January 17, 2007 at 12:00 PM EST

As part of our efforts to bring you more music coverage here at PopWatch, we’re going to be doing way more concert reviews: bringing you first-person, morning-after rundowns of all the shows we can get free tickets to, just like the cool music blogs (but with fewer references to Pitchfork and Hot Chip). After all, how will you know what to think about concert tours if you can’t vehemently disagree with our opinions first?

To kick things off, I hit up last night’s Fall Out Boy show here in NYC, an enormous, shrieking thing that happened at the majestic Hammerstein Ballroom. [See my shots on Flickr.] The guys are out on the road in anticipation of their upcoming album, Infinity On High, and they’re also playing a fun game I like to call, “So You’ve Blown Up Huge… How Do You Keep It Real, Punk?” The answer is: Just barely. They walked onstage to the strains of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” and immediately launched into “Our Lawyer…,” which got the crowd going and proved one truism of the night: Those kids like to sing along. Loudly. But there was something off from the start, and as I peered down from my seat– which was located a good 100 yards away from and 30 feet above the stage — I came to the uncomfortable realization that I was watching this cute little scrubby band make its first tentative steps towards the genre some call “arenamo.” And boy, were those steps tentative.

addCredit(“Fall Out Boy: Gary Gershoff/WireImage.com”)

“Our Lawyer…” led into “Of All the Gin Joints…,” a lovelytransition, given that those are the first two songs off theirbreakthrough album, From Under the Cork Tree. And I won’t lieto ya, PopWatchers: I was feelin’ it. I really like this band, and I’venever been ashamed to admit it, and as I watched the little ants who Iassume were Pete Wentz (pictured) and Joe Trohman spin, flail and spit their wayaround the stage, I could feel my head start to bop happily, even as myears recoiled against the shrieking that was still, inexplicably,ringing through the auditorium like a fire alarm. Up next was thecolossal genius of “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down,” and everything reached afever pitch as the band let the fans take the first lines a cappella.The fans, to their credit, totally nailed it. (American Idol should be so lucky.)

And then… well, after this raucous beginning, things slowed down asmidge. Pete started talking between a lot of the songs, startedthanking everyone for being there, started maintaining that we’re allstill family, started encouraging us to hug each other, and the bandstarted playing a lot of older material. Which, hey, I have no problemwith, but from my bird’s eye vantage point I started to notice that thethird of the audience trapped between the mosh pit and the back of theroom were just standing there, like zombies — and despite theconsiderable energy of the girl singing along next to me, and the rowof tweens down the way watching the entire show through the viewfindersof their digital cameras, I felt my energy flag.

Luckily, a new song came along to pick us all up: I’m pretty sure it was “Thriller,” the first track off Infinity, but I’ve only heard the album once in a listening session, so I could be wrong. It sounded great — all chucka-chuckaguitars and soaring vocals from cute, otherwise-mute Patrick Stump. Andspeaking of picking us up, a word to the wise: If you want tocrowd-surf at a Fall Out Boy show, you do so at your own risk. I saw a lotof people get dropped. I suspect this is because the people who weretrying to leap onto the crowd were large, twentysomething guys, andthe people below them were 13-year-old girls, but I have no way toprove this theory.

The rest of the show played out how you’d expect: more talking fromPete (my favorite line of the night: “You don’t have to be into punkrock for your f—ing boyfriend”), a great run-through of currentsingle “This Ain’t A Scene…,” which holds up like gangbusters live,and a short, compulsory encore break that led into a fierce three-songconclusion of “I Slept With Someone…,” “Dance, Dance,” and”Saturday.” I would have switched those last two songs, but whatevs.

Overall, a fun time was had by all. The band really did soundgreat — rich, tight, happy, all those things you look for in a liveperformance. Maybe I would have liked to hear more musical departures,but then again, I don’t think the fans were really there looking forexperimentation. Also, I’m pretty sure the kids thrashing around on thefloor probably didn’t notice the cavernous nature of the venue one bit,and seemed to be having the sweaty time of their lives. Bonus points tothe band for doing something I’ve never seen in my entire life: sendinga Red Sox fan named Adam (maybe?) out into the front of the house tostart skipping in a circle and creating a whirlpool effect in front ofthe stage that wasn’t quite a mosh pit, but didn’t quite look safe,either. It looked awesome from space, anyway.

And so! On a scale of 1 to 10 — with 1 being Landry’s speed metal band, Crucifictorious, from Friday Night Lights, and 10 being the time I saw U2 at Irving Plaza — I give Fall Out Boy a 7, and I suspect as they get a little better at playing these bigger rooms, that number will only go up.

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