Citizen have managed to carve out a niche for themselves as one of the better bands to spring from this decade’s emo revival, from their pop punk-tinged debut Youth to its dark, brooding follow-up Everybody Is Going To Heaven, and now with the recently released As You Please, which settles somewhere in between the two. As You Please finds a happy medium between the cryptically bleak lyricism of EIGTH and melodic sensibility of Youth in an excellent collection of alternative rock songs. The quintet headlined this year’s Small Ball, a festival put on by Atlanta’s beloved Masquerade. Usually billed as The Wrecking Ball and held over a weekend, the fest had to be held on a single night because of the decrease in stage space and accessibility resulting from the venue’s recent move to Underground Atlanta. Despite this, the Small Ball managed both to draw a crowd and to make for an awesome night of emo and punk music.
Citizen kicked off their set with the As You Please’s opener and lead single “Jet,” immediately followed with the album’s second cut “In The Middle of It All.” The huge choruses of “Jet” prompted mass sing-alongs, and “In The Middle of It All” had the crowd swaying along to its more laid back sound. Next up was the fan favorite from Youth, “Sleep,” a song that brought out the angsty pop punk kid in everyone. The show revolved mostly around songs from Youth and As You Please; noticeably missing from the setlist were songs from Everybody Is Going to Heaven. Only the album opener (and single) “Cement” and the subdued “Yellow Love” made it into the set. EIGTH was certainly a divisive album, but I didn’t expect it to be nearly left out entirely. Five songs into the set, after the “Cement” and “Control,” the band took a moment to shout out tourmates Sorority Noise and Great Grandpa, who also played the Small Ball that night (Sorority Noise, who had played on the same stage immediately previously, actually drew a larger crowd than Citizen), as well as The Hotelier, who played the Hell stage that night and played shows with Citizen when members were still in high school.
After the shoutouts, the band dove into some more fan favorites off their debut: “The Night I Drove Alone,” always a crowd pleaser, lead to mass finger-pointing and crowd surfing. Frontman Mat Kerekes held the mic out to a crowd surfer so he could finish a verse at one point. “Figure You Out” and “Roam the Room,” two songs from the front half of Youth, followed. It’s worth noting that most songs were played significantly slower than their album versions which, while the band seemed to be seeking a heavier, more intense sound, only worked to sap the energy from already mid-tempo tracks. The intense “Sick and Impatient” followed, after which the band returned an audience member’s lost phone and talked about how impressive Atlanta’s scene was and how cool it was that even with The Masquerade’s recent move they were able to make the Small Ball happen. The band finished out the last third of the set with As You Please highlights “Fever Days” and “World,” before slowing things down a bit with the previously mentioned “Yellow Love” and Youth’s “How Does It Feel,” which both featured Kerekes on piano as well as vocals. The show ended with what could be considered the band’s biggest hit, Youth’s lead single “The Summer.” Always an intense live song, the crowd was jumping and moshing as much as it could in the last few minutes of the night.
Citizen are always an enjoyable live act, and their aggressive mix of pop punk, emo, alt rock, and post hardcore always inspires a lively crowd. The band sounded great, and the simple visuals (a stark black and white backdrop and colored spotlights) let the music speak for itself. The unexpected piano in at the tail end of the set was a pleasant surprise, although I’ve seen more energetic performances from the band – the lowered tempos really took something from the songs. It would have been nice to hear more songs from their sophomore album too, or at least fewer songs from their debut. Youth is a great album, and definitely the fan favorite, but I would have preferred for the band to more fully embrace the more mature sounds found on their last two LPs. All in all it was a fun show, and I would recommend catching Citizen if their touring schedule brings them by you any time soon.