Rising indie-pop band AJR slays Aragon Ballroom!
AJR played Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom on Thursday night, continuing their North American tour they call, The Click Tour (Part 2). The band is made up of New York brothers, Adam (bass, vocals), Jack (lead vocals), and Ryan Met (keys, vocals). The show was an energetic celebration of growing up, staying young, and not caring what anyone thinks of you.
The Met brothers are in their twenties, about five years older than most of their audience. The quirky subjects they choose to write songs about have garnered them a loyal following of high school kids looking for a unique voice they can relate to.
This is not a cool band.
This is not an edgy band. This is a band that loves to write songs about not smoking weed, not being famous, and not going to parties. Sounds lame? Maybe, but their honesty works well. Musicians across genres warned them not to release their first record, The Click, because it was “too weird” and no one would get it. As it turns out, their genuine, goofy style is just weird enough. After twelve years of performing for tiny crowds and making music in their parent’s living room, AJR is enjoying a rapid rise to recognition.
An AJR show is an ebullient, unapologetically weird event, as AJR have no desire to appear nonchalant on stage. Ryan and Jack dance and flail like the grown up kids they are. Banter between songs is often honest reactions to the amount of people that showed up to see them play.
Thursday’s show at The Aragon Ballroom, AJRs’ largest headlined show to date, is no exception.
The show begins with a sweeping overture that highlights some of The Click’s best sounds. Lights and sound pulls the audience towards the stage as the intro ends and AJR front man Jack darts out onto the stage.
Wearing his signature ushanka hat (the furry Russian kind), and a baggy white tee shirt, Jack welcomes his brothers up on stage to his right and left. Two years ago, AJR played Chicago’s Bottom Lounge, a much smaller venue, with a much smaller crowd. Now, the brothers are backed by a drummer and a trumpet player who add palpable depth to every song.
AJR opens with “Come Hang Out,” an upbeat song about working too hard to make time for friends. Not a typical pop song topic, but that’s who AJR are.
One of the most powerful moments of the show comes during that first song, when the entire Chicago crowd sings one lyric louder than Jack and his brothers expect:
“They’re at a bar down in the Bahamas.
While I’m doing promo,
Trying to blow up in Chicago.”
The significance of that last line is not lost on either the brothers or their fans.
Early in the set, AJR plays “Sober Up,” a single they recorded with Weezer singer Rivers Cuomo.
After taking a moment to snap a selfie with the audience, the band dropped a new unreleased song. The song, which is untitled but may eventually be called “Legos,” is about the band’s mixed feelings towards their latest life change: moving out of their parent’s house. On the song Jack pleads with his parents not to throw away his legos, admitting he’s ready to move out, not move on. Again, childish and innocent, but relatable and honest.
To close the show, AJR played “Burn The House Down,” their latest radio-friendly hit. Before playing the song, the band offers to show the audience how they produce their music. They start by choosing a bass and snare sound that they like. Ryan calls the shots while Jack selects instruments on the drum pad.
“Can you make that hi-hat dirtier?” Ryan asks.
Jack replies with a thumbs up and the twist of a dial.
This is a routine the band has been doing at their shows for years, and although it’s simple, and fun to watch.
The band adds layer after layer, engineering a slowed down version of their latest single. Jack cycles through a few different instruments, cello, flute, piano, before settling on the raunchy trumpet sound that pulls it all together. The audience roars with approval once they recognize the song and AJR delight in playing it for them.
After being called “one hit wonders” and “too silly” for mainstream music, AJR has built a versatile collection of hits. “Turning Out” is a coming of age anthem that will make you tear up. No party playlist would be complete without “Weak.” AJR have proven that they are ready for the mainstream without giving any indication that they intend to stick to it.
With a second album in the works, AJR is headed for big arenas, maybe as early as next year. After all, they’ve already blown up in Chicago.
Robert Delong was the night’s opening act. He played a wide range of digital instruments using a joystick and a Wii remote from behind a booth of TV screens. Delong ran between synth pads and a laser harp, never playing one for more than a few seconds. The whole thing felt a bit hectic and insincere, as Delong and his bandmates took a shot on stage in front of a crowd of mostly high school kids, then playfully threw his empty cup at his drummer. A teen birthday party might be a better setting for Delong’s type of performance, so long as he provides an epilepsy warning beforehand.