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all photos: Julia Benton
all words: Erin Holmes

The opening band gives a nod to the headliner and the headliner later gives props to the opener. I had believed that this was merely a concert formality until witnessing the bromance between Free Energy and their opener Hollerado on Wednesday night at the Rock N Roll Hotel.

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They celebrated their last night of touring with each other by standing in the crowds during the other’s set, getting up on stage together for multiple numbers in both the opening and main acts, then ending the night with drinking, singing, jumping, and literally holding each other. We got a rare glimpse into what life may be like on the road for bands that travel and play together, and an even rarer glimpse into what it’s like when these bands actually like each other.

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There’s nothing like a good opener to make you feel like you really got your money’s worth, especially on a Wednesday night. But not only was first band Spirit Animal more than respectable (they’ll be back in DC on December 16th at the Velvet Lounge!), but second band Hollerado might as well have co-headlined the night’s concert.

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The Ontario natives announced that not only was this their first live show in Washington, DC, but also their last show with Free Energy after two months of touring together and what they called some of the best times of their lives. Free Energy members were down on the floor with all the concert-goers who paid $15, dancing and singing along with Hollerado and even jumping up on stage to help out on “Got to Lose” and “Fake Drugs.” When drummer Jake Boyd removed his shirt, he maintained that it wasn’t for the crowd, but for Free Energy, and lead singer Menno Versteeg admitted he was going to “cry like a baby” when the night was over.

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But Hollerado held their own even without help from the headliner; it was difficult to not dance along to the infectious “Juliette” and the catchy “Americanarama” with its “do do do do dodo”s. I was most impressed by Versteeg’s vocals, and the other three who all take turns on the microphone aren’t too shabby either as all four of them also jam out with the best of them. Their chemistry on stage is fantastic; the back-and-forth jokes between songs actually had the crowd laughing out loud. It was an all-around amazing performance to a rather sparse crowd (the room finally filled up a bit by the end of their set), and Hollerado seemingly left their hearts on the stage. I bought it, and later bought their album Record in a Bag once I got home… if that’s not the sign of a good opening act I don’t know what is. OH— and at one point, Versteeg played his guitar with a beer bottle. Awesome.

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As RNR Hotel finally filled up, the main act Free Energy ambled onto the stage to the tune of “Ghostbusters” and continued the night’s pop rock extravaganza. They certainly earn their name while providing hyped-up energy and enthusiasm to the audience straight through their entire set. But their humble modesty is believable and charming, and they certainly still act like a band that hasn’t received much notoriety (which they have) or critical acclaim (they have that, too, being included on many “Best New Artist of 2010” lists).

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Long-haired Paul Sprangers, looking like a rock star with his tiny T-shirt and skinny limbs, made sure to interact with audience members on the microphone, especially those wearing “Free Energy” T-shirts in the front row and the fans who sang aloud to each song. The small, tight crowd provided a feeling of both intimacy and controlled-chaos, which may also describe Free Energy’s delightful sound. Highlights were definitely the hit “Free Energy,” “Young Hearts,” and “Light Love” all from their 2010 album Stuck On Nothing, but the hit “Bang Pop” brought the night’s party to a new level with confetti and full pop sound, not to mention Hollerado stumbling onto the stage to take part in the fun.

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The night was far from over. After Free Energy ended the main set, Hollerado’s Versteeg stayed onstage to passionately yell “I DON’T WANT THIS TOUR TO END!” and start a “Free! Energy!” chant to get everyone back out on stage. All members of Free Energy and Hollerado packed onto the stage to perform Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m Goin Down,” Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” (which they admitted they learned backstage), and the go-to crowd-pleaser, Neil Young’s “Keep On Rockin in the Free World” (it’s okay to roll your eyes, I kind of hate this over-covered wonder, but they could’ve ended the night with anything and made it entertaining). They also jumped on top of each other, picked someone up, had their arms around each other, and fed each other drinks of God-knows-what from glasses, beer bottles and water bottles.

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At one point I thought to myself that Free Energy and Hollerado probably would’ve had a good time whether a crowd was there or not; DC was just invited to witness their party, a celebration of touring together. But to include the fans even more, Sprangers held the mic to one enthusiastic fan in the front to finish up “Won’t Back Down,” then pulled this guy and anyone else who was willing to go up on the already-packed stage for “Rockin in the Free World,” while he and Versteeg came down to jump and dance with those remaining on the floor.

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What a blast. The magic of the evening was part-timing of the tour, part-talent of the musicians, part-alcohol, but all-heart from these two bands that provided a unique concert experience for those at the Rock N Roll Hotel on Wednesday. Like I said before, I bought it hook, line, and sinker— but I’ve always been a sucker for bromance…
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