Andrew Jackson Jihad. Photo: Stephanie Carrico
The torrents of snow last Friday, Nov. 9, didn’t make an exception for Kilby Court that evening, but that just gave the merch tables for Andrew Jackson Jihad and Jeff Rosenstock more pre-show traffic (Future of the Left was running late on account of the weather). There wasn’t a fire built yet, so the kids who’d shown up early—a batch of contemporary punks, the bastard children of hardcore punk and indie—took the liberty to make bashful jokes with Andrew Jackson Jihad frontman Sean Bonnette, who declared his indulgence in first-world sin: They had an iPhone card swipe device. Thus, not having crumpled, coke-soaked cash wasn’t an excuse to not buy Jihad treats.
As whispers of Future of the Left’s arrival abounded, Jeff Rosenstock began, and the dimly lit Kilby garage splashed with blue LEDs amid the warm, yellow stage light. There stood Rosenstock, alone, veritably “Jeff Rosenstock”—but damn it if he didn’t garner the energy of a stadium in the front row. Be-sweatered kids bounced up and down in carefree pogo-ing to prerecorded piano melodies that provided the tonal backdrop for Rosenstock’s chainsaw power-chord strums atop a programmed beat (which he later revealed that he created using Reason). The terms “prerecorded” and “programmed” may seem alien in a punk rock context, but the energy was certainly there—certainly more so than Purity Ring seems to exude at their live performances—as Rosenstock got most everyone at least swaying, from the most innocuous, preppy-looking dude with the blonde hair to the cute brunette in the denim vest and Urban Outfitters Native-print sweater who was probably underage. Rosenstock exhibited the same punk vocal prowess as in his main project, Bomb the Music Industry!; he belted out screams that he underpinned with melody, yet he hit clear-cut pitches in the course of his songs. Some kids shouted out requests—likely Bomb the Music Industry! songs—to which Rosenstock responded that he didn’t want to play “sub-par version of other songs” with a hint of cutesy smarminess. He introduced a song that, ironically enough, was about dying in a blizzard. The 6/8 meter and back-track maracas lent the track an appropriate X-mas vibe. After another track off of his album entitled I Look like Shit, Rosenstock told the crowd that he had recently been hacked and that his online oeuvre was unavailable for them—but it’s up now, HERE . Rosenstock later invited Bonnette to the stage to sing a number with him, Bomb the Music Industry!’s “Wednesday Night Drinkball,” a lounge-y tune, where Bonnette’s singing eventually lapsed into screams congruent with the raised energy of the song. At long last, Rosenstock threw out another Bomb cover, “25,” reminiscent of an Andrew W.K. jam in its energy as the audience jumped up in down in glee, ending with the ODB sample, “Number One, I live in my momma house!” Rosenstock closed with cover (a no-no at Kilby), “Anywhere I Lay My Head” by Tom Waits, which he closed out by banging on a set of drums set up behind him with his hands.
