Sum 41 Shows Transformation in San Francisco
Article & Photos by Nick Gumas
One of the defining moments in the relationship I have with music happened many years ago when I saw Sum 41 perform live for the first time. Years later, I can still tell you with absolute certainty which songs they opened with, closed with, and most of the ones in between. I remember the anticipation of looking up at a red tinted stage and waiting for the show to start. I can even still have a conversation about the bands that opened that night and what I liked about them. Music has a unique way of staying with you in ways like this. Now, years later, as Sum 41 returned to San Francisco on their “Don’t Call it a Sum-Back” tour, I was overcome with nostalgic excitement at the similarities between when I saw them then and now, but at the same time, couldn’t ignore the transformations they had made in the years in between the shows.
One of the great powers of music is that it has the ability to take you back to a different place in time. In many ways, Sum 41 put on a show that was too similar to their last time I saw them to ignore. Both shows were played at the Regency Ballroom. Both shows opened with “The Hell Song” and closed with “Fat Lip.” In both shows, band invited audience members up on stage to spend the show two feet from the action. Little consistencies like this only show that bands like Sum 41 age well. When staples of their act like this stay so fresh over that long of a period of time, it really is a testament to how they have stayed genuine. Although so much was the same, there was still so much that was different this time around. It felt more mature. It felt more choreographed, but not to the point where it took away from the spontaneity that comes with a live show. This show felt like more work had gone into presenting it than anyone in the audience would imagine. If nothing else, the “Don’t Call it a Sum-Back” tour highlighted the transformation of the band as a whole, as well as the transformation of the individuals over the years. Over long periods of time, people evolve. Nobody is the same now as they were 10 years ago, and in music, changes come fast.
In 2006, guitarist Dave Baksh left Sum 41 to pursue other musical interests. His decision was motivated by his desire to focus less on Punk, more on metal, and to get back to the roots of why he originally wanted to break into music. After leaving Sum 41, Baksh was able to expand his horizons, grow and develop as a musician, and return as a more well-rounded guitarist. The band paid homage to Baksh’s metamorphosis toward the end of the set as they performed a rendition of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets,” after Baksh gave a speech crediting the Bay Area band as one of his initial inspirations to learn guitar.
Ultimately, the main focus of the night was around the new album “13 Voices”, and its message surrounding lead singer Deryck Whibley and the process of his recovery after his heavily publicized Liver and Kidney failure in 2014. The album tells the story of his journey from hospitalization to sobriety, and the difficulties he overcame to return to normalcy. The lyrics in his music give deep insight and perspective to Whibley’s experiences, and leave no ambiguity as to how painful the process was on him and his family. Before launching into the song “Goddamn I’m Dead again,” Whibley stopped to talk about the song’s lyric “The Old King is Dead” and how that mentality grounded him throughout his recovery.
“Scars don’t fade, they never go away” are words Deryck Whibley used to describe his recovery process in his song “Breaking the Chain,” serving as a reminder that no matter how much better situations get, we are always left with pieces of ourselves that live in that dark and shaken place of our minds, but by the same sanctity, what makes us great will always be a part us. Transformation is almost entirely certain, but growth is where one has control over their fate. Growing is a process, and it takes the will to take a terrible situation and find a way to make it positive, and in the case of Deryck Whibley, turning a rock bottom moment into one of the top albums of 2016 is nothing short of inspirational.
Congratulations to Deryck Whibley on recently passing two years of sobriety, and congratulations to Sum 41 for your recent success, and continuing to be an inspiration to myself, and countless people across the world. Your contributions to music are indescribable and unforgettable.