Clearly armed with a wide array of influence, Joyce Manor has been a band of many labels, and one of constant evolution.
Most change, however, isn’t always welcomed with open arms. “Joyce Manor hasn’t been good since Never Hungover Again,” I heard outside a Vein show in September, just a week after the release of Million Dollars to Kill Me, Joyce Manor’s latest effort. The band has always had somewhat of a tie to the hardcore scene, as their early releases land on the grittier end of pop punk, with many of their songs clocking in at two minutes or less. 2014’s Never Hungover Again, the band’s third album and Epitaph debut, is one of the most memorable pop punk records in recent years. It was fast-paced, emotionally-charged songs that set the stage for the California rock band.
The first obvious signs of Joyce Manor’s maturation were displayed in 2016’s Cody, via soft acoustic textures, gentle details, and evolved song-crafting. Perhaps they took a risk, as this new versatility made a bad impression on some genre-purist fans, like the one I had overheard. For their latest record, the band equipped hardcore veteran Kurt Ballou, of the band Converge, on production. However, rather than reverting back to their roots, Million Dollars to Kill Me continues the band’s journey of musical experimentation. Ballou’s assistance offers extra depth and refinement to the band’s already emerging maturity.
The last time Joyce Manor had played in Portland, Oregon was on the release day of Cody—October 7, 2016—with The Hotelier and Crying as support. It was the second day of their first tour supporting Cody. Just over two years later, the band finally returns, at a larger venue, on their first tour in support of MDTKM. It was the second-to-last day of the tour. Amidst the larger Portland crowd, I took notice of the amount of younger fans in the audience. The past times I’ve seen Joyce Manor, granted there were 300-400 less people in the room, I saw mostly people around my age in their 20s. This time, there was a more prominent amount of younger fans, likely seeing the band for the first time and have maybe never seen a crowd-surfer before (based on the amount of audible gasps after the first body went up).
Whenever a band evolves in venue size, it obviously means they’ve gained fans. In this case, it was a younger audience, likely credited to their new, melodically rich direction, and clever pop appeal. Did this move drive away older fans, or did it really broaden their horizons? Seemingly, the latter.
“Beach Community” set the stage for the night; an older crowd-favorite from their 2013 self-titled record. Playing songs spanning their entire discography, Joyce Manor’s set was dynamic and lively as expected. Between the chaotic surging frenzies, they gave fans chances to breathe with gentler songs like “Wildflowers,” the new album’s tender closing track.
As always, the quartet was cool, yet poised and professional, with frontman Barry Johnson, dripping in equal amounts charisma as sweat. He seemed happy, even smiling at crowd-surfers sometimes (Barry is formerly known for being vocally opposed to crowd-surfers and stage-divers); perhaps he was excited to finish the tour strong. Even at the end of the tour, his voice was clean as he delivered each note with intensity and control. It’s obvious he’s settled into his proper singing voice, choosing melody over rasp. With Joyce Manor’s new grown-up and polished songwriting, and consistently compelling live performances, the band has grown to be much more than a group of angsty emo kids.
Through the maturity and development, there are still pieces of Joyce Manor that remain constant. Passionate lyrics, impressive brevity, raw emotion, and constant rule-breaking help compose the intriguing charm that makes the California quartet so interesting and easily adored. It’s this versatile appeal that allows Joyce Manor to welcome eager young listeners to their fanbase. The longtime fans drunkenly barking at them to play “5 Beer Plan” between every song aren’t going anywhere. They’re not too pop for the punk kids nor too punk for the pop kids. They’re a perfect, versatile blend of each element, and unapologetically themselves.