The Kilby staff got the fire crackling all the while, and the garage’s insides dispersed around the flames, back into the merch hut and back to wherever the dark corners of the area for warming pulls of whiskey, God’s hot chocolate. Thumps of drums back on the stage, however, proved it to be the hearth of the event, and more people amassed inside. It took Future of the Left a seemingly longer amount of time to set up and get everything tuned. The two guitarists, to the interest of the crowd standing at Stage Right, each left off the A string on their respective guitars. As they slammed into “Chin Music,” it became apparent that Future of the Left thrive on bassist Julia Ruzicka’s prowess to set the groove and to bolster a crowd singing along—“I KNOW IT ONLY HAPPENED COS I COULDN’T STOP DRINKING! IT ONLY HAPPENED COS I COULDN’T DRINK MORE!” Rosenstock looked through the garage window with an American Spirit in hand at the kids self-effaced toward the stage, trying to contain the mosh bug that fluttered within each of them. Luckily, frontman Andrew “Falco” Falkous assuaged their nerves by being a funny motherfucker … Or maybe he’s just British. Well, they’re actually Welsh, but he spoke in British English to the crowd. Either way, he introduced the next track as one to which the audience should clap, but cautioned to do it in time, as Americans lack the capacity to do so. These Americans ate it up with chuckles, and Future of the Left sidled into “Beneath the Waves an Ocean” off their 2012 album, The Plot Against Common Sense, which culminates in its mournfully catchy line, “No way you can ever find peace, ever find peace with the name they gave you …” Then came the subsequent banger, “Sheena Is a T-shirt Salesman,” which got everyone doing some sort of dance or another—god, trying, TRYING not to start a mosh pit. Falco must have sensed this, cos that dude started up with the condescending jokes again, saying that they were going to play a cover, but not really because “I don’t want to go to prison in your fucking country. FULL disrespect.” Their set went on, and Future of the Left ignited the garage with electricity effortlessly—their other guitarist, Jimmy Watkins, declared his love for John Stockton and Karl Malone, which elicited unbounded applause. The band drew out their closer as Watkins balanced his guitar on the rafters of the garage, drummer Jack Egglestone toppled his drums, and Watkins grabbed the mic and repeated the song’s final lines, “I trust in you!” for what seemed like 10 minutes and hung about like a monkey. Future of the Left exited the garage as performance artists in addition to a rock band.
Fire, merch and whiskey mattered less as the crowd awaited Andrew Jackson Jihad, though it seemed like either the crowd packed in or some other people left. But, fuck ’em, because Andrew Jackson Jihad clearly like to perform and got right to it, opening with “We Didn’t Come Here to Rock,” lowering expectations instantaneously, proffering the possibility that the amped crowd might tell them that they’re “bad at making art.” “Distance” followed as Bonnette kept up his blastoff candor: “It’s harder to be yourself than anybody else,” said Bonnette through endearing caterwauls, giving the crowd a taste of AJJ’s knack for being simultaneously self-deprecating and utterly universal with the open arms of hyperbole. Rosenstock accompanied the full band on saxophone, which filled out AJJ’s full-band incarnation leading into “A Song Dedicated To The Memory Of Stormy The Rabbit,” whose keys addition also rounded out and provided a foothold for a mean solo from Rosenstock. AJJ put their folk chops on display with “Sad Songs,” where bassist Ben Gallaty employed a classic 1-to-5 bass line, which hearkened back to the band’s earlier material in a live setting, which ultimately compensated for them not playing “Ladykiller” and “Scenesters.” Bonnette took a break to let the people in the audience know that, after a long tour, it was good to be back in the West. He said, “We specialize in bummer jams,” which deftly segued the energy into “Back Pack.” “You were dead by the time that I had found you … Your body felt just like a backpack.” The crowd swayed in the shadows, the scant lighting almost a synecdoche of the dismal nature of Bonnette’s poetry. Then the Jihad picked the pace right back up and hammered out “American Tune,” the sarcastic anthem that dissects the band’s respective identities as straight, white males with declarative statements about their societal privileges that convey the obvious (straight) white (male) guilt that comes along with their capacity for socio-economic nonchalance. Once AJJ reached “People II: The Reckoning,” the energy about the audience was that it was their last song, and everyone in the room danced as the lighting warmed for the anthemic nature of the piece and its sampling/perversion of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” and the chorus beyond the stage chimed in. Luckily, the band stretched out their set as long as they could, and brandished their punk rock pistols for “Hate, Rain on Me,” as Future of the Left’s Jimmy Watkins head-banged along, grabbing an audience member by the shoulders in a violent camaraderie only found elsewhere in old Sex Pistols music videos. Andrew Jackson Jihad actually closed with “Big Bird” as Bonnette catalogued his fears before us—perfectly human, rationally irrational qualms that we all face and don’t talk about, which makes this band so damned relatable to people who live in America and didn’t vote for Mitt Romney.
The exodus was meek. The show died, like people. The stragglers of the pack bought mementos for something that might come back or might not and wandered off into the snow to go do other things.