Date: April 15 and 16, 2016
Location: House of Blues, Dallas, TX.
When I was 10 years old, I discovered the music that resonates with me the most today. I remember the first time I heard “The Taste of Ink” by The Used on MMUSA (now Fuse). The next day, I went to school trying to explain to my friends how awesome this song was! From then on, I continued listening to The Used and other bands that fell into the same genre. Yet, despite my adoration, I hadn’t seen them live until this year. They had been on my bucket list for 14 years!
The Used has been on a 15 year anniversary tour, where they play their debut self-titled album and In Love and Death in their entirety in two separate nights. Although Houston wasn’t on the list, Dallas didn’t seem like too much of a trek to endure.
I took a Friday off from work, and Travis and I began our three hour journey to the Dallas House of Blues. Tip: We ate dinner there before the show and our waitress gave us a “Pass the Line” ticket. Extra time to buy merch and drinks!
Night One – Self-Titled Debut Album:
As Travis and I were waiting in between sets, he bought another round to calm our anticipation. Travis had already seen The Used a few times before, but this was new for me, so my excitement was extremely heightened. The stage was crowded with naked mannequins with hand-written lyrics from the album on them. This makes sense when regarding the album cover for the self-titled album.
The setlist began, of course, with “Maybe Memories”. The first 25 seconds of the song is a combination of heavy bass and guitar with something resembling a police siren in the background to prep you for the loud, screaming muse that is Bert McCracken.
The album’s second single “The Taste of Ink” is definitely a fan favorite. This is probably the first song I heard from The Used. I remember being 10 years old, singing the lyrics, “So here I am / It’s in my hands / And I’ll savor every moment of this” as if I had something to savor during those years. Perhaps it was my carefree, childlike view on life that could’ve been saved. But Bert was on a mission to salvage that perspective for everyone in the audience. After the track was done, Bert said, “That was amazing! I can already tell this is going to be a good night.”
Leading into the next song “Bulimic” Bert said to the crowd for one night, to just “be like a child.” Not by being childish, but for everyone to simply be themselves and enjoy the night. This definitely gave me comfort as I am someone who tends to worry what others think, even in mundane situations. I was singing along and then started choking up during the chorus “Goodbye to you / You’re taking up my time.” Belting out those lyrics had some sort of meditative release. I felt as if I were letting go of all the negative stuff that was clouding my mind and most importantly, I could continue to be myself. Well done, Bert.
“I buried myself alive on the inside
So I could shut you out
And let you go away for a long time…”
A few tracks later, “Buried Myself Alive” (another single from the album) hit close to home. Before the show, I bought a shirt that has a skeleton in a coffin with the title beside it. This has been an additional lasting favorite song from the band over the years because I’ve always read the lyrics from personal experpience. Literature is subjective, by the way. Dealing with overwhelming negative thoughts and feelings can make one feel as if they are burying themselves alive, and that’s how I’ve always perceived the lyrics. I’ve buried myself alive on the inside many times, but always dug myself out.
“Should’ve done something but I’ve done it enough
By the way your hands were shaking
Rather waste some time with you…”
“Blue and Yellow” has always been the most emotional song for me to listen to from this album. From the very first time I heard it when I was 14, I always connected it to a significant person. That person being the person I’m in a relationship with today: Travis. He and I have not been a couple over the last 10 years, but we’ve always had a connection to each other. Despite the years that went by where we didn’t talk to each other and I literally thought he had died or moved out of the country, I always held on to a group of songs to make me feel close to him in some way, this track being one of them. When I heard this song live, I felt disconnected in myself. I was completely caught up in the emotion and personal experience behind the lyrics that it made it difficult for me to be thankful that Travis and I were there together. This was until he turned to me and said with a smile, “You’re the blue to my yellow.” There’s probably a lot of interpretations that can go with that statement, but I understood that it was a positive one. From then on, I felt like myself again.
Edging closer to the end of the set, Burt said in between two songs, “I’m stalling because I don’t want this night to end.” He could definitely feel the energy from the audience that had been singing every word from every lyric from the entire album. We didn’t want it to end either. But, the band finally made it to the last song of the album, “Pieces Mended”. However, any true fan of The Used knows about the hidden track at the end of the album. Although “Pieces Mended” would’ve been a suitable and awesome song to end the night with, the audience knew there was one more song! The band had left the stage after the last listed track, but then ran back out with more energy for the heavy, screaming, fast-paced “Choke Me”. The audience went wild with fists in the air and mosh pits circling in the bottom section of the venue.
