Jack’s Mannequin Celebrates The End With Final Benefit Shows

November 15, 2012 1 comment

Image

Jack’s Mannequin, Matt Thiessen – November 11th, 2012, El Ray Theater, Las Angeles 

Farewell shows are tricky. When is the last time you heard someone say “I can’t wait to see my favorite band breakup and play their last show”? Unless Weezer was involved, the answer is probably “never”.  Unfortunately, breakups happen, and once the shock of the split has passed, the rush to grab tickets to the farewell performance begins.

The news that Jack’s Mannequin was calling it a career after seven very successful years did not come as a surprise to those who followed the band. Lead singer/mastermind Andrew McMahon had hinted that the band would be disbanded in numerous interviews prior to the announcement, and even the most die-hard fans had to admit that the Jack’s Mannequin moniker had had a pretty good run.

Starting as a Something Corporate side project in 2005, the group’s debut album Everything In Transit had struck pop-rock gold, helping to swell McMahon’s already sizable fan base and generating radio and TV success with lead single “The Mixed Tape.” This success came despite the fact that McMahon was busy battling leukemia when the album was released.

After winning the battle and hitting the road to promote the album, the band’s success would continue through the release of 2008’s The Glass Passenger and 2011’s People And Things. 

Speculation as to why the band was calling it quits didn’t revolve around the typical factors. For one, it has always been understood that McMahon is the man in change and controls the artistic direction of the band. It is therefore unlikely internal strife played much of a role. While the group’s meteoric rise had slowed a bit of late, People And Things had been well received by fans, and the ensuing tours had sold out large clubs around the country.

According to McMahon’s rather cryptic breakup message, it seemed that he was simply tired of writing songs as Jack’s Mannequin, and instead wanted the freedom that a solo career would bring. He had gone on record as saying that he would continue to play JM songs at live performances, so the farewell shows the band scheduled for November 11th and 12th in Los Angeles weren’t exactly the last time we would hear from McMahon.

In addition to being the band’s last two performances, these shows would serve as a benefit for the Dear Jack Foundation, which McMahon had created in 2006 to help fight the effects of young adult cancer. The two nights would end up raising a very impressive $50,000 for the charity.

I was lucky enough to score tickets to what was originally scheduled to be the final JM show on 11/11. The second show was added after ticket sales for the first night crashed servers and caused an uproar among fans who hoped to catch one last glimpse of the band.

Our tickets allowed us the chance to see the band’s sound check before the show, which was a 45 minute affair where the band played a number of complete songs and parts of others. McMahon joked with the crowd during the session and then signed autographs afterwards. It was a great way to give fans more access the band while raising money for the foundation. Tracks included “The Mixed Tape,” “Spinning”, “Annie Use Your Telescope” “Amy I”, “Bloodshot” and pieces of “Restless Dream”, “Hammers And Strings,” And “MFEO”.

Image

Once the entire crowd made their way inside the 700-person capacity El Ray Theater, the night began with a set from Matt Thiessen. The Reliant K front man was the only opener, and he said he was “honored” to be joining JM for their final performances.

Thiessen started off on the piano with a handful of Reliant K tracks that many in the crowd seemed familiar with, including “Be My Escape” And “Sadie Hawkins.” He then moved from the piano to an acoustic guitar to perform a number of solo tracks he had recently written, including the country-inspired “Pot of Gold”, which earned quite a reaction from the audience. To close his set, Thiessen was joined on stage by Jack’s Mannequin guitarist Bobby Anderson for a cover of Toto’s “Africa.” Anderson expertly hit the high notes during the song’s instantly recognizable chorus, and the pair received a big ovation as they left the stage.

Image

Between sets, Dear Jack Foundation Executive Director Steve Smith appeared to thank the fans for their support and to give an update on the charity. He introduced Erik Cwiertney, representing the Matt Cwiertney Memorial Foundation, a charity that provides cancer patients iPods with pre-loaded playlists that include artists such as McMahon, Dave Hause, Matt Costa, and many others. Cwiertney explained the “Matt’s Mixed Tape” iPod program and thanked the Dear Jack foundation for their support of the endeavor.

