Band of Brothers
the unabridged concert review
It’s 1 AM, I’ve just walked into my bedroom. It’s the first time I’ve experienced complete silence in several hours. But the room is ringing. After walking towards my window and circling in the hallway I conclude that ringing is not, in fact, coming from outside: it’s in my ears. Though I hope that this tangling tinnitus radiating from my left ear drum is not a permanent side effect from standing 2 rows out at the concert I had just arrived home from, if it was a lasting damage to my hearing, it was worth it for this experience. After all, this wasn’t a concert for the ears, it was one for the soul.
Hours earlier my friend and I stood on the outside of a giant windowed second hand store. The line wound so subtly that it could almost appear as if people were queuing to enter the Goodwill. However, upon closer look, just one tilt of the head upwards, one would find the classic marquee lights of the Paradise Rock Club: “American Authors” emblazoned below in carefully placed letters. “25th Magic Giant” could be read by anyone approaching from the opposite side.
American Authors and Magic Giant paired up for a whirlwind “Band of Brothers” tour earlier this year. Traveling to 34 cities in 6 weeks. Their Boston gig was the second to last show on the schedule. The unique structure of a combined set between the bands and one of a kind structural line up for every performance, makes this tour arguably a first of its kind.
A trio who goes by Public opens the concert. Though I had not previously known their music, the hoppy, simple to learn, and painfully relatable lyrics of “On My Mind” has me singing along by the chorus. Helped by the fact John Vaughan- the lead singer- realizing most of the audience were new to their songs, had taken a few minutes to teach us the words.
This was an increasingly obvious component throughout the night: the sheer amount of audience engagement. It’s not just that all three bands pulse an enormous amount of energy through every song they perform, exuding a confidence in their stamina that’s exceedingly enviable; but that they disperse it- spreading their enthusiasm throughout the crowd like a viral airborne (or earborne perhaps) caffeine. The cover they perform subsequently only helps.
Public grabs attention with an irresistible sing-along, claiming to play a cover of a more well-known song in order to win us over as fans. It works. Although it takes several bars for me to recognize the wroughtly translated-to-rock chords strummed upon the bass with an eye-drawing energy by Matt Alvarado, as soon as I catch on I am won over immediately; it is a pop-turns-punk cover of Britney Spears’ classic, "Toxic." The band closes with their most well known, and newest song, Make You Mine.
After a game of Plinko, hosted by a lone Zac Taylor (an Author’s guitarist) in a distinct blazer wrapped with boho scarf, to determine who will start the show, house lights lower, and colored beams rise. American Authors and Magic Giant both enter with a riotous enthusiasm, instrumentalizing into renditions of “Best Day of My Life” and “Disaster Party.” Teasing their most popular songs, though you know that they will be the closers of the concert.
Even if you don’t think you know American Authors, you know American Authors. As soon as you hear the words “Best Day of My Life,” the palpable plinking banjo chords of the intro will pierce your ears. If you’ve been to a dance, wedding, or graduation anytime in the last decade, you’ve heard this song.
I had actively listened to all the Authors songs downloaded onto my Spotify earlier in the month. Despite this, I can’t say that I indelibly recognized most of the first set of American Author’s songs. Initially a bit embarrassed by this, I remember that as someone who accrued 80,000 minutes of Spotify listening last year, I am always happy to be introduced to some new music. They open with "Believer" and continue with "Stay Around," followed by "Right Here, Right Now," continually cranking up the ebullience in the room.
It feels like the build up of the set reaches a climax of contention through the bombination of the intense bass in "Say Amen," catching my attention immediately with a hard hitting drumline undertoning the epic and almost cinematic tone of this piece. The repetitive lyrics are easy to catch onto and interact with; the audience joining in the repentance with arms in the air as an invisible metronome keeping time with the heavy beat. The simultaneous synchronicity brings the concert pit to an almost prayer-like worship of the music that this song is worthy of.
The last song of American Author’s first set ended with a bang and a banjo solo from James Shelley in "Go Big or Go Home."
Magic Giant storms the stage with "Celebrate the Reckless" and "Glass Heart." I am not sure how many horses have sacrificed their tales in order for Zambricki to grace the stage with a functional bow every night; but this man violin solos like it is nobody’s business and he’s not afraid to snap a few hairs to spotlight his prowess.
The intro strumming to "Hide Away" catches my recognition immediately. The chords downstrum into a direct pipeline and dump straight into the wrenching, empathy-inducing lyrics, “Do you get sad and lonely? That’s what somebody said to me.” Two strums of a banjo and subtle beat-keeping drums unceremoniously sidle in before the answer: “Well I do,” which Austin croons in a distinctly recognizable, yet near-irreplicable, harmonious run. If there is anything Magic Giant has somehow managed to marry perfectly it's how to make something sad still feel uplifting.
