Art by Alexis Howick

I started going to shows pretty late in the game. I didn’t have very much money growing up, and I didn’t have a lot of friends who liked the same music. It wasn’t until two years ago that I saw All Time Low in the flesh, during the Spring Fever tour with Pierce The Veil, Mayday Parade and You Me At Six. It was the outdoor concert season opener and a balmy 47 degrees. I couldn’t feel my feet. My leather jacket wasn’t enough. Most of the other bands had a subpar performance and, eventually, I wanted to go home. But then, the boys from Baltimore took the stage and launched into “Lost In Stereo”—off 2009’s Nothing Personal—and Alex Gaskarth, a hybrid of rock star and playful child, sang, “She works for the weekend/Mixtape of her favorite bands!” I wasn’t going anywhere, and I was coming back to every ATL show.

It was 2013, and a lot had happened since the first time I heard “Jasey Rae” on some dude’s glitchy Myspace page.

Alex and Jack Barakat no longer looked like twin brothers. “Dear Maria, Count Me In” and “Weightless” had graced radios around the world with their presence, later earning Platinum and Gold status, respectively. I had a college degree, I was working at a real job and I almost figured out how to use a curling iron. We had all grown up. But in between the inappropriate jokes in an ATL set, there are songs that carry with them the memories of high school. Every sickening breakup, every awful girl in an Abercrombie shirt who thought she was better than you, every time your parents said you were going through a phase. This first ATL show took me back to a night so many years ago.

“I’ve never told a lie, and that makes me a liar,” I said through a wall of tears during a particularly hormonal 16-year-old night in front of the computer—nothing to do, no one to love. Life had ended. In high school, frankly, all I had was hormones, AIM and Myspace. I was your classic case of someone who didn’t fit in. Sure, I had friends, but “no one understood me.”

On that fateful night, I realized All Time Low got it. They understood. Alex Gaskarth was everything I needed. “Jasey Rae” remained the soundtrack to everyday life, a first favorite soon to be replaced by “Dear Maria, Count Me In,” then “Six Feet Under The Stars” and then “Remembering Sunday.”

As an adult, I’m not analyzing someone’s away message to see if “who could deny these butterflies?” is about me. But I am still going to shows because the image I saw of myself in those lyrics is still alive and well. When I go to the Future Hearts Tour, I’m in the back with the rest of the adults, sitting in the “VIP” area with people who are excited for the bands, but are equally happy to just not be at work.

Now, I watch the kids as much as I watch the bands. I watch the girls with braces and blue hair, inappropriately dressed for the weather and having the time of their lives, while their anxiety-ridden mothers shudder in the corner every time someone says the word “boner.”

The thing is, if you love punk music, no matter where you fall on the pop-to-post-hardcore spectrum, you will always feel different. Certain songs make your heart ache, and it gets worse as you get older, because you just want your youth back and those songs remind you of when festival season was the most important time of your life.

But there’s a certain level of angst that never leaves, and when you’re at a show, it’s still a rush of relief to hear thousands of people scream “There’s a story at the bottom of this bottle and I’m the pen”—half because that song takes on a whole new meaning after a certain age, and half because you think, “Yes, there are people who are still like me. There are people who still get it. I still fit in here.”

In the end, we’re still going to jump up and down when our favorite song starts and Jack is still going to crowd surf on an inflatable slice of pizza. Sometimes I feel old, but most of the time I just feel grateful knowing this won’t die.

Right after me, a class got through high school with “Weightless” and “Therapy” and “Lost In Stereo.” “Time-Bomb” and then “Backseat Serenade” ushered a new wave of emotional hormone bags through puberty after that. Now, a generation is lucky enough to have “Something’s Gotta Give” as their anthem.

Future Hearts has become All Time Low’s highest-selling album, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and No. 1 on the U.K. charts. No wonder. It’s connecting with a new group of kids with new problems, all while giving people like me a dose of the pop-punk magic that we crave, that we need to keep going.

16-year-old me would’ve killed for a song like “Kids In The Dark.” Those lyrics likely aren’t showing up in anyone’s away message, but they’ll help someone somewhere get through something. They always do. alt

Brandy Hadden is a columnist for AltPress. Follow her on Twitter.