While other bands create a show aimed at making the crowd forget about their problems, AJR breaks away from that trend to celebrate and embrace our imperfections.

11/16/19 – Agganis Arena

“It reminded me of a happy panic attack,” remarked Adam Met, one of the three brothers, along with Ryan and Jack, that make up AJR, as he reminisced about hearing the demo of their song “Karma” for the first time. Those three words—“happy panic attack”—sum up exactly what these three brothers from Manhattan represent: a paradoxical combination of angst and carefree bliss.

The lights dimmed and the orchestral beginning of “Next Up Forever,” the opening track to their most recent album, Neotheater, reverberated throughout the arena before three figures came sprinting on stage, right in line with the beat drop. Almost seeming like they had been deprived of live performances for years, the trio’s frantic movement around stage coupled with the hypnotic beats instantly enthralled the crowd, commanding its full attention.

On first listen, their next two songs, “Sober Up” and “The Entertainment’s Here,” come across as innocent melodies meant for dancing and tapping your feet to—which is part of the antithetical nature of the band. They wholeheartedly embrace their anxieties and weaknesses to present delicate topics—such as depression and anxiety—in a way that makes the listener not focus on the lyrics and instead enjoy the creative rhythms and sounds. Starting with a soothing beat overlaid with catchy synths, “The Entertainment’s Here,” confronts some of the profound insecurities a person can face: “But recently I’m thinking ’bout my purpose on Earth / But I don’t wanna think about my purpose no more / Because it may come up short.”

The brothers then momentarily exited the stage in order to feature their touring trumpet player, JJ Kirkpatrick, as he played a medley of ten songs from all over the band’s discography including “Three Thirty” and the nostalgic “I’m Ready” (which quickly became popular due to its Spongebob sample). In a weird way, it felt like one of the few lulls of the show; even though the vibrant trumpet melodies were coupled with flashy visuals, it simply couldn’t compete with AJR’s captivating on-stage energy and emotion.

Other highlights from the show included an acoustic version of “Wow, I’m Not Crazy,” a throwback to their days when they performed on street corners, as well as a full demonstration of the inspiration and creation for the beats behind “Don’t Throw Out My Legos.” A curtain dropped leaving only Jack on stage for one of their only slow songs of the evening, “Dear Winter.” Although it was written by Ryan, Jack took on the vocals of the song as he has expressed in interviews that he felt a deep connection to the lyrics and meaning. The song emotionally balances the joy and excitement that comes with thinking about having a child against the uncertainty of finding true love: “I’m hoping that some day, I can meet you on this Earth / But shit, I gotta meet your mom first.”

Their witty lyrics were also displayed on other songs like “Break My Face”: “What doesn’t kill you / Makes you ugly / Life gives you lemons / At least it gave you something,” and the politically charged, “Burn the House Down,”: “Should I hang my head low? / Should I bite my tongue? / Or should I march with every stranger from Twitter to get shit done?”

A closer listen to all of their lyrics can uncover what the band is all about: celebrating anxieties and insecurities through music. They fully embraced their own insecurities and flaws while inviting the crowd to do the same under the guise of catchy beats and a lively stage presence, and it worked wonders. Listeners could appreciate the creative mix of hip-hop beats blended with EDM without digging too deep into the lyrics, but at the same time could uncover a deeper understanding for their music and persona by examining the themes sprinkled behind the catchy sounds.

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