Shortly afterwards, the red curtain that had blocked the stage was drawn, revealing Jack’s Mannequin, already at their posts and ready to start the show with “Holiday From Real.” Beginning with the opening track from their debut album, this was the perfect way to start the night. The band would stick with upbeat, early album tracks until the show’s fifth song, “Annie Use Your Telescope” slowed things down a bit.

Image

Thiessen made his way back on stage for “Amy I,” which McMahon explained the two had written together during their time together at Thiessen’s Nashville home. Thiessen was not the set’s only special guest, as the band was also joined by original bassist Jonathan Sullivan, aka “Dr. J.” for a number of songs, including the bass heavy crowd favorite “Bloodshot.”

While there were few surprises in the setlist, the band displayed more energy than I had ever seen them bring to a show, and the addition of Thiessen’s second guitar on a number of songs only added to the atmosphere. The crowd returned the group’s energy, singing along and cheering loudly at the conclusion of every song.

“Hammers And Strings” and “Dark Blue” would serve as the final two songs of the set. While both tracks have been live staples for years, these farewell performances seemed to breathe new life into both. After the band left the stage, the crowd begged for more, and McMahon and company were happy to oblige.

Before playing the first song of the encore, McMahon addressed what he called the “elephant in the room”. He apologized for the fact that this was not the final JM show, as originally promised, and he justified it by saying the second night had raised an additional $25,000. McMahon then said he had a special treat or “giant bear hug” for the crowd, and while he admitted it might seem blasphemous, he quietly kicked into marathon Something Corporate hit “Konstantine.” The crowd roared its approval, their initial gripes now forgotten. McMahons promised the band absolutely would not play the song the next night.

ImageAt the conclusion of the nine and half minute epic, the band would then play an epic of their own, the eight minute “MFEO/You Can Breathe Now”. This snapped the crowd out of their Konstantine trance, and the momentum carried into the final song of the night, “La La Lie”.

As the band made their way off stage, there wasn’t the sense of finality that you would expect from this type of show. Of course, this was due to the fact that the band would have one more at bat the next night, but it can also be attributed to the fact that everyone knows McMahon’s musical career is far from over. This hadn’t stopped many in attendance from going very far out of their way to be in attendance, as McMahon noted that he had talked to more fans from the East Coast than from the West Coast.

This is evidence of the type of connection Jack’s Mannequin had built with their fans in just seven years. While it’s a shame that that legacy will disappear along with the name, this series of benefit shows seemed like the perfect way to celebrate that legacy and close this chapter of McMahon’s career.

If you’re interested in donating to the Dear Jack Foundation and increasing that $50,000 total, visit http://www.dearjackfoundation.com/donate/

Jack's Mannequin Setlist El Rey Theatre, Hollywood, CA, USA 2012

Tigers Jaw And Transit Play Late Night Encore Set In Allston

October 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Tigers Jaw
Transit (Acoustic)
What We Talk About, Allston MA
October 12th, 2012 

Have you ever been to a basement show? I for one have not, but I
can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard someone say they saw a
successful band in someone’s basement before they got big. Whether
these claims are true or not is hard to say, but it’s easy to
understand why these basements shows are often recounted as borderline
religious experiences.

A set played without barriers, security, rules, or even a stage
pretty much removes everything that is bad about live music –
everything that puts the performers both literally and figuratively
above everyone else in the room.  A basement show is all about the
music and the energy it creates, and everything else gets left at
door.

On Friday I got a chance to experience what is about as close as I’m

probably going to get to a basement show. Scranton, PA’s Tigers Jaw had

just played a sold-out show at the Democracy Center in Cambridge
earlier in the night. Apparently, a number of fans had gotten shut out
of the show, and instead of being left out in the cold until the band
made it back to Mass, they told those who had been turned away to
check their Facebook page for details on a second set later that
night.

Sure enough, the band posted plans for a set in Allston, but they only
sent the address to those who posted in a certain thread. With a
little bit of research, I was able to find out the show would be held
at a venue known as “What We Talk About”, which is about a ten minute
walk from my apartment. By this point is was around midnight, but, why
not?

