More than 15 years after it was recorded, placed on a shelf, and nearly forgotten, Indie Rock/Emo darlings Straylight Run rediscovered their first-ever performance recording, Live at the Patchogue Theatre. Craft Recordings delivered the double vinyl set back in September 2021.
To understand what we’re looking at here, let’s travel back in time to 2003. A nascent scene is building toward the “third wave” of Emo thanks to the popularity of bands such as Dashboard Confessional, Saves the Day, Jimmy Eat World, and their younger classmates, like Long Island’s Taking Back Sunday and Brand New (which sports TBS’ one-time bassist, Jesse Lacey). The former band, who call Nassau County home, has just made their Victory Records’ debut, Tell All Your Friends, single-handedly reinvigorating the scene.
Then, with the album barely a year old, key players John Nolan (guitar, keys, vocals) and Shaun Cooper (bass) opt to exit the fold and start anew. Gossip ensues as the pair form a new musical unit, one that they call Straylight Run. The details of said melodrama are so last summer, so suffice to say that Nolan and Cooper’s new project begins with a bang. What follows, however, is a truly impressive start that presents fans with 2004’s eponymous debut, 2005’s Prepare To Be Wrong EP, and 2007’s The Needles the Space. A pair of EPs would follow in 2008/2009—Un Mas Dos and About Time, respectively—before the group announces an indefinite hiatus in 2010. (Shortly thereafter, Nolan and Cooper rejoin Taking Back Sunday.)
So it was that, in 2005, not far from the inspirational Sunrise Highway, in the Village of Patchogue, fans flocked to a local theater for the performing arts to see their new favorite band. A 1200 cap venue resurrected from the brink of death, it was an apropos location to house a band who had only recently arisen from the ashy Long Island soil amid the wreckage of their past musical lives. The show was a benefit for a friend, but no one could know that it would be their sole professional live recording, one that would resurface nearly 17 years later.
Live at the Patchogue Theatre delivers Straylight Run—Nolan, Cooper, Michelle DaRosa (vocals, guitar, piano), and Will Noon (drums, percussion)—as they were in their glory days: emotional, minimalist, poetic storytellers for what would become the Warped Tour crowd. In this, the live recording’s 16 tracks are a time capsule, a ‘best of ‘that explores everything from the group’s best known material to fan favorite deep cuts.
Given that in 2005 the quartet only had two singles to their name, it is correct to assume that they are included here. To build anticipation, they leave the hits for the very end, forcing us to patiently wait through a lengthy set. But it pays off when they tackle the experimental genius of “Hands in the Sky (Big Shot),” a song that was far ahead of its time in 2005. Having the chance to hear it live all these years later is thrilling, though it would have been even more powerful back then, when its stylistic approach was charting new terrain. Similarly, the coup de grâce, “Existentialism on Prom Night,” which serves as the grand finale, is a powerful song. Its beauty is not lost to time, and the track is still guaranteed to inspire a swaying sing-along among long-time fans.
Of course, this all means that the bulk of the live performance consists of deep cuts that, for many, have been forgotten over time. Ask anyone to name one of Straylight Run’s songs and, more than likely, they will not mention “It’s For the Best,” “Now It’s Done,” or “Later That Year.” In this, Live at the Patchogue Theatre is truly a gift to the die-hards. So it makes sense that they would open to uproarious cheers from the then-crowd, the band taking the stage and immediately launching into “Mistakes We Knew We Were Making.” An odd choice for an opener, its languid pace doesn’t appear to dampen anyone’s spirit, much in thanks to the band’s undeniable passion. But they do pick up the pace afterward, DaRosa taking over lead vocals for “Tool Sheds and Hot Tubs” before the New Yorkers tackle “It’s For the Best” and “The Perfect Ending,” an odd choice to place in the first act of a performance.
Though the integrity of the show is occasionally compromised by a slightly muffled recording, and quality that cannot hold up to current technology, there are definitely highlights worth noting. “Another Word For Desperate,” for example, sees delicate guitar work punctuated by Nolan’s words, culminating in one of the best deliveries in the show. Similarly, DaRosa beautifully guides her bandmates through the fragile wisps of “Now It’s Done,” while the folksy “Dignity and Money” brings an inspired hush to the crowd. We see Nolan let go on “Sympathy For the Martyr” as DaRosa flaunts her piano skills, all after fan favorite “The Tension and The Terror” inspires fans to toss ‘presents’ on stage. And call us biased, but it’s “Your Name Here (Sunrise Highway)” that seems to hit the hardest in the feels when performed on Long Island.
Still, Live at the Patchogue Theatre can feel like a bit of a rollercoaster ride. From soaring highs that crash into languid lulls, the song placement throughout the collection is odd, though likely unpreventable given the infancy of the group at the time. So Straylight Run counters this by keeping their performance raw and unedited, showing the band’s talents and their passion as they lose themselves within their performance. Their careful nuances don’t always translate into the recording, but there’s no doubt that they were there 17 years ago.
That said, the album is not apt to bring new faces to the fold. Instead, the key to enjoyment is its nostalgia factor, one that haunts us with music that brings back the childish rivalries, summer crushes and doomed loves of our youth. So it goes without saying that you should already know Straylight Run fairly well before you spend time traveling back to the early 2000s. If you can remember the first time you flicked a Bic to “Existentialism on Prom Night” or questioned the band’s future upon hearing “Hands in the Sky (Big Shot),” there’s a warmth of memories that floods back with each listen of the live show. In some sense, this is for the fans that have been waiting at the first stoplight for 17 years now. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Straylight Run’s unearthed Live at the Patchogue Theatre 3.5 of 5 stars.