Barack Obama was less than halfway through his second presidential term and Sun Kil Moon’s Benji was the toast of Music Writer Twitter. The Billboard singles chart was topped by “Dark Horse,” a Katy Perry song featuring Juicy J, because Juicy J was regularly doing features for pop stars at the time. The Seattle Seahawks won their first Super Bowl by beating the absolute shit out of a Broncos team led by Peyton Manning, who still had two more seasons left in his NFL career; the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bruno Mars played the halftime show. Perhaps you have more personally meaningful metrics to illustrate how February 2014 feels like a fucking eternity in the past.

Christian Holden can probably think of a few; two days prior to the release of their instant and future emo classic Home, Like NoPlace Is There, The Hotelier were still a largely unknown band from Worcester, about three years removed from a pop-punk debut they wrote in their teens and released under a different name, on a label that no longer existed. The de facto Home record release show was a five-band bill at Bridgeport DIY in La Puente, about 20 miles east of Los Angeles. Maybe two dozen people, myself included, were in attendance. Nearly ten years to the day, Holden addressed a crowd about 30-40 times as large at the Observatory in San Diego. Their coheadlining tour with Foxing felt like the coronation that I – and perhaps the bands themselves – imagined in the mid-2010s, where they’d command the same 1000-cap rooms as the buzziest indie acts of the time, validating that every r/emo and Absolute Punk and Property Of Zack rave should be taken at face value and not, “They’re great, for an emo band.”

But tonight couldn’t have happened in 2014, or 2017, or even 2022. Rather, the fact that it could have only happened as a 10th-anniversary tour felt like a pyrrhic victory, borne of nostalgia for a version of The Hotelier and Foxing that each spent most of the decade trying to leave behind.

Though the term “emo revival” likely helped Rhe Hotelier and Foxing more than it hurt them, it’s now clearer than ever that their progressive approach to the genre occupied a completely different time and space than the scrappier, shambling likes of Algernon Cadwallader and Snowing and Glocca Morra. While The Hotelier’s strident anthems were accessible enough to translate to Primavera and Pitchfork Festival, Home, Like NoPlace Is There was a thoroughly modernist treatise – “Projected map of the body / It’s crass, abject, colonial,” Holden rasped on “Among The Wildflowers,” one of the many songs that connected gender dysphoria to state violence and the many, many ways capitalism is completely unequipped to care for the majority of the people living under it. Though Holden eventually moved out of the anarchist collective in which they lived in 2014 and has a full-time, W2-requiring job, everything they said on Home has aged remarkably well; even the most awkward and/or misinterpreted lyrics on “Housebroken” were ahead of the curve in suggesting a clear link between “Blue Lives Matter” and domestic abuse.

Though inspired by religious trauma and ex-bassist Josh Coll’s military service in Afghanistan, Foxing were far less political in nature; the hooks on “The Medic” and “Rory” are, respectively, “I just want to be loved” and “Why don’t you love me back?” Not coincidentally, these are the most popular songs on The Albatross by a great distance. Still, even these uber-emo eruptions over romantic rejection sounded like nothing else before them, an ambitious alchemy of post-rock, orchestral indie, math, hip-hop, and hardcore (if the latter two seem out of place, go find live footage of “Bit By A Dead Bee, Pt. 1”).

Along with Whenever, If Ever and Wildlife, albums like these were often viewed as being at war for the soul of emo during that time; lest we forget, the “Emo Revival” was just as often credited to the various Emo Nights (or Emo Nites) touring the country at the time, purely crowd-pleasing picture parties that would just as often play The Killers or Pierce The Veil as they would Jimmy Eat World. The Hotelier and Foxing were celebrated amongst a small group of critics for reestablishing emo’s long-severed connection to punk principles, but the people had spoken – Emo Night is more likely to play a major festival than any actual emo band from the 2010s, to say nothing of When We Were Young weaponizing MySpace nostalgia into a bottomless revenue stream.

