Live Report: The Wonder Years, Hot Mulligan & Carly Cosgrove at the Observatory North Park (March 3, 2023)

It was shortly after 3pm on a Friday. We were stuck in traffic on our way to San Diego for our second round of the Carly Cosgrove, Hot Mulligan, and The Wonder Years tour. My girlfriend and I had this planned as soon as the tour was announced, knowing that the first night in Los Angeles simply wouldn’t be enough. The traffic on this drive grew by the minute, forcing us to skip our nice pizza dinner planned ahead of the show – something about pizza and punk just go together perfectly. Regardless, we were able to check into our hotel and drive the 15 minutes or so to our venue with enough time for some…edible…food at the bar connected to the club.

Our travels were hectic to say the least but nothing was stopping us from getting a front row spot at this show. We were able to enter through the door connecting the bar and the venue and boom – front left we stood awaiting Carly Cosgrove. A note on my brief experience with the San Diego scene; this is a good group of people. I’ve been to a lot of shows and can easily say that the security at The Observatory North Park are some of the nicest staff I’ve met. They gave everyone at the rail a tutorial on how to, frankly, save our faces from crushing crowd-surfers and pointed to all the water they had for us throughout the night. We struck up conversation with a young The Wonder Years fan, sharing various music stories and excitement for bands and art and everything that brings one to a live show. The vibes were good.

Carly Cosgrove took the stage and we stood in anticipation while Lucas tuned up in front of us sporting a fresh Doja Cat tee. A friend of mine in 2019/2020 introduced me to Carly Cosgrove and I was instantly hooked. At that time, they only had five songs available to stream and have since released three singles (one just this past month) and their first full-length See You in Chemistry. This was their very first national tour and San Diego was the farthest they have played from their home in Philadelphia. The enthusiasm, appreciation, and general joy the three members beam from their stage is truly delightful. Opening with See You in Chemistry’s single “Munck,” they get the crowd moving while declaring they “…just want to be your monk rock man.” A thing to love about this band is their charming nerd humor mixed in with incredibly catchy guitar noodling as well as introspective lyricism. Other standouts from their setlist (which was folded into a paper airplane and thrown to us by their drummer) included the energetic “Really Big Shrimp” and “Not My Job” as well as “Gamesphere,” which shouts out the very city it was performed in. Lucas told us a story ahead of “Really Big Shrimp” explaining that the band opened for Aaron West not too long ago, Dan “Soupy” Campbell’s (singer of The Wonder Years) second project. During that run of shows, Lucas must have stumbled on the ending to the song, causing Dan to shout from side-stage to “DO IT AGAIN!” The crowd laughed at this as Lucas explained he won’t mess it up this time and I couldn’t help but smirk at the thought of a seasoned, well-established band like The Wonder Years taking an up-and-coming Philly band under their wing to pass the baton. I just got the sense of a true mentorship happening on this tour. Carly Cosgrove is young, hungry, and eager to learn and I look forward to watching this band grow. With people like Dan Campbell in their corner, I think the future is theirs for the taking.

Up next was Hot Mulligan, a band that I’ve now seen at least eight or nine times since shows started up again after the pandemic. If you aren’t familiar, this band has really blown up over the past two years touring with New Found Glory and Sad Summer Fest while also releasing three EPs following their 2020 full-length you’ll be fine. Hot Mulligan delivers a loud, catchy, emotional, funny (often their stage banter can be an entire cringe-comedy set), and musically tight set – this time around being no different. Stand out songs in San Diego were the heartfelt “I Fell in Love With Princess Peach,” the never-failing banger about social anxiety “How Do You Know It’s Not Armadillo Shells?” and the dance-inducing hit “BCKYRD.” On Dan Campbell’s specific request, song nine of Hot Mulligan’s set features just singer Tades Sanville on an acoustic performing the emotional song about grieving “Heem Wasn’t There.” All around, what I’ve learned when seeing Hot Mulligan this many times is that they are incredibly consistent and you will know exactly what you’re getting each time. However, this does lead me to my only criticism of the show. 

From my experience, the Hot Mulligan fanbase is young, VERY passionate, and often very rowdy and inconsiderate. Rowdiness is obviously expected at punk shows but there is a clear line separating a good time and general recklessness at the expense of others. The fan behavior in this case is no fault of the band and this isn’t meant to be some cultural critique on how to act at a show. But it is objectively jarring to tune into thoughtful lyrics on anxiety, depression, vulnerability, and grief (all topics found in Hot Mulligan and The Wonder Years songs) while simultaneously having to break up fights or watch out as people launch each other into the air from the second row. I will say, although this show did give me some bruises and I’m pretty sure a dislocated shoulder at one point, San Diego drew a much better crowd than Los Angeles. That first night in LA hosted some downright offensive people in the crowd that caused a major distraction from the show itself; the very reason I chose to highlight San Diego. It pains me to say it but as far as this scene has come to be inclusive, safe, and welcoming, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in the younger punk scene.

The dust settled, arm stretches indicated I would, in fact, be feeling it on Saturday, and hydration ensued. As the lights dimmed, the crowd roared and The Wonder Years took the stage. It is my opinion that The Hum Goes On Forever, a record about finding hope and caring for loved ones despite struggles with depression, was the best album of 2022. As Dan sang out the opening lyrics, “I don’t want to die, at least not without you…” it would be hard to argue against my opinion. You could feel collective chills from the audience as “Doors I Painted Shut” built up to the ringing closing lyrics and then a brief pause into his upbeat gift for his son “Wyatt’s Song (Your Name).” As with any The Wonder Years show, Dan paused after the second track to introduce the band. “We are The Wonder Years and when we jump…you JUMP!” As Lucas explained at the beginning of the night, when Dan “Soupy” Campbell tells you to do something…you do it. The crowd did indeed jump through favorites such as “Dismantling Summer” and “Local Man Ruins Everything” as we headed into what I would take away as the theme of this tour: songs about death. Not just death, but grieving and life and addiction and struggle. Dan talked a lot about these things all night, both in the songs themselves and in between during his banter. I think the band’s deep thinking really shined through this time around during a personal favorite, “Cigarettes & Saints.” It’s an ongoing joke for people in my life that I tend to cry at everything but I dare anyone to stand through a live performance of this song and NOT tear up.

Dan Campbell and the rest of The Wonder Years are true professionals that remind you of the real meaning of music and live shows and the general idea of gathering for something bigger than oneself. Ahead of “Laura & the Beehive,” Dan asked the crowd to do two things: turn on your phone lights and call your grandmother tomorrow if you have the privilege to do so. The lights flickered throughout the venue as he sang a song about youth, his grandmother, and the desire to show appreciation for people in your life despite not feeling too great yourself.

The Wonder Years show is never complete without the Philadelphia Punk Rock Anthem “Came Out Swinging” and as the band wrapped the only encore song they need, I was left overhearing something a stranger said behind me. “They are just on an entirely different level.” And he’s right. The Wonder Years are a gem – fast and heavy music that somehow remains so unbelievably human. This tour is now heading back east and is due to wrap March 26 in Wilmington, DE and it is my official recommendation to go catch it while you can. 

Hear The Wonder Years The Hum Goes On Forever here:

Hear Hot Mulligan‘s latest single here:

Hear Carly Cosgrove‘s latest single here:


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