Tigers Jaw

We headed over to the venue, and while the space isn’t technically a
basement, the lack of windows and exposed piping could have fooled
anyone into thinking it was. Tigers Jaw took their spot on the floor
as maybe 40-50 people gathered just a few feet from their mic stands.
I had never actually listened to the band before, and maybe a basement
show isn’t the best introduction considering the sound quality, but I
thought they sounded very good throughout most of the set. The crowd
at the front was very enthusiastic, even if many of them were hearing
these songs for the second time of the night.

Next up was an acoustic set from Stoneham, MA’s Transit featuring lead
singer Joe Boynton and guitarist Tim Landers. According to Boyton, the
band was back home after a recent tour and were looking to play as
many shows as possible. They had jumped on this show last minute after
(apparently) attending the first Tigers Jaw set.

While the crowd had thinned, about 25 people stayed to hear the duo
play about 5-6 songs, all of them from their most recent release
Listen And Forgive, save for “Outbound” from the Stay Home EP. To say
the set was laid back would be an understatement, as Boyton joked
with those at the front, including one fan who accused him of
stealing his hoodie, which Boyton said he had bought at Target for
$20. Clothing jokes aside, the Listen and Forgive tracks continue to
shine in a live setting.
By the time Transit wrapped up their set, it was after 2AM – meaning
both bands had traveled across town to work some serious overtime in
order to make their diehard fans happy. It’s the type of dedication
and sincerity you don’t see from many bands today. It’s also why it’s
easy to imagine everyone in attendance recounting the story of how
they saw Tigers Jaw and Transit in a basement before they got big a
few years down the road. I know I will be.

“You Should Have Ran While You Had The Chance” – Morrissey Opens North American Tour In Boston

October 9, 2012 Leave a comment

Image

Morrissey – Wang Theater, Boston – October 5th, 2012

Morrissey has long been one of music’s most polarizing figures. To some,
he is a living legend and pop-culture icon. To others,
he is a self-absorbed ego maniac. Love him or loathe him,
you have to admit that part of Morrissey’s appeal lies in the fact that he is a
walking contradiction: a wildly successful rock star who sings
about misery and loneliness. That
contradiction is what brought thousands of adoring fans to Boston’s
striking Wang Theater to see the first date of Morrissey’s massive
North American tour. The trek will see him visit just about every major
and minor market across the country, culminating with a stop at the
Staples Center in Los Angeles.

While I’m not very well versed in the specifics of Morrissey’s set list
choices over the years, I do know that the former
Smiths frontman often sprinkles in a few choice cuts from his former
band. I also knew that he tends to stray away from the more
radio-friendly fare that helped make him a household name as a solo
artist in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

Beyond these unwritten rules, the possibilities seemed endless on the
first night of the tour. As Morrissey stepped out on to the stage
with his band following close behind, the crowd erupted. The cheers
got louder and louder as Morrissey calmly stepped to the front of the
stage to take a pre-show bow, and then kicked off the set with “You
Have Killed Me”.

From the very start, it was obvious that Morrissey had come to put on
a show, looking and sounding well rested and ready to tackle North
America for the first time in three years. He added a certain amount
of grit to his normally polished songs, often growling certain words
or lines for extra emphasis. His band was happy to play along, sounding
louder and heavier than on any recordings.

While the set was expertly performed, it would best be described as
“uneven” in terms of song selection and pacing. More upbeat fare
(maybe upbeat isn’t the word) such as “Every Day Is Like A Sunday” and
“I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris” garnered huge reactions from the
crowd and were some of the best moments of the set. However, most of
these songs came at the start of the night.

The show lost a good deal of momentum in the middle of the 90 minute set, as the
band strung together the quartet of “Last Night I Dreamt That Someone
Loved Me”, “Fantastic Bird”, “People Are The Same Everywhere”, ” And
“Meat Is Murder”. The latter featured a graphic animal cruelty video projected on the backdrop.
At that point, the crowd was getting anxious.
Morrissey and crew then segued into “Scandanavia,” which was one of four
songs that the band played that hadn’t been include on any other 2012 set list.

