When Fall Out Boy returned in 2013 with the intent to “save rock and roll,” they could not have strayed further from the light — and as Highly Suspect is called to the stage by someone who could best be described as a SoundCloud DJ, I grow worried that rock ‘n’ roll might as well be dead-on-sight.
Someone in the pit is handing out cupcakes to audience members when the first feedback-driven chords of singer Johnny Stevens’ guitar ring out over the sold-out crowd in the 9:30 Club, and I am proven very wrong.
Liquor bottles are strewn across the stage, and the DJ seems to be a permanent fixture of the setup. Strobe lights flicker as the group tears into their opener “Send Me An Angel.”
Highly Suspect’s sound borrows heavily from their forebears. Blues progressions, crunchy guitars and aggressive drums are all packed into a neat modern form of rock.
This band is what groups like Fall Out Boy should have progressed to when looking to save the genre. The anxiety and angst of the early emo-scene bands is still present in their sound, but with a much more mature delivery.
“I wish everyone I knew was dead,” Stevens sings during “Serotonia.” “So I’d never have to pick up the phone/ I just wanna be naked/ and masturbate all day at home.”
Songs that reference masturbation usually get relegated to the likes of bro-rockers Blink-182, but Highly Suspect handles the highs and lows of life in a different way.
“That is the spirit of rock and roll,” Stevens yells to a fan who has climbed up to crowd surf during the band’s hit song “Lydia.”
Broken men making broken music seems to be the root of the band’s aesthetic, and every song oozes with Stevens’ personal baggage.
The stage is backed with the letters “MCID,” which stands for “My Crew Is Dope.” The crew refers to both the audience and the revolving cast of friends that storm onto the stage to dance with Rich Meyer or throw water on the crowd.
Steven’s vocals are only given a break when Rich sings during “Winston” or when the band breaks for guitar solos. The vamp and solo after “Claudeland” brings the pace down a bit, but allows Stevens to showcase his abilities as he tears through a blistering solo.
Each member is given their chance to shine during the set, and drummer — and twin brother to Rich — Ryan Meyer has a huge chunk of time blocked out for him to rock out, alone on stage. Ryan, clad in a Nirvana shirt, takes two solos before remarking to the crowd, “Wow, you guys are loud.”
Ryan then introduces his drum tech, who does a solo of his own before Meyer takes his kit back for solo number three.
At this point the crowd is enthused but itching for the rest of the band to make their way to the stage. Returning with a solo of his own, Stevens is followed back on by Rich. The song, “ATL,” continues into what the band has called, “a weird morphy jammy thing” building into a wall of noise before leaving the stage bowing, and tossing their hats into the crowd.
“Thank you,” Stevens adds, “We love you.”
Returning to a raucous and inebriated crowd, the trio and their carnival end on their highest note, but not before a hip hop and booze break.
After the festivities are over, they jump back into the thick of it, playing their newest single “Little One.”
Donning a wig, and preaching about “peace, love and equality,” Stevens and his squealing guitar lead the band into the Grammy-nominated “My Name Is Human.”
Strobes stutter throughout the song as the band and crew mosey their way across the stage. The crowd waves their arms like “seaweed in a fish tank,” as Stevens described it.