Unwritten Law – Live and Lawless [CD/DVD]
Suburban Noize (9/30/08)
Rock / Alternative / Pop-punk
Unwritten Law have staked their claim for most of their careers through touring. They were known in the early ’90s as tour dogs, they’re Warped vets, and after their single “Seein’ Red” hit in 2002, they gained a large tweenie-bopper audience when they opened for Pink. While a lot of bands fall into the Frampton Comes Alive trap and make a live record that is sprawling and ponderous, UL keeps the pace and energy sprightly on Live and Lawless. Live records have been making a renaissance in the last few years, due to the fact that digital technology can solve all the problems for which live records (and especially live punk records) used to be known. This is certainly one for the die-hards, but a neophyte to Unwritten Law can see what all the fuss is about.
One of the coolest things about a lot of recent live albums is the way crowd noise is used to augment tracks. Back in the dizz-ay, the crowd either was drowned out, only heard cheering when the tracks opened or closed; or they were mixed in and overshadowed the music. On Lawless, the crowd acts as another band member. Their cheering is kept just low enough in the mix that you can always hear it but you can still discern most all of vocalist Scott Russo’s lyrics.
The energy of the crowd feeds upbeat numbers like “Blame It on Me” and “Teenage Suicide”. The singing along of the largely teenage female crowd (as evidenced on the DVD, which is the same as the album but with a five-song acoustic set in the middle) augments radio hits from the early “Caitlin” to “Seein’ Red”. The band sounds solid throughout, although the vocals and guitar are mixed eleventeen times higher than the bass and drums, but the real highlight is their interaction with the crowd. As a bonus, there’s a new studio track (including a video on the DVD) called “Shoulda Known Better” that opens with a little Spanish-style flourish and builds into a metalcore-ish riff, with lyrics detailing a troubled young girl getting knocked-up.
At this point, UL are pretty much a fans-only kind of act. They’re a little too ’90s for the emo kids and a little too emo for the punks. While they might have gained a slew of fairweather fans when they opened for Pink, they alienated a lot of their core fans who don’t want to see an underground band try to go mainstream. Live and Lawless? It ain’t gonna convert anyone, I can tell you that. But if you already drink their Kool-Aid, it’s not gonna disappoint at all. The songs are all there and all solid, and the energy of your fellow UL fanatics will give you at least a hint of what it’s like to actually be there and see them. For the rest of us? There’s not much you’re missing.