Following this, Morrissey broke out the Smith’s classic “I Know It’s
Over”, which sounded absolutely perfect and helped to revitalize the
crowd. The set would then close with “I’m OK By Myself”, the last
track from his most recent album, 2009’s excellent “Years of Refusal”.
By this point, many of those who had front row seats were rushing the
stage, and while the crew did their best to repel them, a few
did slip by to score an awkward embrace with the man himself.

After a short break, Morrissey and the band returned to the stage for
a one song encore, the Smiths track “How Soon Is Now”. Stretching nearly seven minutes long, the song gave the overly eager fans at the front another chance to bum-rush the stage, and they certainly took advantage of it.
At the conclusion of the song, Morrissey and the band joined arms and
took a post-show bow.

While the set certainly was not the feel good event of the year, most
fans got exactly what they were looking for out of this performance.
Both Morrissey’s vocals and his band were spot-on, and his stage
presence is unmatched. While this was far from a greatest hits set, it did represent a good
cross section of Morrissey’s career. While this appealed to the many
die-hard fans in attendance, the show probably wouldn’t win
over anyone who had been on the fence, but most of those people probably
made up their minds on Morrissey years ago.

Refused Ends 20 Year Boston Wait, Makes Every Other Band Look Bad

July 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Image

Refused and Off! – House of Blues Boston – Friday July 21st, 2012

“The greatest band in the world right now.” “Unreal” “Best live show ever.”

The hyperbolic statements were everywhere, and I could only hope they were true. Refused hadn’t been a band in a very long time. After releasing what is arguably the greatest and most influential hardcore record of all time in 1998’s The Shape of Punk to Come, the band abruptly split up. They became the rare example of a band that would grow to be exponentially more popular once they were gone, and they hadn’t been heard from since.

When news leaked that the band would be reuniting for this year’s Cochella Festival, even long-time fans and those in the know seemed somewhat shocked, as band members had gone on the record as saying there was no chance they would ever share the same stage again.

Fast forward about six months, and their comeback has been tremendously well received. What was originally planned to be a one-off gig became a few shows in New York (which sold out almost instantly), and then a full blown world tour, including stops in major North American cities and large festivals throughout Europe.

Boston happened to be one of those North American cities, and the band was ready to play what was apparently their first (and most likely last) area show.

They were preceded by Off!, a band with an impressive legacy of its own. Frontman Keith Morris had at one point fronted Black Flag, while the other members of band cut their teeth in acts such as Burning Brides, Redd Kross, and Rocket From The Crypt. While they were on stage for less than 45 minutes, they had time to play about 15 songs. Morris did his best to psych up the crowd in between songs and get them ready for “The Refused”.

While the Off! was entertaining and Morris’s banter made him seem like a pretty likeable guy, it was obvious that most in the crowd hadn’t dove into Off!’s catalog in preparation for the show.

Image

While Morris promised the headliners would be out in 15-20 minutes, standard House of Blues protocol applied, and the wait was actually 30. This was punctured by the lights going down fifteen minutes prior to the headliners taking the stage behind a giant black screen. During those fifteen minutes, a noticeable buzz was piped over the PA, and as the house lights slowly scanned downward  the band could be seen through the transparent spots in the screen.

As they played the opening notes to “Worms Of The Senses/Faculties Of The Skull”, the screen fell and the crowd charged forward. As the seven minute epic ebbed and flowed, so did the energy of the crowd, building to a furry towards the end of the song as those at the front of the stage screamed “Let’s Take The First Bus Out Of Here” over and over again.

What followed were two of the night’s most intense numbers: the frantic “Refused Party Program” and the schizophrenic “Liberation Frequency.” It was here that frontman Dennis Lyxzén took control of the show, proving himself to be one of the most talented and charismatic lead singers I’ve ever seen.

While countless bands have attempted the sing/scream dynamic over the past decade, none have pulled it off with the surgical precision that Lyzen displayed, deftly moving between the band’s restrained verses and thundering chorus.

