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Opening for Jukebox the Ghost first was The Spring Standards, a New York based band consisting of members James Clear, Heather Robb, and James Smith. Though many classify themselves to be a folk-rock band, The Spring Standards definitely captured the audience’s attention with more of a rock and electronic vibe. Due to their order in the line up and technical difficulties, the group played a brief set that lasted for a half an hour – but they powered through and ended will a spirited performance of “Unmarked Pill” the final track from their newest album, Yellow//Gold.
Next up was another New York based act, Matt Pond. Matt Pond and his group, whom he referred to collectively as “Matt Pond PA” until his most recent solo album, played a 11-song set that lasted considerably longer than the first act. Understandable, as “Matt Pond PA” has eight full length albums and eight EPs to its name. Now Pond himself is releasing his first solo album, entitled The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hand. The set was split around 50/50 from the new album to past songs.
At around 9pm Jukebox the Ghost appeared on stage, considerably early for this type of show. An indie pop trio that met at George Washington University, Jukebox the Ghost has a unique sound, one that they’ve compared to the likes of Queen and They Might Be Giants. As Ben Thornewill, Tommy Siegel, and Jesse Kristin took the stage, a drumroll and fanfare piece played over the sound system. After about 30 seconds, without saying a word, the band began playing “Oh, Emily” from their 2012 album, Safe Travels.
The dynamic of what makes Jukebox the Ghost unique was apparent right from the beginning and throughout the show. Ben Thornewill – though subdued in while walking up to his place at the keyboard – became a different man as soon as he started playing. Thornewill has the unique ability to express great emotion just through facial expressions, including widening/squinting his eyes and raising/furrowing his eyebrows. He used this to his advantage, creating a cartoonish effect coupling this with his exaggerated body movements. By the second song, “At Last”, Thornewill was already leaning at a 45 degree angle off of his stool towards the audience. With the third song, “Victoria” he danced a bit while playing a very light and airy piano solo that revealed his upbeat take on the classical piano training he received in his youth.
Rather than detract from the music, Thornewill’s acting serves to purposefuly lighten the mood, which works in conjunction with the absence of a bass guitar in their band, and guitarist/vocalist youthful voice. A possible reason for this is that Jukebox the Ghost has always been interested in melancholy, introspective, and downright existential lyrics. With Safe Travels, the band also released corresponding commentary for each track off the album that gave a look into the song writing process and meaning of the lyrics. A little later in the set came “Dead”, also off the newest album. Guitarist and vocalist Tommy Siegel in the album commentary noted that, “Dead was a song that I never really pictured recording with Jukebox the Ghost just because of the relatively dark lyrics …This song sort of contemplates the nature of death …we’re not particularly religious people, but we think about this a lot.” The song asks for a unique departure from the world: “We all at minimum/ deserve a unique exist from this world./ So if you’re there God, see to it, God,/ see to it.” Though all songs have equally melancholy meanings, for those songs with upbeat instrumentation, Thornewill was usually featured on vocals, while Siegel often took more of the ballads. The set was evenly matched in terms of who-sang-what and allowed each to showcase their ability to convey emotion
Another song along the same lines was “Adulthood”, another song from the newest album that explores how, according to Thornewill, “You can survive childhood, you can survive adolescence, but by some strange twist in the English language….There’s no next place to get to [after adulthood].” Thornewill admitted, “It’s dark and it’s dreary, but it’s also the truth and it’s just something we’re all going to have to deal with.”
After a round of similarly heavy-hearted lyrics, the band took a break and Thornewill took the opportunity to speak with the audience a bit – as he was want to do. He asked the audience if any of them had been present for their previous show in Boston, last summer. There was a resounding chorus of screams and shouts, and a sea of raised hands. He took the opportunity to thank them, because according to him it was “103 degrees” and it was more of a trial than this night, where the wind chilled the air to the low thirties. After a quick banter with the audience, Thornewill raised voice and declared, “Next up is the first of seven more ballads, so pull out your bean bag chairs.” This led into the upbeat songs “Hold It In” and “Static Through the Heart”, both from Let Live and Let Ghosts. At one point later on, the band Thornehill spoke directly to the audience again: “We at Jukebox Inc. have a tradition of playing cheesy 80s songs at our shows. Tonight we’d like to try something a little classier.” Their “classier” attempt that evening was Queen’s “Somebody to Love” in which Thornewill excelled at a Mercury-esque falsetto, while Siegel tackled Brian May’s famous guitar solo. It would be remiss to omit drummer Jesse Kristin at this point, whose punchy beats kept the feeling upbeat and good humored even during the most sober moments in this song and the remainder of the set.
Jukebox the Ghost played a two-song encore, finishing off the night with “Good Day” from Let Live and Let Ghosts, which was an obvious crowd and band favorite to perform as well. Thornewill played up the stage presence once again, raising his arms in the likeness of an airplane and tearing at his hair. The song ended definitively and energetically and loudly with a large instrumental and rousing drum solo, leaving the audience with more energy that could ever have been hoped for.