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At T.T. the Bear's
I’d heard about JEFF The Brotherhood shows from friends, presented as the stuff of mosh pit legend: sweat, crowdsurfing, and a girl who had to be helped out of a show after she dislocated her knee. JEFF is part of a wave of up-and-coming bands who have taken garage rock into a huge resurgence. Groups like Heavy Cream, Harlem, and Ty Segall blend surf rock, psychedelia, and down-and-dirty punk into a fuzzy, scuzzy, and incredibly fun sound. They play in tiny bars and lots of basements and release their own records, and they draw a rapidly growing and rabid fan base. On one of the hottest days of summer in Boston, most people would probably cringe at the idea of packing into a small, under-air-conditioned venue to jump around next to a couple hundred other sweaty people, but T.T.’s was packed to capacity.
JEFF the Brotherhood is comprised of two brothers, Jake and Jamin Orall, from Nashville. According to Jake: “We’ve been playing together for ten years now, and we got our start just jamming together when we were kids.” Jake plays guitar and sings, and Jamin plays drums – together they make a very surprising amount of noise for two people.
They began their career early. “We started the label when I was like fifteen,” says Jake, “just putting out CD-Rs. Then we did our first seven-inch a few weeks later.” The label he’s referring to is Infinity Cat, which they run with their father. Later, Jamin played with short-lived punk group Be Your Own Pet, but left after only one album; he says he just “felt the time was right.” He returned to JEFF the Brotherhood with his brother and the two began a rigorous touring schedule, everything from basements to Bonnaroo. Jamin calls Bonnaroo the weirdest show they’ve played, “because I never thought we’d play Bonnaroo.” Jake recalls, “We were the only band playing at the same time as the Arcade Fire, and it was this little tent and it was way over-full. They knocked down the barrier in front of us. It was really rowdy.”
Even as their popularity has grown, they’ve continued to stick to their roots. They recently opened for The Kills at one of the bigger venues in New York City, but the night before, they chose to play at a tiny DIY venue in Brooklyn called Death By Audio, where the legal capacity is 110 (but the band says they frequently sell three times as many tickets). They say their approach to touring is, “We just want to be able to do what we want. Whatever’s fun.” Sounds simple, when they put it that way.
And despite the killer heat, their set was one of the most fun shows I’ve seen in a long time. They began their set with a slow, chugging riff and within seconds, the entire front half of the crowd was headbanging in unison. By the start of the second song, they were jumping, and JEFF charged through several more that had the audience flailing in the pit.
Many of their new songs invite comparisons to Weezer, to which Jake says “Weezer rocks” and Jamin quips, deadpan, “We’re trying to make the next ‘Beverly Hills’.” The recorded versions are laid-back and hazy. But live, their energy is pure punk, raw and edgy, making poppy songs like “Sixpack” come alive with an entirely new attitude. That song, a mid-set highlight, had the crowd singing along to all-too-appropriate lyrics “It’s so hot in this tiny room / So so so so so so so so so so hot.” JEFF is not for people who like intricacy and poetry, let’s make that clear. They’re very talented musicians who write big, loud, jump-around-and-drink songs about crushing on their friends’ sisters, and that simplicity is a sort of genius in itself.
The DIY spirit of the band and its followers showed through in the attitude of the crowd as they shoved and pushed their way through the thrilling set. Even when the temperature reached sauna-like levels, the energy remained high, and for such a rough pit, everyone was also surprisingly polite. When someone needed to tie a shoe, other crowd members protected them from the worst of the shoving. I saw two wallets lost and returned within minutes by helpful strangers, and anyone who slipped on the sweaty floor was instantly offered a hand up.
Jake jumped into the crowd for the guitar solo on another Weezer soundalike song, “Hey Friend”, falling to his knees in a tiny circle of open space and churning out a gritty, crashing riff, showing off the impressive technical talent behind all the noise. Later, he crowdsurfed while still keeping perfect time, the audience holding him very carefully aloft. He rarely spoke between songs, instead transitioning directly from one riff to the next, keeping up a brutal pace and an incredible level of energy. One of his few comments was “I’m serious, I love you all,” until he announced their last song. “This one’s for our friends,” he said, and launched into “Mind Ride”, a heavy stoner jam with an extended instrumental section that sounded like a punk rock Allman Brothers song.
By the end, every member of the crowd was soaked with sweat, but I had the feeling they would’ve been happy to see JEFF The Brotherhood play for another two hours. The legends I’d heard were true: a JEFF live show is not for the faint of heart, but it’s also an electrifying experience.