Lyxen’s vocal work was not the only impressive aspect of his performance. He moved around the stage with the energy, and in this case the furry, of a man half his age (he is 40). At one point he could be seen launching the mic into the air, only to leap from the drum riser to catch it on the way down. This was only slightly less impressive than his trip into the crowd, where he sang much of a song as he was held aloft by the fans below.

While most of the set was focused on the band’s magnus opus, they did play four tracks from Songs To Fan The Flames of Discontent, including the crushing “Hook, Line And Sinker.” These four songs were just as well received by the crowd as were the better known tracks from The Shape of Punk To Come.

The band would close their set after 12 songs with “The Shape Of Punk To Come” and make their way off stage. Those towards the first front of the venue found themselves covered in sweat, thoroughly exhausted, and most importantly, 100% ready to expand whatever energy they had left on the band’s two song encore.

Returning to the stage after a longer-than average wait, Refused started with the long intro to “New Noise”, which garnered a roar from the crowd as they readied for complete chaos. By the time the band hit the first chorus, the amount of adrenaline in the room could have matched an Olympic weight lifting session.

The show would then come to a climatic ending with another epic number, the 8-minute long Tannhäuser / Derivè. With its multiple peaks and valleys and changes in pace, the song perfectly represents Refused’s work as a whole and ended the set on a high note.

The band came together at the front of the stage to take a bow and soak in the crowd’s enthusiasm. Throughout the show, Lyxzén had discussed the band’s very political lyrics and how they still seemed as relevant today as they did back in 1997. The Shape Of Punk To Come was years ahead of its time, and to this day, no band has been able to match it.

It’s very rare that a group playing this type of music is mentioned in the “best band’s in the world right now” discussion, but with their stunning live show, Refused have staked their claim to a spot at the top of that list. It is even more impressive when you consider how long the band was away, and how short-lived the reunion is likely to be. The band has added another chapter in what was already a very impressive story, and with their live show, they’ve once again set the bar so high it’s hard to imagine it being matched anytime soon.

Refused Setlist House of Blues, Boston, MA, USA 2012

Categories: Show reviews Tags: , , , , ,

Foo Fighters, Motion City Soundtrack Shine As Bamboozle Returns To The Beach

June 19, 2012 Leave a comment

2012 brought big changes to New Jersey’s Bamboozle Festival, as organizers decided to go “back to the beach” by moving the three day event from the Meadowlands parking lots to Asbury Park, where it was originally conceived as Skate and Surf Festival in 2003. While Bamboozle isn’t considered to be a top tier festival like Cochella or Lollapollza, the event has grown its audience and stature in recent years by diversifying their lineup and straying from the original alternative and punk scene.

For this year’s festival,  organizers secured two of the most successful commercial rock bands of the past two decades, in the Foo Fighters and Bon Jovi, as well as up and coming electronic act Shrillexs.

I attended the event on Saturday, which featured the most traditional Bamboozle lineup, and was  headlined by Dave Grohl and Co. There was quite a bit of uncertainty going into the festival, especially regarding the logistical issues that had originally forced the move north to the Meadlowlands.

A seaside setting could help raise the profile of the festival and provide it with a signature element, but Asbury Park simply wasn’t build to accommodate tens of thousands of visitors on any given day. Many saw the festival as a nightmare waiting to happen, but as it would turn out, music took center stage and all of those major concerns became an afterthought.

As organizers had encouraged, we arrived at the festival just after doors opened by taking the train. The last time I had been to Asbury Park was for a Bouncing Souls show in December. At that point the crumbling beach town had been more of a ghost town. With perfect temperate and bright sunlight, the streets were filled with thousands of fans making their way to the main gates, that were just off the North Beach boardwalk.

The first band of interest was Motion City Soundtrack, who were inexplicably playing their first of two sets on the day. If they were conserving their energy for later, it certainly didn’t show. The group’s forty minute set was a mix of material from their four albums and also featured a new song titled “True Romance ” from their newly released album Go. The crowd loved every minute of the set, and it was likely that most would be back for round two later that night.

