Staying positive isn’t something that comes easy for many of us. Those that struggle to stay on the up and up know how important it is to have encouraging friends by their side. Not necessarily the obnoxious type of optimist who ignores life’s struggles, but the kind of friend who can see how those trials might bring about something good.
Relient K have long been that friend to the pop punk community – one often rife with negativity and pessimism. Instead of focusing on constant unconstructive cynicism, Relient K have made a career out of looking on the bright side and fighting for hope and joy in a broken world. This year marks a decade since the release of one of the most affirming and hopeful records to come out of this scene – MMHMM.
Of course the band celebrated with an anniversary tour and of course people arrived in droves to see the spectacle and sing along. However, there’s something unique about this particular anniversary tour. Something uniquely Relient K.
For many in attendance during the band’s recent trek, MMHMM serves as a beacon of light; an encouraging reminder that everything is going to be alright. The whole album seethes hope amidst pain and frustration. Just listen to the words on tracks like “More than Useless” or “High of 75”. Even songs that focus on the pain itself, like “I So Hate Consequences” and “Let it all Out”, end by looking toward a better tomorrow. To gather in community to sing these songs aloud again is a reminder to live in that hope.
But the members of Relient K aren’t immune to defeat and frustration. They’ve all spent the last decade battling through pain and disappointment, dealing with break-ups, and wrestling with life’s uncertainties. It’s one thing to sing these songs with confidence in your early 20s, it’s another thing to still live in such confidence after 10 years of taking life’s haymakers on the chin.
When Matt Theissen takes the stage in Indianapolis, he admits to battling several days of the stomach flu and apologizes if his performance lacks spark. The bug appeared to have little effect. In fact, the entire band’s set was full of life. From the opening chords of “The One I’m Waiting For” until the final uplifting notes of “When I Go Down”, the band plays to full tilt and everyone in attendance bounces and sings along to every word.
This tour is especially exciting as it includes the band’s reunion with former drummer Dave Douglas – a fan favorite and the only proper person to man the skins at such an event. Seeing Theissen, Douglas and guitarist Matt Hoopes grace the stage together again is a sight for sore eyes and makes performances of songs like “Be My Escape” and “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been” that much more special.
It’s the next to last stop on the tour and it’s obvious that the band is fighting through exhaustion, both from illness and road weariness. You don’t notice it in the performance, but it can be witnessed between songs if you look close enough. In a way, it oddly mirrors the battle-for-joy sentiment that bleeds throughout the entirety of MMHMM. Even a decade worth of life later, the band still deems it worthy to fight this good fight. Many of us in the crowd have used these songs to spur us forward in our own moments of weakness.
Relient K have spent over 15 years as a punk band despite so starkly differing from what many deem to be “punk.” Whether it be the nerdy songs about school dances, the underlying Christian themes in their songs, or the upbeat hints of happiness that run throughout their discography, Relient K certainly did things their own, unique way.
MMHMM will always stand as the band’s defining album. It’s a polished, nearly perfect pop punk album that excels on nearly every level and never fails to uplift. Even the album artwork, featuring a lone blooming flower on a cloudy day, speaks to something deeper. It’s a reminder that there is hope. Ten years later, you get the feeling that the band still believes that sentiment. It’s refreshing, but it’s also a reminder to cling to hope whenever and wherever you find it.
Maybe that’s what makes this anniversary tour so special. It’s not just about a timeless album – it’s about remembering a timeless truth.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.