It was a befittingly cold night in Boston on Dec. 29. A crowd gathered outside the charmingly grungy Wonderland Ballroom in the Boston suburb of Revere, Mass. The line outside the door was long and intermixed with the haze of cigarette smoke and fogged breath were the friendly hellos (and occasional cat calls) of approaching patrons. A general sense of familiarity lent itself to the scene. Much like a homecoming, hugs and handshakes spread throughout the crowd as it gradually shuffled into the venue.
For those who grew up in the hardcore scene of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the dingy dance halls of the ballroom served as a time machine; the nostalgia of nights spent in church basements had come rushing back with sweaty, smelly ferocity. Although the faces gathered had changed with time, the energy of the room gave sign that little had altered in the hearts of hardcore fans in the eight years that had led up to the night’s event. The hype, the rumors, the tickets that sold out in less than a minute all equated to one solid conclusion: American Nightmare had come to scream again, and all were there to scream the words with them.
In the eight years since the band’s sudden dissolution in 2004, there had been few signs of a reunion occurring. During Wesley Eisold’s establishment of Philadelphia-based Heartworm Press, his legal dispute concerning songwriting and “inspirator” credits on past Fall Out Boy albums, and his time leading experimental synth-pop act Cold Cave, the American Nightmare frontman’s own personal success seemed to draw him further and further away from hardcore. Eisold, once known as the shaggy, tormented lead singer of one of the most brutal hardcore bands of the early aughts was now better known for his svelte leather-clad crooning.
But not that night near Boston. There, it didn’t matter that Eisold now resembled a mere shadow of his former, angsty self. For American Nightmare fans, the evening transpired as though the past eight years never happened. The explosion of energy that occurred when the bars of “Love American” rang through the hall attested that yes, this was the same American Nightmare that called it quits years ago. From the darkness, limbs and bodies flew frantically under the spotlights on stage. Just as in their heyday, fans clambered atop one another to scream along.
It wasn’t long before Eisold lost his microphone and started screaming into the crowd using nothing more than his own set of vocal chords. Rather than stopping the set to restore order, the band charged along. Eisold, in top form, bounded and leapt across the sea of screaming, singing, plunging bodies.
Eventually the microphone found its way back to the stage, where Eisold befittingly panted, “Hi, we’re American Nightmare. Thanks for being here.” Immediately, the band struck into “AM/PM”, which seemed to induce further insanity at the front of the stage. As Eisold and Co. charged through fan favorites such as “Shoplifting in a Ghost Town” and “I Saved Latin,” bottles, articles of clothing and beer flung skyward into the shadows.
Whether driven by aggression, overexcitement, or warped traditionalism, a fight erupted among the left-hand side the stage. As the set was brought to a screeching halt, security and organizers swooped in to handle what many felt was an inevitable situation. The band stepped aside to allow security to step in and stop the violence. Despite audience cries rising to a crescendo in unanimous protest against the delay, Eisold could be seen holding his face in his hand. As the band realized the fight between Wonderland staff and an increasingly hostile audience would not subside, American Nightmare announced the show would be ending—but not before presenting a bone-crushing rendition of “There’s a Black Hole in the Shadow of the Pru” as a peace offering.
Moments passed. As tensions began to subside, the band reappeared for an encore. Obliging the steamy legion of 20- and 30-somethings with spirited performances of “Your Arsonist” and “Farewell,” American Nightmare did not disappoint. With a glib of weariness and a hint of unexpected frailty, Eisold exclaimed, “You gotta know, you have my heart.” With a final bow, the blitz of a set was over.