Homecoming season has long since passed for schools, but it's just beginning for local bands.

Two Twin Cities rock groups that spent the better part of 2012 on the road, Motion City Soundtrack and Now, Now rolled into the Varsity Theater Sunday night at the front of a caravan of bands returning home in time for the holidays. Each of these acts had plenty to be thankful for, too -- starting with the sold-out crowd that greeted them.

The going line on Motion City used to be that the Weezer-y pop/punk quintet is more famous abroad than at home. That story is now as dated as the reference to "Will & Grace" in Sunday's pre-encore finale "The Future Freaks Me Out."

Sunday's crowd gave MCS the kind of rabid reception that Bruce Springsteen earned a week earlier (on a smaller scale, of course). Fans sang along religiously to most of the songs. When frontman Justin Pierre asked them to clap their hands, they obeyed with fervor.

Musically, Motion City could be held up as Exhibit A for how heavy touring can benefit a band. On Sunday, the guys masterfully employed the art of stop and go -- no pun intended on the title of their new album, "Go."

Several songs early in the set started out mellow and finished frantically, including "Broken Heart." Later, the tempo slowed for entire songs, including "Happy Anniversary" and "Everyone Will Die," each of which were followed by blistering, breakneck rockers. At show's end, the quintet kept the pedal to the metal -- or to the punk, rather, in the case of "Her Words Destroyed My Planet" and "Disappear."

"Everyone Will Die" hopelessly echoed the melodramatic, tortured-youth sound that gave Motion City the "emo" tag early on, but other new songs showed how well the band has grown up. "Timelines" especially soared with a heartachey hook ("It's not a matter of time / It's just a matter of timing") and a dramatic climax that even the Boss would admire.

A co-ed trio led by two high school pals from Blaine, the babyfaced members of Now, Now still look like they're in high school. But they've graduated in band terms.

The hipster-bookwormy fuzz-popsters arrived home just a week after making their network TV debut on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon." They also racked up opening dates with chart-topping band fun. this summer and spent the past six weeks on tour with MCS and another poppy band on the verge, Jukebox the Ghost (which played a spazzy, bouncy, Ben Folds Five-like set between the two local groups Sunday).

Now, Now appeared a little tired and spent from the road, but that suited the weary, sleepless drama of their best songs, including the electro-humming "Wolf."

Before the frayed finale "Thread," main singer Cacie Dalager told the crowd, "I didn't get homesick till like yesterday." That was just one of many signs the young rockers probably have many more tours ahead.

chrisr@startribune.com • 612-673-4658 • Twitter: @ChrisRstrib