This becomes even more obvious as I am deer-in-headlights spotlighted by the knowledge that "Jade" was about someone who had passed away. Previously ignorant to the subject matter, it becomes lyrically obvious. It's easy to become too enthralled with the glittering synth beat, and party-feeling brass, to truly pick up on the lyrical line of sadness emanating like a thin thread quilting together the pieces of the song. This band’s talent in idiosyncrasies of sound and content may be their biggest distinguishing factor in their rise to alt-pop stardom. And it’s illustrated further in their newest single "Disaster Party."
Unmistakable whistling prologues this hopping rhythmic party anthem, which they wrote in the midst of the California wild fires. Despite the theme, this tune is so catchy my roommate asked me about it post-concert because she started to identify that it was a good jam simply by me whistling it all the time. (Side note, for the appreciation of all things godly in music look up their live cover of this song, that they somehow manage to perform a flawless single take of on the back of a rickshaw through Central Park.)
After the huge shindy, the band gives the audience a moment to unwind, asking “Can we perform this in the middle?” I don't know exactly what the band is proposing, but it obviously sounds like a good idea, whatever it was, mostly because they’re talking about going acoustic. Milk crates get passed into the middle- turns out that they meant into the center of the literal crowd. Flashlights go up, Austin, Zang and Zambricki seemingly float around their own crate-stage, whilst performing a stripped-down-to-violin-guitar-and-vocals of "Great Divide."
It’s dark. There are no lights on stage. Milk crates are being passed back. Attention is divided and the room mulls for a moment. Drums enter. Not from the stage, but a deep thrumming pulses through the room, as Matt Sanchez (American Authors’ drummer) enters from behind the crowd beating a marching bass. The entire room erupts into a rendition of Luck as all the band members flood into the crowd. Between entering, exiting, and not willing to give up my leaning pole (which I have leaned up against in my 'cinderella slippers'-aka someones leftover beer bottles now being utilized as high heels), so therefore not moving out of the way as much as I probably should have, I am fairly certain I’ve brushed shoulders with most of the band members.
All members mob the stage as an all out- two band- rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s "Cecilia" amalgamates the room- maracas, drums, bongos, cowbells and all.
Lead vocalist of American Authors, Zac Barnett, starts their next set sitting on the edge of the stage with his guitar strapped facing backwards against his body, casually swaying to the lyrics of "Bring it on Home." While James Shelley’s stomping energy on the banjo can hardly be contained.
This performance ends with the proclamation “We are home.” As mentioned a few times earlier in the show, American Authors was actually formed here in Boston, all the members having started out at Berklee College of Music. It makes for a seamless transition into the homesick ballad of Neighborhood. A song I recognize all too well- both in mere familiarity- but also in painful relatability of the subjects: leaving home, losing yourself, unknown trajectories. After this, a pick-me-up is necessary.
“Yesssss,” I hiss under my breath (or at least I think it's quiet, but for how deep we are into the concert I have likely lost a good deal of hearing by then) to my friend when they say they’re performing their new single. "Microphone"- an addictingly upbeat tune, released just at the beginning of this year, is the perfect choice to bring the mood back up. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard the song, having appeared on my Release Radar on Spotify when it came out in January:
I was walking past a cemetery on my commute to work. The electric beat picks up after the distortion-heavy intro. Bass thrumming sneaks in underneath the plethora of sounds, only to be joined by a rhythmic tambourine. The sound gets almost messy-busy but then relaxes right before building back up for the chorus. The demand to ‘turn it up a little louder’ is irresistible; this is the perfect synthesization of pump up music. I have already done just that, synthy beat pounding in my headphones, when I pull my phone out of my pocket, exposing my hands to the cold of winter to tell Spotify, “yes, I like this song.” When I saw that it is by American Authors-- I realized with excitement that I could see this song live in not more than a few weeks.
The live performance is even more amping- and muscle cramping- than I could have even possibly imagined. Zac Barnett squats in the middle of the crowd, which encircles him, also crouching as far down as we can possibly manage to the floor. Pretty much constantly sore from the minimal amount of weekly exercise I do, in a tight dress, unwilling to lose my beer bottle heel raisers, and trying to get a decent video, I am probably not squatting quite as low as I could under other other circumstances. Tension- and a good deal of lactic acid- builds as we wait for the chorus. Finally it breaks with a count of three and clang of drums, the crowd bounces up. The entire audience jumps and sings in unison. Two bassists solo as Zac exits right past me. I don’t know what to do, but the guy who gets a fist bump in front of me probably had the right idea- I just keep awkwardly my phone up.
After the energy surge and adrenaline from basically just meeting a celebrity in a weird silent acknowledgement of each other’s presence (in a two people trying not to collide their shopping carts in a grocery store aisle kind of way), it seems like an appropriate time to tone it back down.
The whole room is flooded in blue light for "Deep Water," ebbing and flowing like the waves being sung about. Austin joins in from a stage right (crowd left) stair case, leaning against the railing, eeking the same level of emotion as Barnett, in a melodic comradery. Eventually, Austin descends the staircase (in what I can only imagine was in a 1980’s-film-homecoming-scene fashion) and joins on stage for the two lead singers to belt the chorus together.
The lights change into a temporal flashing matching the pulse Zac sets down for "Born to Run," by smacking down the beat with the mallets onto the standing drums in the middle of the stage.
