Citizen and Knuckle Puck Are Sonically Buoyant Live

Emo/shoegaze crews Citizen, Knuckle Puck, Oso Oso, and Hunny play a stunning show in Carrboro, North Carolina.

When you think of hot spots in the current emo/pop-punk scene, Carborro, North Carolina probably doesn’t come to mind. However, Saturday, May 18th, tattooed, hair-dyed, and pierced folk prowl the streets in groups, heading either to Knuckle Puck and Citizen at Cat’s Cradle, or Pile in the room over. Near the entrance, ominously located in the back of a building a yard or so from an abandoned house covered in graffiti, fans smoke cigarettes and clutch beer bottles as they gossip and catch up, no matter which band or show they’re here for.

The night starts with Hunny, a guest unexpected to be on this sort of emo/pop-punk lineup. They sing indulgently, with their vocals cocooned in hypnotizing synths, reminiscent of bands like Depeche Mode and New Order. Fans show excitement for their upcoming album Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. by swaying to the dance‑y melodies of songs like Luna, I’m Not Mad. It’s a unique way to kick off the show. 

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Oso Oso follows, warming up the crowd with something closer to Knuckle Puck’s and Citizen’s genre, but still not nearly as chaotic. The Long Island rockers reel the crowd in with playful delights from their sophomore album the yunahon mixtape, getting them to bob their heads during irresistible guitar solos like in the cool and reindeer games. The nostalgia is palpable, but it’s more like a sweet wistfulness, interestingly prefacing bands that reflect on the past from an opposingly angry and intense angle.

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Knuckle Puck announce themselves with the powerful Want Me Around off of their latest album Shapeshifter. The fans surge before the music even starts; the pop punk prodigies have enough energy and prestige to get a room of people moving before they even begin. The performance starts off strong, with an immediate pit and ceaseless fistpumps, and never relents at any point. Throughout all the sonically buoyant anthems about cynicism and anxiety, the excitement of one song spills into the next and the movement doesn’t stop. A plush pig bounces on a fan’s head and a blow-up shark floats around like a crowdsurfer. When the Chicago quintet ends with Plastic Brains, it seems like fans are panting and wiping sweat off their foreheads, some retiring before Citizen even hits the stage.

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With the red As You Please flag hanging behind them, Citizen pay dues to the album by opening with Jet and Fever Days. The crowd, though somewhat diminished, reacts with ardent jumping to show gratitude to Citizen’s evolution. The band’s setlist proves that their evolution has been severe over the years, containing more change than consistency. From As You Please, they plunge into Youth and Everybody Is Going To Heaven, like a tour guide giving tourists a run-down of different destinations. Citizen fans aren’t tourists to these albums, though, and they know every word and rhythm to each track.

This versatility manifests further when the band plays their brand new song Big Mouth. It makes me feel sexy, it makes me want to fight,” says frontman Mat Kerekes before catapulting the audience into the brazen bassline. The crowd’s sing-along during the combative chorus — Tell me why you’re hanging around / What are you looking for?” — proves just how successful the single has become.

Everyone leaves the space feeling an eerie mix of adrenaline from Knuckle Puck’s jams and grief from Citizen’s encore of The Night I Drove Alone. The venue’s small exit floods with fans who are both physically and emotionally exhausted, ambling back to their cars ready for sleep. All in all, the exhilaration was worth the subsequent downfall, and it will happen again whenever the bands come around for another time demanding more riot-like energy. 

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