After this, we made our way over to the main stage, passing a number of vendors and clothing companies along the way. Everything seemed to be standard fare until we actually caught site of the stage. Simply put, it was enormous.

The stage was set up to straddle the famous boardwalk, meaning thousands of fans could take a seat on the beach to watch while thousands of others crowded the boardwalk itself and the space off to the side.

Perched on the boardwalk at least two football fields away from the stage, we could barely make out the figures of the All American Rejects as they performed “Swing, Swing”. Standing so far away, it was hard to believe you were at a rock concert, even with sound being piped through massive speakers that nearly stretched all the way to the Convention Hall hundreds of yards away.

After sneaking our way much closer to the stage, we watched both Jimmy Eat World and My Chemical Romance perform very solid sets that drew a great reaction from the huge crowd. My Chemical Romance was subbing for Blink-182, who had to cancel their appearance due to a Travis Barker medical emergency. Their dark songs certainly don’t beg to be played loudly on a beach in blinding sunlight, but tracks like “Famous Last Words” still had the crowd fist pumping in unison.

After My Chemical Romance, the Foo Fighters were ready to take the stage. If it sounds like this day was moving quickly, it’s because it was. The headliners were set to perform on Saturday Night Live later in the evening, and were therefore scheduled to perform a two hour set beginning at 7:30, meaning they started  before the sun had set.

The band took control of the stage as only the most seasoned arena rock veterans can; they sounded miles bigger and better than the main stage acts that had proceeded them. Frontman Dave Grohl ran from one side of the stage to the other, reving up the adoring crowd that responded in kind to every hit the band pumped out.

The five piece mixed career spanning hit singles with tracks from the latest album Wasting Light, which has spurred a number of hit singles itself.

While the other main stage acts had kept between song banter to a minimum, Grohl interacted with the crowd in between each song, even joking that “this is a bit smaller than most of the gigs we play, but that’s ok.” Even as we walked to find a concession stand, the blare of the band was nearly inescapable throughout the grounds.

After about an hour of watching the Foo Fighters, we headed back to the Zumiez stage hoping to catch a few songs from the reunited Promise Ring. When we arrived Hot Water Music was just finishing up their set with “Wayfarers,” and it appeared that Bouncing Souls lead singer Greg Antonik was on stage along with them.

After a twenty minute wait, the Promise Ring took the stage to some polite applause from the decently sized crowd. They were a half hour late, so it appeared that many of the fans had headed over early for the second Motion City Soundtrack set. While the emo pioneers sounded solid, their brand of straight up Midwestern rock didn’t seem to be what the crowd was looking for.  Even the very topical “Jersey Shore” didn’t receive much of a reaction.

At one point, fireworks began exploding in the distance, leading frontman Davey von Bohlen to curse Dave Grohl, his fireworks, and his “beautiful hair.” The band would play nine songs in all, closing with “Forget Me.” The Promise Ring would go on to play a headlining show at Irving Plaza the next night, which undoubtedly featured a more enthusiastic crowd.

To close out the night, Motion City Soundtrack took the stage one again, 35 minutes after they were originally schedule. Save for three songs, they played an entirely different set list, beginning with “Cambridge” and then transitioning straight into “Everything  Is Alright.”

At this point, you might expect most of the fans to be exhausted and ready to take it easy. This was not the case. Early in the set, frontman Justin Pierre admitted that his ideal crowd would be a stationary one, but despite this, he still egged on the constant stream of crowd surfers that made their way over the barrier.

The band would play twelve songs in all to close out the night – ending on a high note with “Everything Is Alright. Surprisingly, Pierre never mentioned the band was making their second appearance, and for someone who has had a few vocal issues in the past, his second performance of the day was as good, if not better than the first.

As the night came to a close, the exhausted crowd then made their way through the gates and onto Ocean Avenue. The lucky few that had scored tickets to the after-party headlined by Brand New headed to the Stone Pony, while others headed to venues like the Convention Hall or Wonder Bar for slightly less exciting after parties. I for one, was ready to head back to the hotel. After about an hour wait, we caught the train back to our stop in Red Bank and called it a day.

