The multi-platinum Chicago mall-punk band Fall Out Boy is like reality TV: frequently denigrated as a mindless distraction representing the nadir of celebrity obsession, crass commercialism and just about everything else that's wrong with Western Culture.
But if you bother to examine the music, there's no denying that the group essentially is goofing on all of the above with incredibly well-crafted, undeniably entertaining and utterly irresistible bursts of poppy punk. Fall Out Boy isn't "The Bachelor" or "Denise Richards: It's Complicated"; more like "Top Chef" or "America's Next Top Model"--the rare excellent exceptions in a justly maligned genre.
Two weeks after the birth of his son with Ashlee Simpson (weighing 7 lbs., 11 oz., Bronx Mowgli Wentz was born on Nov. 20) and two weeks before the release of his band's fifth album, "Folie a Deux," bassist, lyricist and band leader Pete Wentz and his mates came home Tuesday night for a celebratory show at the Chicago Theatre. The $10 tickets sold out instantly, but fans shouldn't despair: It was all filmed to air on cable's Fuse network the day the album is released, Dec. 16.
Despite this obvious promotional push, the show was skimpy on new material and heavy on older hits such as "Thanks fr th Mmrs," "Thriller" and "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race," mirroring the set the band played in the much less intimate setting of England's Wembley Arena last October.
One new standout was the first single, "I Don't Care," a pounding, gleefully snotty teenage chant that had no hint of a more serious political mindset. (That rumor about the new disc no doubt started because the band played a Rock the Vote event at the Democratic National Convention, and the album originally was to have been released on Nov. 4.)
Later on, after it was joined for a bit by some dancers incongruously dressed as teddy bears, the group played a similar new good-time stomper that it never bothered to name; showered the crowd with bear-shaped confetti, then tore through its cover of Michael Jackson's "Beat It."
As always, the guyliner and hoodie-wearing Wentz was the visual focus, while impossibly soulful singer Patrick Stump held the musical spotlight and newly Afro-sporting guitarist Joe Trohman and always shirtless drummer Andy Hurley provided the unflagging forward momentum.
In between, Wentz cracked wise and reminded the fans that he's one of them, joking about text messaging and "Twilight." (His review: "A romance novel with some vampire crap thrown in.")
It was hard to avoid thinking of another group of locals that played the same venue recently, and the contrast was striking: The Smashing Pumpkins acted as if they were still the most successful band in Chicago, if not all of rock. Fall Out Boy actually is, but the musicians acted grateful just to be onstage and having so much fun, and they were the better band for it.