memories” (a fitting opening track to this even), McCracken thanked everyone for coming to this “celebration of our first record, a celebration of 15 years!” He told everyone who had been with them from day one that THE USED owed them the world and their fans have made their dreams come true. The plan for the two nights was to celebrate each song individually, to feel the love of these songs, and he hoped to see some childlike enthusiasm from the crowd. “Rarely do we see children these days, so let me be a child again too!” McCracken mentioned several times on both nights that he believes that “music is the one thing on this planet that can make a difference and change the world.” With that, they went into “The Taste of Ink,” and the crowd responded in turn by screaming their fucking heads off.
After the song faded out, McCracken asked the crowd who had been excited for these shows, and suggested that everyone should leave the venue that night completely voiceless. He, personally, would be going totally crazy. “Don’t fucking judge me,” he joked. “This song is about a poisonous and abusive relationship I was in when I was young. It’s about puking so I can look pretty for you.”
After “Bulimic,” he called for a big, fat circle pit. “And this is an old-school punk rock circle pit for the ladies!” The drums ticked away as the crowd obediently parted, and McCracken continued. “If somebody falls down, you pick them up. And you kick the fucking shit out of them!” He then described “Say Days Ago” as a song about smoking crystal methamphetamine “and loving it!”
“These guys are my best friends on the planet,” McCracken states after “Say Days Ago” ends. He took a bit of time to thank the band and their crew at this point as well, mentioning that their drum tech, “has the worst farts.” He then asked a girl near the front if he could wear her glasses for a second, and they shouted, “Oh my God, I can see!” After returning the glasses to their rightful owner, he goes on to explain that some of the songs off the earlier albums don’t get played due to their very personal nature. On this very special occasion, however, he hoped everyone would open their heart up, and explained that “Poetic Tragedy” is about death and everyone will have to experience it sometime, but that music is the key that keeps us moving forward. He then briefly recalls a letter he received from a fan who was in danger of losing her eyesight due to an illness, but decided not to kill herself if it was to happen thanks to their music.
“Buried Myself Alive” was later explained to be about, “learning from our mistakes,” and another song very close to his heart is, “Blue and Yellow.” He encouraged everyone to make up words if they didn’t know the lyrics, and to make a memory that would last forever on this night. Afterwards, he thanked THE NEW REGIME for their contribution to the night, and expressed his excitement for the upcoming US tour with them.
“I hope that everyone is having as much fun as I’m having, because I’m having the best time,” McCracken says after “Greenery with the Scenery.” “Guaranteed, sometimes in life you feel so fucked up that it almost seems impossible to go on. But for me, whenever I feel that low, like I have nowhere to go, I know I can turn to music to help me pass the moments until I feel okay again… We feel so lucky and so fortunate to have so many people still here with us and… thanks! It’s hard to be serious all the time, but sometimes its worth it. Allowing us to do these first two records has been so therapeutic for me… Thank you guys!” McCracken went on to start to say that if he cries during the next song and the crowd laughs at him… but he was interrupted by some girls shouting, “We love you,” and instead of finishing the sentence, simply smiled and said, “I love you too.” “This song is about the power of music, and I think it’s one of the most powerful things on the planet. More powerful than governments, and armies, and religion… and parents,” he says of “On My Own.”
As the night reaches its end, he hoped that everyone would be back together in 15 years once more to celebrate, and said goodnight before playing “Pieces Mended.” The first evening closed out with “Choke Me,” the secret song from their self-titled album, which I was particularly excited to hear (it’s essentially unheard-of to get a secret track live, ever). The first night ended on an high note, and knowing how popular “In Love and Death” is, I suspected that things would only get better in round two.
01. Maybe Memories
02. The Taste of Ink
04. Say Days Ago
05. Poetic Tragedy
06. Buried Myself Alive
07. A Box Full of Sharp Objects
08. Blue and Yellow
09. Greener with the Scenery
10. Noise and Kisses
11. On My Own
12. Pieces Mended
13. Choke Me (encore)
Day 2: “In Love and Death“
Much like the previous night, I arrived at Tavastia on the 10th just in time to catch the last song from THE NEW REGIME‘s set and marveled again at what seemed like really interesting music that I should definitely check out. The crowd was notably bigger tonight, but this wasn’t much of a shock, considering that “In Love and Death” has always felt to me like their most popular album.
THE USED came on stage again very close to on time, now against the “In Love and Death” backdrop. I could tell you how McCracken opened this night after “Take it Away,” but instead, why not listen to him yourself in this fan-filmed video:
“This will be the most amazing time I will ever have in Finland tonight,” McCracken says, and then chastises himself for repeating it over and over, but reiterates that without the fans, without the crowd, their dreams wouldn’t have come true. “Thank you for 15 years of love. We hope to be around for 15 more.” He then mentioned again that some of these songs don’t get played live due to their emotional content, or even just because they “don’t fucking feel like it,” and “Let it Bleed” was one of those. “This is about shooting drugs when you’re very young.” At this point, a rather unfortunate loud bass buzzing was getting really evident.
The next story McCracken tells the crowd is about a teacup chihuahua he had named David Bowie during the recording of “In Love and Death.” “When we flew out to Los Angeles, David Bowie stayed in Utah, and he was hit by a car the very next day and died.” He then explains that “All That I’ve Got” was written for David Bowie (the dog), and dedicates the song as well to the memory of the legend himself, who said farewell to this world earlier this year in January. “I’d like to say that, if there’s someone in your life that you love, while you have the chance please tell them how much you love them before it’s too late, ok?”
