Taking Back Sunday brings its 20th-anniversary tour (and a unique set-choosing device) to Las Vegas for two shows

(Left to right) John Nolan, Adam Lazzara, Mark O’Connell and Shaun Cooper of Taking Back Sunday.
Photo: Natalie Escobedo / Courtesy
Annie Zaleski

Post-hardcore lifers Taking Back Sunday are on a 20th anniversary tour with a twist: The Long Island band is doing a series of two-concert stands in various cities, playing beloved 2002 debut album Tell All Your Friends each night. Before the first concert, a coin flip will determine whether they’ll also play 2004’s Where You Want to Be or 2006’s Louder Now. (The other album will be played on night two.) It’s an ambitious conceit, but Taking Back Sunday is taking it in stride, bassist Shaun Cooper tells Las Vegas Weekly.

How is the coin flip idea working out with the two-night stands on this tour? It’s a little bit stressful on us. There’s a lot of songs to keep track of in your head. We’re playing, over the two nights, about 50-something songs, so it’s very hard to remember what songs you’re playing and where and everything. At this point of the tour, I think we’ve got everything finely tuned. But the first few nights we did the coin flip, it was Where You Want to Be, and I think people were starting to get upset, [like], “Oh, they’re just doing Where You Want to Be the first night. And then the last three it’s been Louder Now, all in a row. It’s a coin flip. It’s a true 50-50 every night. There might be seven nights in a row where you get Louder Now or Where You Want to Be. I don’t know how it’s going to play out, but it’s been super fun, and it’s been keeping us on our toes. It’s made us a tighter band.

Has the structure of the tour brought up any particular challenges? Remembering how the first song starts [on] Where You Want to Be or Louder Now, because they run out the setlist once we do the coin flip. Sometimes I’ll be last [to get the setlist], depending on where our guitar tech and our monitor engineer are set up, and the venue too.

Tell All your Friends seems to be an album people still really gravitate toward. What do you recall most about making that record back in the day? It was not really thought out. We signed to Victory [Records] very quickly; it was a whirlwind romance kind of thing. They wooed us and they were very excited about having us. We had spoken with other labels very briefly, and no one seemed to have that much interest. Victory was very excited, so they rushed us into the studio as soon as they could, which was great for us because we didn’t know what we were doing. It was kinda trial by fire.

We didn’t bring a drum kit. We thought you’d use the one in the studio, because that’s what we had done with every other demo recording in these tiny basement studios we had been in before. We were supposed to bring our own stuff, but we didn’t know that. We were making a major record, [but] we didn’t know every step that went into the process, and there was no one to tell us. The guys at the studio enlightened us, and it was very quick learning curve.

We caught on pretty quick, and we had the songs ready to go. I spent a total of four hours in the studio doing the bass tracks. It was like half a day. And that was very good economically, because we had a tiny budget. It was just mass confusion and mass excitement being in a real studio. It was about an hour drive from my house. It was a really fun, really interesting, really stressful time, because we wanted to get everything perfect and make it right.

Towards the end, [vocalist] Adam [Lazzara] got very sick. He lost his voice for a couple of days, and we had to take a week or two out of the studio. I think that was around Christmastime 2001, and then we went back right after Christmas and finished everything up. We got the mixes back; we had some edits we wanted to do and some changes to make with some of the choices the producers made. They told us we were over time and over budget, [so] that wasn’t going to happen. We were depressed (laughs). We thought, “Oh, our careers are over; this isn’t exactly how we thought; the demos were better.” It ended up working out okay. Twenty years later, we’re still here.

Why do you think that album then has remained such a touchstone for fans? It was just so much that was right place, right time: the lyrics and melodies that [guitarist] John [Nolan] and Adam came up with; the music that all of us together in the room came up with; what we were inspired by. Something took hold. Victory Records was also a huge part in getting it out to the masses. They were airing commercials on MTV2 and Fuse at the time, which were relatively new stations throughout the States.

We were touring our butts off; we had a lot of like-minded bands in our kind of scene. We did early tours with The Used and The Starting Line. Box Car Racer—Tom DeLonge and Travis [Barker] from Blink-182’s side project—took us out. We got a lot of really cool support from just being on the road and being young and wanting to stay out there. We were so hungry to just play our music for everyone that we toured the States continually.

Early-2000s post-hardcore and emo seems as popular now as at the time. To what do you attribute that endurance? There was a definite downturn about eight or nine years ago when [Nolan] and I came back to the band. [Editor’s note: The pair took a seven-year hiatus during the 2000s.] People did not like this genre of music; they thought it was lame. We put our nose to the grindstone and just went back to work. We were like, “I don’t know if people are responding to this like we thought they would, but we really love doing this.”

We kept creating music. We put out the self-titled record, Happiness Is and Tidal Wave. And somewhere in there … I think a lot of it has to do with streaming services. People are rediscovering old favorites through that; that’s been a giant help. We really love what we’re doing, and we continue to tour. We continue to show how much we enjoy doing this. That resonates with people.

And we didn’t stop working. We didn’t say, “There aren’t as many people at the shows, so we’re gonna just call it quits for a couple of years and then we’ll come back when this thing drums up again.” We kept working the whole time.

We felt very excited to do this tour, because we had a great response to Tidal Wave. People connected with those songs, and we see people nightly still responding to those, similar to like how they started responding to “Cute Without the ‘E’” a million years ago. We’ve been one of those fortunate bands: We rode the waves of ups and downs, and we never went away. And now it’s bigger than ever, and we’re reaping the benefits loving every second.

The fact that you stayed is so important. It takes guts to keep going. This was never a business plan. This wasn’t about getting the girls. This wasn’t about making money. This is about our true love of making music and belief of the guys in the room creating that music. We really believe in Taking Back Sunday.

Have you had any shows in Las Vegas that stand out as particularly memorable? We were there in 2016 with Dashboard Confessional, and we had a really great time. The summer of 2017 we played the pool at Mandalay Bay with Every Time I Die, and that was crazy because people were splashing around. Our manager found a really good picture one of the photographers took that day, and that sits on my mantel at home. So I’m always brought back there any time we play Vegas.

Vegas is a really great town, I feel like it was a sleeper market for us. It wasn’t so good in the early days, but as we’ve gotten older… [When] we started touring, I was 20, 21 years old, so Vegas wasn’t kind of our place. I think we’ve kind of grown into it, and the fans have responded in kind. So it’s one of the places we look forward to most now.

TAKING BACK SUNDAY with The Maine. May 4-5, 6:45 p.m., $35. House of Blues, 702-632-7600.

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