ANDREW JACKSON JIHAD live at The Webster Underground. Hartford CT. 4.21.12
I’d like to begin this review by offering my sincere congratulations and thanks to all the other great shows I’ve seen this year. Dum Dum Girls, Alcest, Pianos Become The Teeth… you had a good run. Titus Andronicus, it was great seeing you again on Friday. With that having been said, not one of these shows can hold a candle to the one I saw last night. Andrew Jackson Jihad's performance at The Webster Underground yesterday was simply the most revelatory and thoroughly expressive demonstration of creativity that I've seen since Sufjan Stevens' two night stint at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park last year.
Although I couldn’t have possibly predicted just how great a show it would be, I had a feeling fairly early on that it would be a good one. I arrived in Hartford early enough to catch some young local punk band who wasn’t listed on the bill, and soon made my way to the front of the venue and met up with some friends of mine whom I had seen the previous night at the Titus Andronicus show. As we waited for the opening act to go on, a touring band by the name of The Treasure Fleet, I spied Andrew Jackson Jihad frontman Sean Bonnette emerging from the backstage room on the other side of the venue. When he caught my eye, Sean cracked a big smile and waved at me, indicating that he remembered me from the time that I interviewed him and bassist Ben Gallaty last September. I remembered asking the two of them during that interview if they would return to Connecticut soon, and realized that they had made good on their promise to come back. I was filled with pride, and I knew that I was in for something special.
But first, the opening bands: The Treasure Fleet began promptly and played a half hour set, bursting with ebullient energy that almost made their musical aesthetic not seem out of place. With a frontman decked out in facepaint and wearing a big Wayne Coyne smile on his face, The Treasure Fleet delivered a rousing set of guitar-based psychedelic pop, rife with lyrics about doing drugs (one song was unsubtly entitled “High on a Bicycle”) and sunny harmonies. It didn’t exactly fit in with the other two bands, but they didn’t seem to care too much.
Afterwards, the Cali punk band Joyce Manor took the stage, eliciting an impressive response from the crowd within mere seconds of the beginning of their set. They opened with “Beach Community” — one of exactly two songs I wanted to hear them play — and by the halfway point of that song’s <2 minute duration, at least ten people had already stage dove, including myself and a perpetually giddy-looking Greg Horbal of The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die. During their set, the audience members (and the band as well) demonstrated a complete lack of regard for human safety, reinforcing my belief that serious Joyce Manor fans are kind of obnoxious. The sheer number of people stagediving during each song even resulted in an altercation between one particularly aggressive fan and a man in a wheel chair, who was sadly forced to move to the back of the venue. Even though it left a sour taste in my mouth, Joyce Manor’s set was certainly enjoyable. Amidst a selection of songs heavy on material from their self-titled album, “Constant Headache” provided a great cathartic release.
Sweaty, battered, and still reeling from the previous night’s show, I was greatly appreciative of the break time after Joyce Manor’s set. Although the string of shows that last night’s was a part of was being billed as a full band tour, Andrew Jackson Jihad gave the audience a much-needed breather by opening their set as an acoustic two piece. The material from their acoustic set was almost entirely culled from the beloved 2007 album People That Can Eat People Are The Luckiest People In The World, eliciting singalongs that filled the entire cramped venue to the rafters. Between classics like the opening one-two punch of “Brave as a Noun” and “Survival Song,” and deeper cuts like “Personal Space Invader” and the murder ballad “Bad Bad Things,” Sean Bonnette and Ben Gallaty cracked jokes, gave thanks, and talked about their longstanding history with Connecticut. The communal vibe during those first few songs was beautiful, and for the more restless attendees, the promise of the coming electric release was insatiable.
Soon, the band began adding more members to their onstage setup, gradually building up to the full band that was promised. Knife Man contributor Preston Bryant joined the duo on banjo for the harrowing “People II: The Reckoning,” and switched between electric guitar and synthesizer for the rest of the set. Soon after Bryant joined the group, none other than Bomb The Music Industry! frontman Jeff Rosenstock showed up, playing synths on “If You Have Love In Your Heart” and delivering a heavy, emotive guitar solo during the orchestral section of Can’t Maintain's “White Face, Black Eyes” before ducking off to the side to watch the rest of the show.
While Rosenstock exited the stage, the band added a drummer and Bonnette picked up an electric guitar. The energy inside the Webster Underground was almost as palpable as the unbearable heat. After a quick reintroduction, the punk rock portion of the set began, as the invigorated four piece group busted open Knife Man's restless “Gift Of the Magi 2: Return Of The Magi.” In addition to performing their more aggressive electric material the way that it sounds on record, they also took the opportunity to add a different dimension to some of their more traditionally acoustic music, playing sped up electric versions of “You Don't Deserve Yourself” and “Little Prince (El Principito).” I had resisted stage diving for a while, but once they began to play their self-hate anthem “Heartilation,” I couldn't resist launching myself into the crowd. A few people got the chance to stagedive during that song before Bonnette kindly asked everybody to not do that. Afterwards, the band played a fast-paced new song that they dedicated to Ryan Gosling (apparently the song is about the movie Half Nelson) and brought out Joyce Manor's Barry Johnson to sing on a deep cut called “Hate And Kill.”
The latter portion of the set was loaded with material from Knife Man, my 7th favorite album of 2011. In addition to the aforementioned “Magi,” the group also played their long distance relationship song “Distance” (which used to resonate with me pretty deeply), as well as their country rock jam “Sad Songs” and “Hate, Rain On Me,” my second favorite track on the record. It was a great validation of all the time I spent listening to that record last year, and it was wonderful to hear all those songs so fully realized in the live full band context; however, the best moment of the show didn’t come until the very end. I had been preparing myself to hear the Knife Man closer “Big Bird” live ever since I heard about Andrew Jackson Jihad doing this full band tour, but nothing I could have done would have ever truly prepared me to hear that song being played in front of me. In order to match the level of grandeur achieved by the studio recording, the band brought out two additional members to supplement their lineup even more, and Bonnette ditched his guitar to focus only on the song’s demanding vocal part. As I stood there in the front row, listening intently as Bonnette laid out his deepest fears for everyone to hear, I was overcome with emotion and arrested by the song’s sheer resonance. When Bonnette kneeled into the crowd and offered me the mic to sing along with him, I almost couldn’t do it. As he stood there, literally bowled over and forced to his knees by the power of his own music, I felt connected to him in a way that I had never felt connected to anyone before. Connections like that never go away, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the way I felt just then, witnessing one of my favorite songs ever come to life.
Andrew Jackson Jihad Setlist - 4/21/12
- 1. ”Brave As A Noun”
- 2. “Survival Song”
- 3. “People II 2: Still Peoplin’”
- 4. “Personal Space Invader”
- 5. “Bad Bad Things”
- 6. “People II: The Reckoning”
- 7. “If You Have Love In Your Heart” (featuring Jeff Rosenstock)
- 8. “Fucc The Devil”
- 9. “White Face, Black Eyes” (featuring Jeff Rosenstock)
- 10. “Gift Of The Magi 2: Return Of The Magi”
- 11. “Distance”
- 12. “You Don’t Deserve Yourself”
- 13. “Heartilation”
- 14. “Sad Songs (Intermission)”
- 15. “Hate, Rain On Me”
- 16. “Inner City Basehead History Teacher” (NEW SONG)
- 17. “Hate And Kill” (featuring Barry Johnson)
- 18. “Little Prince (El Principito)”
- 19. “Big Bird”