Yet, there’s something poetic about Foxing and The Hotelier battling through their (often publicly expressed) ambivalence towards The Albatross and Home; after all, what are those albums about, if not our inability to forget or discard or process the scars of our youth, let alone transcend it?

The Hotelier made some of the most powerful music of any genre during their initial run yet were often a hit-or-miss live act; surely, this was in part due to Holden’s aversion to touring and wariness of “playing the game.” But tonight, I got to see the version of The Hotelier I knew could win over the skeptics, the ones that could acknowledge The Occasion and rise to it. They proudly trotted out cuts from It Never Goes Out, an album that largely had been written out of their history, as well as “Housebroken,” a song previously retired after Holden got tired of explaining its central metaphor to people who took it in bad faith (“it’s called symbolism,” they joked tonight). In their current setup, they have three guitarists, one of which wore a floral button-down shirt a la Billy Corgan ca. Gish; they also played an extremely un-emo black Les Paul. All three guitarists traded vocals during the wonderfully theatrical bridge of “Dendron.” I’ve seen reunion shows of this nature lead to truly inspiring second acts – American Football, Braid, Mineral, maybe even Sunny Day Real Estate? Holden joked last year that there’s a fourth Hotelier album in the works…but it just hasn’t been written yet.

Whereas The Hotelier occasionally found it difficult to replicate the potency of their albums, Foxing were the exact opposite early on in their career; no band ever brought it as consistently as Foxing did, and you could make a pretty good festival lineup of the headliners I’ve seen them blow off the stage. Their compositional ambition and unmatched live intensity made them feel like a band with an unlimited ceiling, and when 2018’s Nearer My God arrived, the comparative points were Radiohead and TV On The Radio, which tend to be shorthand for “unlimited ceiling.” At least for some. The reception mirrored that of The Hotelier’s Goodness a few years earlier, an album that did pretty much everything its creators needed to in order to cross over to non-emo audiences, but somehow found itself stuck between stations – too indie for the emo kids who loved their earlier work, too emo for the indie crowd. What appeared to be a bat-flip home run ended up as a ground rule double. Still, there was a possibility that they could follow in the footsteps of their most consistent benefactors in Manchester Orchestra, a band that slowly amassed a cult of devotees that eventually exploded with a well-timed, alt-rock hit; 2021’s Draw Down The Moon seemed designed to do exactly that, but its overt pop leanings proved just as divisive as Dealer’s muted balladry.

The way Foxing operates in 2024 is bittersweet – inspiring in the way they keep pushing forward and making rewarding music, but also a bit disheartening that they have to keep pushing. I couldn’t help but notice that the crowd had thinned out a little bit by the time they had gotten to their encore, a mini post-Albatross Greatest Hits compilation; guitarist Eric Hudson hinted that LP5 might be ready in the fall, or they might just break up, which is pretty much what they say with every album. I’m sure it will be great and I’m sure that they’ll continue to be a tremendous live act. But I wish this didn’t feel like the last time I could see them fill a room as big as their ambition.

During Foxing’s set, Murphy took a moment to remember the last time the two bands toured together, when they were joined by Little Big League, a solid punkish/poppy indie band that knocked around on Tiny Engines and Run For Cover without doing too much to distinguish themselves from bigger acts in a similar lane like Swearin’ or Tigers Jaw. A year earlier, the frontwoman shared a debut split with Foxing under a new project name: Japanese Breakfast. As the Emo Revival began to die down in 2016, artists like Michelle Zauner and Julien Baker and Mitski and Jay Som and Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus and Soccer Mommy emerged out of the miasma of “feeling stuff music” to completely upend the “straight white guy” default character in indie rock; in retrospect, the Emo Revival was an evolutionary step, a Moment rather than a Movement.