Overall, the move to Asbury Park seems to have been a huge success. The Saturday lineup was stellar as usual and all reports say that Sunday’s acts were just as well received. While holding such a large festival on the beach sounds like a logistical nightmare, every aspect of the day seem to go off without a hitch. The organizers have set the bar high – and are going to go even bigger next year.

Neon Trees Step Into The Spotlight At The Paradise

For the past week, I had obsessively searched Ticketmaster.com hoping a few more tickets would be released for the Neon Trees May 7th show at the Paradise in Boston. I had wanted to see the band since I had first listened to their debut EP “Habits” nearly two years earlier, but apparently not enough to realize they had announced a Boston show back in March.

Each time I searched, I received the same dreaded “Sorry, No Exact Matches Were Found” screen, every ticket buyers worst nightmare. By the morning of the show, I figured I had missed my shot, but I kept searching anyway. At around 11am, two tickets finally popped up. I was in.

I then hit play on their latest album, the long awaited Picture Show. Like Habits, it has a few duds, but it also has moments of pure genius, which come in the form of songs that are infectious, brash, and  poignant all at the same time. These songs give Neon Trees the markings of a band that could establish themselves as pop mainstays in the vein of the Killers or All American Rejects. Staying power, however, was the last thing on anyone’s mind as the crowd filed into the packed Paradise.

While I missed the first opener, I did make it in time to see the 45+ minute set from AWOLNATION. I didn’t know much about the band, other than the fact they had built a decent fan base and experienced some mainstream notoriety. They were undoubtedly part of the reason tickets for the show had been so hard to come by.

I walked away very impressed by mastermind Aaron Bruno and company’s performance. They mix elements of the current dance/electronic/whatever you call it with alternative rock and big choruses, and the result is a set of songs that can appeal to a very wide audience, even on first listen. Bruno worked the crowd relentlessly, and he seemed to feed off the energy of the fans in the first few rows. He even jumped in to join them on a number of occasions.

After AWOLNATION left the stage, Neon Trees somehow took 45 minutes to appear on stage. When they did, they did so in style, with lead singer Tyler Glenn sporting a pair of gigantic sunglasses, neon mohawk, and LED-lit mic stand. They opened with the first two tracks from Picture Show,”Moving In The Dark” and “Teenage Sounds.”

The crowd bobbed their heads, and some sang along, but things didn’t really get started until the band broke into Habits’ opening track “Sins Of My Youth.” I must say that I am partial to this song, so it was one of the highlight of the night for me. At one point Glenn grabbed the mic from the stand and  dropped to one knee, repeatedly chanting the song’s bridge and asking the audience “would you love me still?” The crowd ate it up.

After a (likely fictional) account of how Glenn had met and subsequently lost his dream girl at their last Boston show, the band launched into their latest single, “Everybody Talks.” The song  has achieved its fair share of “commercial” success, having been featured in a recent Buick TV spot, and it was obvious that its huge chorus has already made it a fan favorite.

Following this was another new track, “Mad Love,” which featured Glenn and drummer Elaine Bradley trading lines throughout the song. Shortly afterwards, Glenn picked up an acoustic guitar to strum the chords to “Your Surrender” as the rest of the band left the stage. Unfortunately, the track didn’t translate very well as a stripped-down version, and the crowd started to get restless.

Things soon got back up to speed, as the band continued to focus on songs from their new album, including 80’s throwback “Weekend” and “Lessons In Love”. The new cuts received a solid reaction from the crowd, and the band seemed very comfortable playing the new material in a live setting.

None of the new tracks, however, could compare to the sets closing number. As a preface to the song, Glenn commended the fans for being the sole reason why it had somehow hit the top of alternative charts and become  inescapable over the past two years. As soon as the quintet played the opening notes to “Animal”, everyone in the building basically went crazy, and continued to do so until the band walked off stage.

