All words: William Alberque — All photos: Farrah Skeiky
TO SUM UP: Jukebox the Ghost played their much-loved brand of relentlessly upbeat kiddy-indie to a sold-out 9:30 Club full of relentlessly upbeat indie kiddies, while Savoir Adore gave a breathtaking performance of gorgeous intensity, like a romantic interlude, and local opening band Tereu Tereu acquitted themselves with distinction.
Jukebox the Ghost’s rise to relative ubiquity has been nothing less than impressive. The three-piece, which met at George Washington University and began playing to empty rec rooms, now headlines sold-out shows in New York (Bowery Ballroom) and the legendary 9:30 Club. JtG cite They Might Be Giants as an influence, have been repeatedly accused of being Ben Folds Five in disguise, played Letterman, released three albums, and toured incessantly from 2007 to the present. They’ve received adoring reviews, not least from BYT’s starry–eyed writers, and threaten to cross over into true phenomenon status at any moment.
And yet, I realized three songs into their set on Friday night: I’m really not that into them. It is not that I hate them with an intense, burning, holier-than-thou hatred (and I’ve poured vitriol out onto these pages enough in the past to know the difference), but with a sort of vague contempt I reserve for people who collect pictures of cute animals they see on the internet or display motivational posters without irony or show you interminable pictures of their nieces and nephews. From the giddy, hiccup vocals of Ben Thornewill, to the jaunty piano lines (also Thornewill), to the peppy drum beats (Jesse Kristin) and the largely perfunctory guitar lines (Tommy Siegel), this is talent that has crossed all the way over to milkshake-headache-inducing pop madness.
I’m not sure how they make their music, but I imagine it starts with listening to Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” on repeat for an hour and then asking themselves, “can we do it happier, poppier, and more upbeat?” It’s just bloody exhausting. And looking out across the crowd, with all the little fans – legion and growing. Presumably, most will cross into young adulthood soon with its attendant sorrows, reversals, and mordant experience. This will not be the music they carry with them.
Fortunately, the suffering to come is leavened by the opening acts. First, Tereu Tereu (a late addition to the bill due to a missing opening act), a DC-based two-piece, comprised of Ryan Little on guitar and vocals and Brendan Polmer on drums. The music’s quite good; with a Bends-era Radiohead as covered by Fugazi released on K Records feel to it (did I say “NINETIES!” enough?) – although, as with most smaller bands, I feel like they’d be a menacing proposition with the addition of a keyboardist and bassist. They remind me of a more direct Yuck, or a harder Pavement without the obscure/abstruse imagery. Worthy.
Then, Savoir Adore. Oh, how I love SA. I fell for them wholeheartedly watching them open for Oh Land in December, and they have grown in stature and delivery since. If you’ve never heard them, they’re a boy-girl duo (Paul Hammer on vocals and guitars, Deidre Muro on vocals and keyboards) from Brooklyn, variously pigeonholed (unfairly) as electro pop.
Their debut concept EP, The Adventures of Mr. Pumpernickel and the Girl with the Animals in Her Throat – yeah, right? – was, shall we say, quirky. Their first proper album, In the Wooded Forest (2009), was better but still just off the apex. And then came last year’s single of the year for me, “Dreamers.” No matter how many times I listen to it, it’s still as breathtaking, romantic, and lovelorn as the first time. No, seriously, listen to it – you tell me. That’s just a taste – a hint – of how good this band is live.
Part of the reason, of course, is that live, Savoir Adore fill out to a five piece, with a guitar, bass, and real drums, along with Muro’s keyboards, making a full, rich sound, reminiscent of Arcade Fire at their most glorious (though, with better male vocals). They play a terrific set, starting with “Loveliest Creature.” The band synchronize an arm wave in the song – up in an arc over their heads and back down again – a strange ritual that the audience joins in right away, roping them in from the start. “We Talk Like Machines” is mesmerizing, with Muro’s vocal stylings and stage presence clearly benefiting from her tour exposure to Oh Land’s Nanna Øland Fabricius.
“Bodies” and “Sea of Gold” showcase the winning interplay between Muro and Hammer, and – dammit, the best song in the set, and I didn’t get its name – with a building disco beat, and Muro launching into disco diva vocals, it’s just glorious. They reimagine early track, “Transylvanian Candy Patrol,” as a Mazzy Star-inflected slow-burner before exploding with a perfect rendition of “Dreamers,” closing with another disco-pop-stomper off the unreleased album, “Regalia.” I’m breathless and joyful and ready to enjoy just about anything. Just…
…not this. Jukebox the Ghost start with – and I’m guessing here based on previous setlists – “Somebody” from the new album, Safe Travels. The track starts happy, and then gets deliriously happy, and then happier. It’s hard not to feel a certain rush of elation, like eating the whole top of an iced cupcake in one go. And then the next song (“Stars,” perhaps?) repeats the trick. Which is like eating another cupcake top. And washing it down with Inca Cola. And then the next (“Hold It in”), which is like eating two cupcake tops and drinking a liter of Kool Aid with RC Cola instead of Water. I’m starting to get sugar sick.
JtG miss a verse and laugh about it, compliment the crowd, and get back to the heavy business of being relentlessly upbeat. The crowd is mad for it all, singing along and clapping in time – and I feel queasy, then tired, and then bored, bored, bored. After about 10 songs, I’m ready to start a one man mosh pit, or sit down and read a book, or just leave. I try to stick it out for a little longer, but fail utterly – I’d rather brave the torrential downpour outside than continue to stare at the faces of a thousand pre-teens in rictus grin, like a crowd of ecstasy club kids with black xs on their hands. I’ve seen hell, and I can assure you, it is filled with bright colors and smiley faces.