On Friday, December 15th, classic pop-punk band Taking Back Sunday returned to Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey, for their 9th annual holiday show. The stage was decorated to fit the theme, adorned with bright Christmas trees, a little statue of the Grinch and Olaf, and tinsel wrapped around microphone stands. Fans showed up wearing cozy pajamas, Santa hats, and light-up necklaces that were perfect for the festive night. Before the show began, there was a photo opportunity to take a picture with Taking Back Sunday and Santa (played by Phil Hurley), with proceeds being donated to the Tamerlaine Sanctuary (a nonprofit devoted to rescuing farm animals and providing them a sanctuary) in memory of the late Dave Stein.
The night was hosted by comedian Neil Rubenstein, who introduced the performers and pumped up the crowd for the great show ahead.
The show began with punk-band Koyo from Long Island, New York. Their set, filled with high-energy and excitement, left the audience eager for what the night ahead of them held. Lead vocalist Joseph Chiaramonte showcased his raw vocals while guitarist TJ Rotolico showed off his awesome stage presence marked by jumps, spins, and head-banging.
Next, Oso Oso took the stage. They were more mellow than Koyo but equally as enthralling. Frontman Jade Lilitri and his accompanying band delivered a captivating performance that further grabbed the crowd’s attention, setting the stage for the grand finale. If I could change one thing, I would swap Koyo and Oso Oso so the performances evolved into the headliner’s pop-punk energy.
Returning for one final time, Neil Rubenstein introduced the headlining band–Taking Back Sunday. The band came on stage wearing matching suits, grabbed their instruments, and exploded into their first song of the night. The crowd matched this energy, filled with older Gen-Z and Millennials who grew up listening to the band. The Starland Ballroom security team held down the fort as crowd surfing started, ensuring a safe pass over the barricade.
Lead vocalist Adam Lazzara had an unbeatable stage presence, dancing along as he sang and encouraging the audience to do the same. From one end of the stage to the other, Lazzara interacted with the crowd with a smile on his face–a testament to his genuine love for performing. The band’s performance was nothing short of extraordinary, leaving a lasting mark on the crowd (and myself). Even after 20 years in the industry, they still gave it their all, finishing with "Cute Without The 'E' (Cut From The Team)" and "MakeDamnSure", two of their most popular songs.
Despite what some might say, Taking Back Sunday puts on a damn good show, wrapping up my 2023 concert experience perfectly. They serve as a breath of fresh air; a reminder of the unifying power that live music possesses and the ability to bring together thousands of people in a shared moment of happiness.
Taking Back Sunday played a second holiday show on Saturday, December 16th at the Starland Ballroom before taking a small break until their 2024 tour kicks off in April. Check out their tour dates here.
Read more about Dave Stein here.
Donate to Tamerlaine Sanctuary here.