By Kimberly Ilkowski
Arts & Entertainment Editor
New Jersey is notorious for being the most hated state in America, but if you ask Jack Antonoff, he’ll tell you otherwise. As the frontman of the powerhouse indie-pop group Bleachers, Antonoff pens paramount pieces with a central theme of his time growing up in New Jersey — a place he was glad to be performing in for the last show of the band’s touring cycle of their debut album, “Strange Desire.” Bleachers shined during their homecoming performance during the College Union Board’s 2015 fall concert on Saturday, Oct. 17, in Kendall Hall, joined by the lovable pop punkers Modern Baseball to open the show.
Styled in an outfit reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” album cover, Antonoff and company stormed the stage with a soaring rendition of “Like a River Runs.”
Featuring two drummers on sleek metal kits and both a synth and a keyboard player on raised platforms, Antonoff stood confidently front and center while wailing on his guitar.
Audience favorites like “Shadow” and “Rollercoaster” had students singing along to every line while songs like the groovy “Wake Me” and arena anthemesque “Wild Heart” incited jumping, screaming and flailing from diehard fans.
Halfway through the hour-long set, the band launched into an unexpected but overwhelmingly satisfying cover of Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 hit “Go Your Own Way.” “I was born in the shadow, shadow of the city,” Antonoff crooned as the band performed a new, unreleased track entitled “Shadow of the City” about growing up in New Jersey with the powerful presence of New York City looming in the distance.
The song “You’re Still A Mystery” evolved into an epic display of solo performances, while each member of band went wild on their instruments. Following the solos, Antonoff and saxophonist Evan Smith engaged in a heated duel, with a back-and-forth exchange between the two musicians shredding on their respective instruments. As the end of the battle drew near, Antonoff and Smith slid across the stage and collapsed on the floor, but did not stop playing the guitar and saxophone.
After the explosive finale, the band ran off stage while students’ chants for an encore rang through the room.
When Bleachers finally reemerged from backstage, they opted for a slow jam and played a beautifully stripped down version of Kanye West’s “Only One,” which climaxed in a soulful saxophone breakdown.
Antonoff sweetly sang “Hello my only one, remember who you are. No, you’re not perfect, but you’re not your mistakes,” while a sea of students swayed to the strumming of his guitar and shone their phone flashlights in lieu of lighters.
In stark contrast to the mellow atmosphere created by “Only One,” Antonoff proceeded to plead with the crowd to give the band’s final song everything they had and to “tear this place to the ground,” before he launched into their first hit single “I Wanna Get Better.”
Bleachers’ success may have initially begun with the massive popularity of “I Wanna Get Better,” but the band hasn’t stopped there, as it now boasts a major list of accomplishments.
Last month, Antonoff released a companion album to Bleacher’s debut LP “Strange Desire” entitled “Terrible Thrills Volume 2,” where each song was performed and reimagined by female artists.
“I made a pretty concise list and the list I made was pretty much who it ended up being because (they’re all) people I’m really inspired by either because I know them and I’ve worked with them or just because I really love their work,” Antonoff said in an interview with The Signal about the process of matching each song with its new performer. “It has to be someone who it really means a lot to me to think about when I write because that’s what’s really connected about it for me.”
Antonoff also tried his hand at festival planning this year with the creation of Shadow of the City, a one-day music festival that took place on Saturday, Sept. 19, in Asbury Park, N.J. The festival, meant to honor Antonoff’s home state, featured eight bands, food trucks, arcade games and more in a day dedicated to all things Jersey.
“This first year was such a great experience that we want to just look at everything that went well and look at this feeling that was created and just maintain that,” Antonoff said about plans for next year’s festival.
There was no shortage of excitement for the concert’s opening act, Modern Baseball, who helped warm up the crowd with their own brand of punchy pop hooks and tongue-twisting lyrics. The Philly rockers, composed of vocalists and guitarists Brendan Lukens and Jake Ewald, drummer Sean Huber and bassist Ian Farmer, played a dynamic set of songs from their full lengths “Sports” and “You’re Gonna Miss It All,” as well as two new singles.
The band began the night with “Re-do” and “Tears Over Beers,” both off of “Sports,” before progressing into newer favorites like the self-deprecating “Fine, Great” and bouncy guitar jam “Broken Cash Machine,” from their sophomore effort “You’re Gonna Miss It All.”
They also played the track “Alpha Kappa Fall Of Troy The Movie Part Deux” from a six-way split on Philadelphia’s Lame-O Records released earlier this year entitled “Strength In Weakness,” which also included acts like Spraynard and Marietta.
Modern Baseball’s bursting 13 song set also included a cover of The Killers’ “When You Were Young” which put bassist Farmer in the spotlight singing lead vocals. The punk version of the 2006 hit was a highlight of the night, with the audience singing in unison almost as loudly as Farmer.
The band’s performance of “Redone” was the perfect showcase of their infamous angst-ridden lyrics, filled with references to a twenty-something-year-old’s melodrama. The song concluded with the impassioned singing, “They just think we are young with broken hearts, stomping around everyday, so let’s stomp around breaking, young at heart all the way.”
Beginning at the end of this month, the band will embark on a massive winter tour, traveling coast to coast with Tiny Moving Parts, Jeff Rosenstock and PUP. With another tour comes more opportunities to share new songs and continue to work on new material.
“We’ve all just honed in on how we want to sound, at least for now, and how it’ll make the band sound better in general,” Lukens said in an interview with The Signal.
Modern Baseball has slowly released new songs in the past several weeks but an official third full-length record has yet to be announced. Instead of rushing to put out a new album, the band is taking their time on the road as an opportunity to have fun and play with bands that inspire them.
According to Ewald, extensive touring has helped the members discover their own strengths and desires for the band’s direction, and everyone agrees the process has helped them grow.
“We came home (from tour last year) and we all played in other bands too, which is like a whole new perspective on things, and so when we went back to MoBo, it was just kind of like we had a better understanding of what we were trying to accomplish,” Farmer said.
Thanks to our friends at LTV for filming the interviews.