The opener this time around presents a fascinating inverse; a decade ago, Foxing and The Hotelier would’ve been fortunate to open for Title Fight, perhaps the biggest band in the hardcore/emo-adjacent scene at the time. But after the band kind-sorta went on hiatus in 2018, Ned Russin has been performing as Glitterer, a project which first consisted of him singing over pre-recorded tracks at hardcore shows, a setup more in common with something like Majical Cloudz. At this point, Glitterer sounds a lot like Title Fight with more Nord keyboard leads, essentially The Smile to Title Fight’s Radiohead; yet, as even the positive reviews for their new album Rationale point out, the similarities have only amplified calls for a Title Fight reunion.

With all due respect to three of the greatest bands to emerge from this era, the way they’ve respectively dealt with their imposing legacy has caused me to spend most of the days leading up to this show thinking about Modern Baseball. This wouldn’t have been the case if I had caught the first, East Coast leg of this tour last fall. And it wouldn’t have been the case had the San Diego show taken place a week later, on the exact 10th anniversary of Home. Instead, I found myself immersed in reminiscence on You’re Gonna Miss It All, the most popular album from one of the most popular and beloved bands of their time – but not really something seen as an artistic triumph along the lines of The Albatross or Home or Floral Green, which has seemingly worked in its favor.

Nearly everyone who has written a 10-year anniversary piece on an album from this scene has felt it necessary to state their age at the time of its release – I’ve seen 15, 17, 21, “high school,” “college.” It was good to hear from that type of listener – the ones who were thinking about music critically at that time, but weren’t critics. MoBo looked like guys who came to their shows straight from a Drexel lecture hall, singing about things that happened to them just that day; they weren’t making high art, but their slice-of-life songs were there for these people when they needed them. They broke up to save their friendship and maybe even their lives and MoBo fans have been shockingly reasonable about it. Besides, Jake Ewald’s Slaughter Beach, Dog has built up a solid discography that sounds like the music Modern Baseball probably would’ve made if they’ve kept going and that’s reflected in the project’s popularity – they’ve got over 500,000 monthly listeners on Spotify and headlined at the Observatory a month earlier.

When I spoke to Foxing three years ago in the leadup to Draw Down The Moon, they had just recorded an episode of First Ever Podcast with Touché Amore’s Jeremy Bolm titled “It’s Okay If This Is As Good As It Gets”; “early on, critics like yourself or fans of ours or especially management people would always do this thing where they’d say, ‘I can’t believe I’m seeing you guys in a basement right now because you guys are gonna be an arena band,” frontman Conor Murphy told me. “It really did us a disservice because everything was a failure when we’re always looking at it in the context of how successful we should be.”

I should probably paste that quote to my desktop. Or, one that Holden dropped earlier in the night. Shortly into their set, Holden made a brief pause to reflect that, yes, it has been a lifetime since that album was released, but not a very long lifetime – as they put it, Home, Like NoPlace Is There is the age of someone who eats grilled cheese with the crust cut off. It’s a welcome bit of perspective for both the people in the crowd and on the stage, that they’re a lot closer to the source than they might think.

The performance of each band served as an argument that while the intensity that leads to creating or relating to “Your Deep Rest” or “Inuit” isn’t a perpetually renewable resource, it never really dies out, but shapeshifts with years of repression. Judging from the faces in the crowd, this might not have been the very first time they’ve reckoned with becoming the target demographic for a 10-year anniversary tour. But while I’m sure some of the more indie-inclined folks in their mid-to-late 20s were listening to, say, Atlas or St. Vincent or Lost In The Dream during Q1 2014, those artists continued to make music at a pretty similar emotional pitch from that point forward. And so whereas those might feel like 2014, “The Medic” or “Your Deep Rest” are more inextricable from being a teenager in 2014 – whether it involved feeling completely demoralized by your small town (usually), being driven to the brink of suicide (less often), unrequited love (more so with Foxing) or anarchist politics (more so with The Hotelier), no one had ever felt that way before, that strongly. At least until you went to a Foxing or Hotelier show.

8446