In a transition between sets, both bands join on stage again for "Rocket Man," a single released by Magic Giant ft. American Authors.
Magic Giant starts off their second set with "Nothing Left." If you have never seen someone rock a hardocre harmonica solo while somehow simultaneously pulling off every chord on what I can only assume is an electric ukulele, Zambricki is here to show you how it's done.
Instead of losing steam throughout the set, the band manages to progressively amp up the energy. Austin’s irreplicable dance moves seem to only increase in indefatigability throughout "Shake Me Up," drawing all eyes to him, including his own band members. And to be fair, no one can quite rock fringe the way this man can. The indispensable energy transmits throughout the stage, as Zang is rocking out so hard on bass that his bun falls out in slow motion unleashing a magnificent mane of hair. Zambricki manages to multi-task high-knee skips whilst fiddling.
They use the momentum to turn over to a yet-unreleased song of theirs. I don’t remember if it had a title yet, but I do hope they release it soon, because much like the lyrics I can’t get it “out of my mind.”
"Set On Fire," besides being one of my favorites, was a nod of appreciation to the production crew’s smoothness. An unnoticeable-in-sound transition four instrument swap happens during this song’s performance: Zang starts this song on the stand up cello, transitioning to the acoustic guitar, while Zambricki swaps out his extra long bango (I am sure there is a more technical term this instrument) for his violin. Matt from American Authors pops onto stage to cover the still necessary banjo chords. The smoothness of this adjustment demonstrating the ease at which this Band of Brothers can flow into one another (alternating band members popping in and out of the stage for performances occurred throughout the night). By the apotheosis of the song pretty much everyone is on stage, banging on the drums. A dazzlingly bright spotlight blares against Zang so brightly it is impossible to photograph, though the image is striking: white light blaring; long brown hair flowing, in a gold emblazoned jacket, I imagine this is what Jesus with a bass looks like. It’s transcendent.
The energy in the air is already electrified, when "Window" begins. This is the song we have all been waiting for. Zac is jumping on stage with Austin, I am yelling all the lyrics to the chorus at the top of my lungs. The whole crowd sways together, shoulder to shoulder.
Naturally and as expected, "Best Day of My Life" brings the show towards a close. The endlessly-distinguishable banjo introducing the chart topping hit. If this was the kind of show and venue that had fireworks, this is when they would be going off. In energy and sound, we make our own.
The song ends, I assume the show is over, but I am shocked to see now every single member of all three bands (Public joining in) is yelling “Hey, What’s going on” in an all out energy finale to the 4 Non Blondes “What’s Up.” But after throwing my heart, soul, and the last dredges of energy from my feet for what I assumed was the closing finale of the night, I am exhausted.
Trying to navigate our way out of the city, cold rain dripping on too thin jackets, the concert high settles. The next morning is almost discouraging; the monotony of the same everyday routine of life settling back in, the night before seeming to fade into the horizon. It was just one night, nothing had really changed. Except the feeling; if there's anything that comes out of the Band of Brothers tour it’s the feeling that each and every one of us has the power to make people feel heard and seen; that you don’t have to be special, or a superhero, or even famous, to make someone feel like they mean something.
Unlike many songs on the radio these days, these songs aren’t only about relationships, fame & drugs. These songs are about life. About running from it, and chasing towards it, losing home and finding it, making connections and breaking them: it's about keeping the door open to everyone, even if the whole world is burning, or if you feel like you're drowning. The tour title “Band of Brothers” couldn't make more sense with it’s knock on your face obviousness; but there's a more subliminal underlining- it’s a band of brotherhood.
You can see it in everyone’s face as they’re performing, the way each person looks at another band member, completely full of admiration, adoration, and respect for each other. And it wasn’t just a conglomerate band between them- it was the banding together of everyone: bringing in and spreading the love to their fans. It's the way Austin tells everyone in the audience to put an arm around someone else's shoulder in the middle of their biggest song, and shouts “Let’s unite this place,” before belting out another round of the chorus. It's the way Zang watches Austin’s dance moves, the way Austin and Zac effortlessly join in on each other's choruses. How Dave (Author’s bassist) jumps around, waving his hands, and mouthing every word of the lyrics with an unbridled enthusiasm. And it's the way Magic Giant comes out to the side of the stage after the show, and hangs out with everyone until every fan has gotten their photo and autograph; the way they look through a group of fans to pick out the two girls who had been waiting their turn but didn’t know what to say; the way Austin assures that “we don’t know how to start a conversations,” is in fact a great conversation starter. How Zambricki asks my name and tells me his, and takes the time to talk to me about the term “high knees” (an exercise he performs flawlessly, whilst fiddling, despite never having known what they were called) while we wait for our picture to get taken. This tour isn’t just about the music, it’s about making the effort to connect everyone in the whole room. It’s about taking the time to make people feel like they matter.
It’s about making people remember that life, no matter how monotonous, or repetitive, is anything but ordinary. That each one is completely different and every person is inextricably linked. That love is beautiful. And it’s all worth fighting for.