The Used expressed their gratitude while the audience applauded and screamed with happiness. Then the curtains fell back down and lights brightened, indicating the show was over. Just then, one of my favorite moments of the night happened: “More Than A Feeling” by Boston started playing. This somehow became a “song” for Travis and I, so if it starts playing while we’re together, it’s a sign to me that I am exactly where I need to be. We Ubered our way back to the hotel with our ears ringing, but our minds overjoyed by the show we had just experienced.
Night Two – In Love and Death:
This time, I bought a round before The Used started playing. The crowd was encompassed in a happy nostalgia due to the fact that 90’s pop hits were playing. Everyone was singing Backstreet Boys and then “No Scrubs” by TLC. Then, the lights went dark and the curtains lifted. This night’s stage was set with a backdrop resembling the cover from In Love and Death, along with a lamp structure shaped like the heart from the same album.
The band fired it up with the opening track “Take It Away”. Everyone in the crowd was already having so much fun! There was singing, dancing, hands in the air, and just no cares. Bert preached to the crowd the same sermon from the night before, regarding being “like a child again.” This speech only came after he called out an audience member by saying, “First of all, who the f*** are you texting?” He then went on to explain that social media not only sells products, but also certain ideas. I think he was trying to have people understand that we don’t need social media to make us who we are. We don’t need the unreachable expectations placed upon us from society and those who appear to be “better off” than we are. At least, that’s how I interpreted it.
“I Caught Fire” is the third single from the album. Lyrics such as “Every second I’m without you I’m a mess” and “I’m melting in your eyes” make it easy for this track to be shared between lovers. I kept glancing and smirking at Travis like the girl I was when I first met him.
The second single and fourth track “All That I’ve Got” is absolutely one of my favorites from the album. In seventh grade, I had an alliance of people who burned CDs for me after giving them a playlist. This song was definitely on multiple CDs. I remember listening to the lyrics through my walkman on bus rides, fueling my teen angst and unexplainable internal rebellion of the rural society I was raised in. “I’ll be just fine, pretending I’m not / I’m far from lonely and it’s all that I’ve got.”
Bert explained how this album is obviously about love and death. He struggled for a long time getting back into the studio and making music, but was finally able to do so with some encouragement from his band members. The reason for his struggle stemmed from the death of an ex-girlfriend, who was also pregnant with his child. I didn’t know of this information beforehand, but it made the entire album make so much more sense. Dealing with a death of someone you’ve had a relationship with is extremely difficult and heavy. With my own personal experience being somewhat relative to Bert’s, I was able to view the rest of the setlist with an enlightened perspective.
“Light with a sharpened edge
Cut through the black empty space we call sky
Beginning the cycle that stays
And I know in my heart we all die”
My favorite song performed that night was “Light With A Sharpened Edge”. The optimistic sounds from the intro guitar and simple drums gave a feeling of hope. I just felt at peace with myself. I also feel that this song is so unique compared to the other ones on the first two albums.
At some point, between two songs, the band led into a cover of “Smoke Two Joints”. The stage lighting turned to green, red, and yellow. Bert even said, “Smoke em’ if you got em’.” They also did a short cover of “Stand By Me” as Bert asked the audience to hug the person next to you.
Near the end of the setlist included the track “I’m A Fake”. For about the first minute, Bert reads a poem that then leads into the music portion. The lines to this poem were printed on the back of a shirt to sell at the merch table. Bert said the first line to the poem, then the audience took over from there. It seemed every person was able to recite the rest of the poem without missing a beat. You could tell that this made Bert proud, as he rested his hand on his chest near his heart.
The bonus track on In Love and Death is a cover of “Under Pressure” (originally by David Bowie and Freddie Mercury), where Gerard Way makes an appearance to accompany the song. I was really hoping that The Used would use this track as their encore, as well as a tribute to the late Bowie. However, this didn’t happen. Instead, the band came back out on stage to perform “Pretty Handsome Awkward” from Lies For The Liars. Bert assembled a mosh pit by telling the audience downstairs to split into half, “one side over here, one side over there, then everyone run into each other as fast and hard as you can.” People were pumped during this last song. I could see others, even upstairs, jumping up and down while shouting the lyrics. The performance did eventually come to an end, even though we didn’t want it to. Bert yelled, “Free Palestine!” with his fist in the air as the band made their final exit.
Overall: As you can probably tell, I have held a deep connection to this band and their songs for more than half of my life. Hearing and singing with the band in person made me further appreciate the music that defined my adolescence. In addition, these shows were probably some of the most engaging that I have attended. The heartbreakingly relatable lyrics fed my nostalgia, but allowed me to feel young again, as promised and requested by Bert.
Photographs taken by yours truly.