On October 26th, after a late night of a Hendrix party, my friend Joe Gunderman and I drove 6 plus hours to St. Louis to see one of our favorite bands perform, AJR. I had previously written a review of AJR’s music, and the two newest songs that had come out from their album, Neotheater, so I was excited to see the performative aspect of the music I had been bingeing for the last six months. AJR is a alternative fusion band consisting mainly of 3 brothers, Jack, Ryan and Adam Met. After waiting almost two hours in the rain, wind and cold and desperately befriending the group in front of us for a crowded umbrella space, we entered the venue, the Pageant in St. Louis, a House of Blues style mid-sized concert space, about quadruple the space that AJR last played in in St. Louis.
Pressed against other dripping concert goers, Joe and I made our way to about 15 people from the front row. Joe is about 6’4”, meaning he’s not the ideal person to stand behind during a concert, but he does create space for his friends, meaning I had a great viewing space. I made friends with the girls around me so that we could share photos after the concert and take photos of each other before for proof that we had actually gone to an AJR concert.
The opener was Michael Blume, an upcoming artist whose mix of soul and hip hop rap had the whole audience bumping to the bass of his songs. I would highly recommend checking out his songs Blunder and In Between on Spotify.
As the concert began, a trickling in of AJR’s song Next Up Forever, the first song on their Neotheater album came through the speakers, followed by a projection of trumpets and clouds that was reminiscent of AJR’s style of music videos. However the screen behind the instruments quickly showed an error code, part of the gimmick of the show and stated that show would be started about 30 minutes later than expected. However this was replaced by the band’s words saying “F*** it” and then appearing on the stage after a quick black out.One of the most impressive aspects of the performance was the energy of the lead singer, Jack Met. I couldn’t help but be impressed by his free and exuberant movements across the stage. It was obvious that the most important part of the band’s performance was the authentic relationship they had with the audience but also the performative interactions with the screen behind them. Instead of a classic concert where the band follows a script and only that script, AJR incorporated a portion dedicated to interacting with actual audience members. For us, it was a girl in a green Luigi hat that Ryan tried on before tossing it back to the lucky audience member. Additionally, AJR chose to feature a promising and talented trumpet player named JJ Kirkpatrick, who soloed an entire portion of the concert.
This portion consisted of older songs that the band did not have time to perform in the limited concert time so they chose to have JJ perform trumpet solos of a mix of almost 10 songs combined together with recognizable beat patterns that the audience had a blast singing along too.
Though I tried to take photos of most songs, one of the most impressive stylistically was Turning Out ii and Turning Out. Turning Out ii, sung by Ryan as a love song reminiscence, was joined by the original song, Turning Out sung by Jack who played it on behind Ryan on a stacked stage. The stage lights themselves shifted from a brilliant orange like a sunset to a purple and blue starry sky, as if the sun was setting on the relationship described in a beautiful and elegant way.
Another impressive moment was Jack’s interaction with the green screen, clapping the hands of an on screen version of himself on beat to form the back beat of one of AJR’s more well known songs, Come Hang Out.
There was a beautiful moment where Ryan walked the audience through how he and the rest of the brothers created their unique sound, finding music in things like the dropping of keys or the scratches of record players. Overall, AJR’s authentic interaction with the crowd as well as their use of the green screen demonstrate a leap forward for a concert experience. While crowds want to be wooed with magic, they don’t want the fakeness that comes with it, and AJR has found that balance between structure and frivolity that continuing draws on fans of younger generations. AJR’s distinctive sound and imaginative performative antics define it as a rising band of this generation and will push it farther in the ever expanding word of music and technology. In the wise words of the band, Welcome to the Neotheater. I can’t wait to see what AJR does next.