I first heard about Remo Drive, the young Minnesota-based indie rock/emo band, through maybe the most unlikely and unexpected way: at a Mitski show in Copenhagen, per recommendation from a Danish fan I had met at the concert.
“You should definitely listen to Remo Drive,” he said. “I’m in this really emo kick right now and they’re great.” I made a hasty note on my phone, but it wasn’t until days later when I saw their name pop up on a music forum that reminded me to check out their full length debut, Greatest Hits (2017). By the time closing song “Name Brand” dissipated its chattering end, I hit replay and made myself a promise that I would see them live back in the States.
I’m happy to report that four months later, my vow was more than fulfilled at the Cornerstone last Tuesday night, which coincidentally, turned out to be Remo Drive’s very first Californian show. In fact, this is the indie outfit’s first west coast tour following a breakthrough earlier this year, thanks in part to internet buzz and a certain melon-head music reviewer, but mostly because of their biting lyrics and cathartic punky shreds. Remo Drive’s tongue-in-cheek, smalltown angst by way of Converse-clad jump kicks could have soothed any soul hardened by the Berkeley midterm season, or in the case of the smattering of younger fans in attendance, high school woes.
Case in point: during more kinetic numbers like “Art School,” and personal favorite “I’m My Own Doctor,” the majority of the crowd worked themselves into a frenzy, flailing their limbs around and jumping along to drummer Sam Mathy’s barraging beats. Erik Paulson’s boyish voice was as vulnerable, aching, and powerful as it sounds on the album, his quivery falsettos and impassioned howls recalling Remo’s midwest emo predecessors in the best way.
A well-paced setlist can be a pitfall for bands, but given the kind of roller coaster structure characterizing much of Remo Drive’s catalog and their feverous dexterity on stage, they easily bypassed this problem. Each song almost felt like a condensed concert in itself: you get the catchy Weezer-y riffs, a somber vocal solo, a slowed-down jam session, and sludgy guitar wanderings all rolled into one number. Then the band slingshots into another angry pop-punk line, and you’re out of breath but are happy to get on that ride again.
Remo Drive’s self-aware, wisecracking approach can’t help but permeate through whatever they touch, whether it’s using humor as a coping mechanism in their lyrics, naming their debut “Greatest Hits,” or tricking fans into listening to Merzbow on Twitter. And as it turns out, their live show too was injected with the schtick. The trio prefaced a cover of the Killers’ “When You Were Young” by calling it “a song from Guitar Hero III,” and lovingly dedicated “I’m My Own Doctor” to the cast of Scrubs later on.
At the end of the night, in what seemed like another quip, Erik matter-of-factly said, “So I says to the guy…” before immediately erupting into “Yer Killin’ Me’s” opening words: “I DON’T WANNA FUCKIN BE HERE ANYMORE!”
Up until this point, I was hanging on the perimeter of the pit, but once Remo Drive tore into this undeniably fun, urgent, kamikaze-slanting banger, I had to dash in. As Erik wailed, “You make me want to start smoking/Cigarettes so I die slowly,” I rammed into a woman who I’d met before the show, and told me that she’d driven 3.5 hours after work to see this show.
Perhaps this is a testament to the kind of spirit Remo Drive exhales. It has the power to chip away at college senior or post-grad disillusionment through songs about teenage isolation and confusion, songs that could very well be anthems for freshman year when everything was new and thrilling and anxiety-inducing all at once. Songs that summon engrams of your younger self, but in this confrontation you never feel embarrassed or belittled. Instead, with Remo Drive’s help, you see how far you’ve come.
Written by Adrienne Lee
Photos by Arnav Chaturvedi