It should be no surprise that the word “connection” comes up a lot when talking about The Wonder Years‘ sixth album, Sister Cities.
For one thing, it’s the primary theme that singer and lyricist Dan Campbell wanted to explore this time around — the idea of coming together, while also being further apart than ever before, both geographically and philosophically. The idea of finding common ground between humans divided by cities and continents, by the distance between Kyoto, Japan and Santiago, Chile and Cheyenne, Wyoming and their hometown of Philadelphia. There are Wonder Years fans in all of those places, and by superficial traits, they could not be any more different, but get them in front of a stage and they’ll be equally passionate about screaming along to “Dismantling Summer” or “Coffee Eyes” or “Came Out Swinging” or “Logan Circle.”
That’s the other reason why connection is an enduring theme of The Wonder Years. There’s a distinct feeling, being in the crowd at one of their gigs, an electricity in the air as the lights dim low and the bandmates step to the stage — Mike Kennedy on drums, Josh Martin on bass, Casey Cavaliere on lead guitar, multi-instrumentalist Nick Steinborn, rhythm guitarist Matt Brasch, and Campbell taking the lead vocal mic. The endorphin rush is palpable, the physical rush is sometimes treacherous as the audience surges forward to create as little distance as possible between them and the band. They want to lock eyes and grip hands, they want to share the moment with one another and with the band. To say The Wonder Years have a connection with their fans is an understatement.
And there’s also their connection with one another. Of the band’s six members, five have been in the lineup since first getting together in 2005 in the suburbs of Lansdale; Steinborn is the closest thing to a “new kid,” and he’s been on board since 2009. The band toured its last record, 2015’s No Closer to Heaven, for a solid two years of international dates. Those travels inspired much of the music on the new record, but when they concluded, the band fanned out to their separate lives. These fixtures of the punk community are no longer banging on in a South Philly basement every night; they’ve moved to different places in the greater Philadelphia orbit, many have wives or long-term partners, and the time they get together as a band is increasingly rare and precious. But when it happens, that connection is such a strong one that there’s no warm-up period — they go all in from the start.