While they had already played what is obviously their biggest hit, Glenn and Co. returned for the obligatory encore, a treat in the form of Habits “1983”. While the set had lasted just over 60 minutes, Neon Trees has successfully appeased fans by playing a mix of very familiar tracks from their debut album, along with the strongest materials from Picture Show. Glenn performed with the energy of an unknown singer on a festival stage – absolutely determined to give the crowd a reason to come back. Whether they continue to enjoy the same mainstream success that “Animal” has provided remains to be seen. Either way, the fans in attendance at The Paradise are sure to come back for more next time the band is in town.

It Only Took Ten Years To Become An Overnight Success: FUN. Live In Boston

April 24, 2012 1 comment

FUN. is having the type of year that defines the term “breakout year”.  The band has seen their single “We Are Young” soar to the top of the pop charts after being featured on an episode of Glee and in a Super Bowl commercial.”We Are Young” became the first rock track to hit #1 since Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” in 2008, an astonishing feat when you consider that rock radio stations continue to disappear, making it much harder for bands like FUN. to enjoy this type of crossover success.

Of course, the good times don’t stop there for the trio of Nate Ruess, Andrew Dost, and Jack Antonoff. The band’s new album Some Nights has received positive reviews from fans and critics alike, and their North American tour has become one of spring’s hottest tickets.

Many of those who have been exposed to “We Are Young’s” gigantic hook, FUN. is just the latest overnight pop sensation – a studio creation that is probably the result of focus groups and million dollar producers.They’ll enjoy their 15 minutes of fame, make Live Nation a few bucks through VIP packages at some cheesy radio festival, and then be forgotten by this time next year.

The crowd that gathered at the House of Blues knew that this wasn’t the case. Unlike the upstart pop stars many would compare them to, Dost, Ruess, and Antonoff have toiled in relative obscurity for the better part of a decade in a number of different projects, never seeing the success they deserved.

Ruess had started as the lead singer of cult favorites The Format from 1999 through their breakup in 2008,  and helped create one of the greatest pop-rock records of all time in 2006’s Dog Problems. While The Format certainly played their share of sold-out shows, they never saw the type of commercial success that many (including their record label) expected from them.

Antonoff, meanwhile, has played guitar in Steel Train since 2002. Like the Format, Steel Train has released a number  of excellent albums to little fanfare. In fact, the band’s biggest tours have been slots opening for FUN. and The Format. Dost, meanwhile, earned his stripes as a member of Anathallo, an indie band that some worshiped and others just didn’t get (I fall into the later category).

All the while, the trio had built  a small but dedicated fan base that would become the foundation of FUN’s  breakthrough. These fans had snatched up all of the tickets early, and were ready to sing every word, whether it be to “We Are Young”,  “The Gambler” from their debut album, or even their cover of the Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

Ruess’s booming, theatrical voice and commanding stage presence made every song seem like an event. From the opening notes of “One Foot” through the end of the 75-minute set, the band was loud, energetic, and pretty much spot-on. Ruess  and  Antonoff are both well versed at mugging for the (iphone) camera, and the risers positioned at the front of the stage didn’t hurt. Ruess, sporting Rajon Rondo’s green Celtics jersey  jumped up on one of the three black boxes to hold the mic out to the crowd and let them shout the chorus back to him on a number of occasions . He repeatedly thanked those in attendance and praised Boston for being so great to him over the years.

The setlist seemed evenly split between tracks from their current album and 2009’s Aim and Ignite. The band closed the show with an encore of “Some Nights,” and  “Take Your Time.” The former will be the band’s next single, and could very well prolong the band’s chart dominance for another few months. After this, FUN. (apparently) came back out for a second encore consisting of “Be Calm” and “All Alright.” Seeing as I missed this second encore, I would like to say that second encores are ridiculous and should be outlawed

Aside from the missed opportunity at the end, this was one of the more exciting shows I’ve witnessed in a long time. To see a band explode from cult favorites to mainstreams stars is something that just doesn’t happen all that often. When it does, you hope it will happen to a deserving group that has paid their dues, and FUN. certainly fits that description. Only time will tell if the commercial success will continue, but one thing is for sure, and that is  that the band’s dedicated fans will stick around for a long time – meaning FUN. is likely to be anything but a flash in the pan.