When asked where to find hope in bleak landscapes during a recent interview with Stereogum, David Bello advocated an ethos of community, an ideology shared by his band The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die and the greater DIY scene they sprang from. Bello credited music as his source of solace and pointed to the importance of collaborative art-making in seemingly hopeless times. TWIABP don’t just espouse those values, they embody them. Their emphasis on camaraderie is supported by a hefty roster of bandmates and a reciprocated dedication to their fanbase, a foundation of community and collaboration that was on full display during their performance Saturday at Brooklyn’s recently-reopened DIY venue Market Hotel.
Doors opened at 8PM and the music was set to start at 9, so I didn’t expect a room full of people to beat my 8:30 arrival. I often encounter homogeneous audiences ranging from internet-borne “Sad Girl” tote-wielding youngsters to indie-stereotype-affirming white male crowds, I was pleasantly surprised by the diverse assembly that populated the all-ages venue. No specific demographic, age, or aesthetic dominated the pack. Grand “I haven’t seen you in so long” hugs were commonplace. TWIABP’s discography-long plea for togetherness had been answered. The audience’s neighborliness was echoed by the two openers, Rozwell Kid and Animal Flag, who spoke glowingly about each other and TWIABP and even gave a shout-out to their photographer whose prints they were selling at the merch table.
When TWIABP took the stage, it seemed small relative to the band’s six touring members and accompanying three-piece brass band. Without introduction, they launched into “January 10th, 2014″ from their celebrated 2015 record, Harmlessness, followed by “I’ll Make Everything” off their newest album, Always Foreign. The seamlessness with which the opening number, a tribute to a feminist vigilante, bled into the hesitantly hopeful “I’ll Make Everything” set a tone that demonstrated the band’s updated context and enduring values: Shining light on a darkening sociopolitical landscape and bolstering a sense of community to counteract it.
TWIABP’s usual joie de vivre is at its lowest on Always Foreign. After two records of almost exhaustingly uplifting idealism, their spirit is toned down in the face of harsh reality, but a base-level tenacity remains. Atmospheric instrumentation has been tightened on the new album, as if there’s no space for it anymore. Bello reflects on xenophobia through the eyes of his father on “Marine Tigers” and transitions into a defiant call to arms, repeating, “We’re here, I told you so.” He curses a broken bond on “Hilltopper” and grapples with capitalism on “Faker.” While not all of these songs offer pithy taglines to grab onto and shout along with, they’re impactful in attempting to make sense of the systems we all exist under.
Each member seemed to engage with the music differently Saturday; guitarist Tyler Bussey closed his eyes and sang along, Chris Teti let his head hang and thrash when appropriate. The variance in expression rang true with their hodgepodge lineup and collaborative, strength-in-differences approach to art. Beyond diary-like outcries, Bello was a man of few words. But when he did speak, he graciously thanked the other bands and their tour manager (who also plays in the opening band, Animal Flag).
I remember hearing a quote from Toni Morrison, “All good art is political.” This stuck with me for years and feels especially relevant today. TWIABP is a band that has always felt political to me, even when they weren’t being explicitly political. Their impassioned personal accounts focusing on self-care and building positive relationships position their work in direct opposition with the mournful, woe-is-me sensibility typically associated with emo music. Their rallying cries offer cathartic comfort and validation for anyone who’s been made to feel like their problems are small or insignificant. They zeroed in on the politics of being — the complexities and emotional labor — and built a support community around it.
“Getting Sodas” closed the set on an energizing note. The song comes from their similarly-toned 2013 debut, Wherever, If Ever, and serves as a sort of thesis for TWIABP. “And when our voices fail us, we will find new ways to sing/ The world is a beautiful place, but we have to make it that way/ Whenever you find home, we’ll make it more than just a shelter/ And if everyone belongs there, it will hold us all together/ If you’re afraid to die, then so am I.” This unrelenting grit and support for your fellow human is the core of TWIABP. Every person on stage and in the audience sang along, celebrating the differences that mark our fundamental sameness.