“Look at all these beautiful faces! I’m looking at this guy right here. He’s trying to hide. I love you guys so much, I want to make love to every single one of you. I’m talking about real, unadulterated, unprotected sexual intercourse. I’m talking about painful, violent orgasms.” I was surprised to realize that he had made a similar speech back in 2012 – they must have played “Cut Up Angels” during that gig as well. The band then began to play some speedy music that McCracken labeled “porno music,” which sped up faster and faster until it reached its climax. After this little interlude ended, Dan Whitesides (drums) threw a drumstick into the air and managed to get it lodged in one of the clasps on the side of his bass drum (which is pretty impressive, to be honest – what are the odds?). McCracken was kind enough to remove it and throw it into the crowd before they started the next song. “This song is about sex and violence and painful orgasms.”
McCracken didn’t forget about THE NEW REGIME on this night. “Let me make some noise – just me – for The New Regime! Waah!” He again mentioned how excited he is for them to go on tour in the US together after this show.
The “mosh heads” were given another circle pit for “Listening,” which McCracken said was about, “standing up for yourself, no matter what.” This time, instead of being encouraged to kick the shit out of anyone they help up, McCracken said they should hug them instead.
“We’re going to slow things down just for a second,” McCracken says, after showing the crowd how big his smile was. “This song is about living for today, because we think it’s worth it.” Afterwards, he says again that it’s hard for him to express how therapeutic it is to him that he has the opportunity to play all these songs, since they mean so much to him. He then thanks and introduces the band, as well as their merch guy, sound tech, tour manager, etc. He also thanked the crowd for sharing their stories about how THE USED has saved lives, and expressed very sincere gratitude to them all, before “Light with a Sharpened Edge.”
“This next song is definitely the most personal I’ve gotten when it comes it writing music. It’s the most deeply emotional song and I’m so grateful that I get to share it with you guys. I wrote this song about my first love. We experienced everything for the first time together. We smoked cigarettes for the first time together. [She] was the first girl I fucked, [she] was the first girl I shot drugs into my veins with, and while we were making this record she overdosed and she died on heroin and if I could only just have one more moment, just to tell her how much she meant to me… If you guys have someone in your life who may be stuck in a downward spiral, remember that music is love and there’s hope for all of us.”
After the very heartfelt performance of “Hard to Say,” McCracken jokes about how silly it is to call this music “emo.” “What’s rock ‘n’ roll without a bit of emotion?” He then asks another person from the crowd to try on their “reggae glasses,” and then professes that, “you’ve got some fucked-up eyes, my friend.” He then asks the crowd to get their “snappin’ fingers” out for the next song, which is about “going absolutely fucking crazy” – “Lunacy Fringe.” This song was exceptionally fun, because it included an extra little… I want to call it “reggae funk interlude.”
“There must be something special about Finland because I lost my voice just for you. Out of all The Used songs, I hear people ask for us to play the most, but for some reason, I think this song touches a certain [pats his chest]. It’s really hard to be yourself in this world, and that’s what this song is about. I hope everyone in here has the courage to be the beautiful people you are.” McCracken lets the crowd recite the poem before “I’m a Fake.” They left the show, and then returned after a short time for McCracken to instruct the crowd to part down the middle, so that when the band has a sexual orgasm (and not before), the crowd can have one all over each other. “This song is about how pretty I know I am,” McCracken says, and they totally made my night by playing “Pretty Handsome Awkward” as the encore.
So you’ve heard the specifics, but what about the show itself? Well, the sound was quite good the first night, but as I mentioned, the second night the bass was turned up way too high (you can hear the difference in those two videos pretty clearly) and had some terrible reverb for at least the first half of the show. Also, I was not a particularly big fan of Jeph Howard‘s (bass) screams, which have evidently not improved much since I was complaining about them in 2012 as well. Justin Shekoski (guitars), however, was a nice addition to the band and a step up in backing screams.
On stage, the band performs like they’re in a small-stage garage rock basement club, which is cool if you’re into that grungy vibe, but annoying if you get easily bothered when band members turn their backs to the crowd a lot. However, they had super high energy in spite of being at the end of a tour, and McCracken‘s voice, if not what it was 15 years ago, manages to still retain the youthful element that is full of nostalgia (though not the full power of his old screams).
However, the real selling point for these gigs was the atmosphere. It was like mentally sending yourself back 10-15 years to when you were a teenager and thought that flipping the bird to the world actually made things better. Me in 2005 is so stoked that I got to see this show, and if I hadn’t been sick, I’d have probably been on the floor running around and screaming my face off like everyone else… not because that’s something I do frequently these days, but because it was fun to be taken back in time for a little while. This wasn’t a show that was meant to replicate two old albums, not at all. These weren’t polished, perfect performances, they were performances powered by passion, emotion, nostalgia, and love of music. Its an entirely different sort of feeling than you’ll get from other shows, but it makes the flaws, like little fuck-ups or mediocre sound quality not matter, because the real thing you’ll get out of the show is a fantastic, memorable experience. I haven’t actively listened to THE USED in 10 years, but I’ll still remember this night for a long time to come!
01. Take it Away
02. I Caught Fire
03. Let it Bleed
04. All That I’ve Got
05. Cut Up Angels
07. Yesterday’s Feelings
08. Light with a Sharpened Edge
09. Sound Effects and Overdramatics
10. Hard to Say
11. Lunacy Frige
12. I’m a Fake
13. Pretty Handsome Awkward (encore)
Written by Bear Wiseman
Interview with Vola — “At this point, we just felt like writing something heavy again, more streamlined.”