During the winter months 102.1 The Edge hosts their Jingle Bells concert series. This year they had bands like Death From Above 1979, Mother Mother and July Talk headline some of the shows. On Friday December 19th, on a night when most people were finishing school for the semester or about to start their work holidays Bleachers packed The Phoenix to the rafters. Calgary’s own Port Juvee opened the night and with their blend of ska meets surf rock by way of The Strokes was a great start to the night. Their entire set was pretty fast paced and got the crowd in a grooving mood. Their one slow song was reminiscent of Oh Darling by The Beatles in a rocked out RnB style. The crowd had to wait a pretty long time between sets, as it seemed like the roadies were testing out a dozen different guitars.
When the house music was finally turned off the lights dimmed as the intro synth beat for Wild Heart came on and the band ran out on stage, last being Jack Antonoff who’s the creator of the project. Most people probably know him as the guitarist for fun. and the former front man for Steel Train, and if they don’t know him from those bands they probably know him as the boyfriend to Girls creator Lena Dunham. The band was set up so that the two synth/multi instrumentalists were flanked on the far front corners of the stage and two, yes two, drummers set up far to the back on risers a few feet off the ground. This set up allowed almost the whole stage to be open allowing Antonoff space to do what front men do best, rock out insanely hard. Antonoff thrashed around throwing his body across the room with it appearing that his guitar was the one holding on for dear life. His dance/playing style seems like a combination of every over-the-top rock musician ranging from Dave Grohl to Joey Ramone to Iggy Pop to Axl Rose. Unlike those notorious hard rockers, Antonoff doesn’t play with a scowl, but instead with a permanent grin on his face. You truly believe that there is nowhere in the world he would rather be than on stage performing for a room.
Right from the first song the crowd was dancing and singing along every step of the way. The crowd demographics were all over the place, while it seemed like it was mostly women in attendance there was also quite a bit of guys. The ages ranged from just barely legal to older couples. Everyone was welcome. Throughout the night New Jersey native Antonoff proclaimed his love for our humble town many times. “Toronto is so close to us but still so far. We love this city!” Every song and note seemed to come so effortlessly easy to him proof of his long career. So few people are able to create pop music that will be universally loved and when it does come around it’s easy to see why Antonoff is in high demand from people like Taylor Swift and Tegan and Sara.
While it would have been a real treat to have hometown girl Grimes come out and join the band for Take Me Away, Antonoff made due by playing a drum machine featuring a bunch of samples of her yelping and screaming. The song was dripping in synth, it sounded like a trip-hop song and it wouldn’t sound out of place on Kanye’s 808’s and Heartbreaks next to Love Lockdown. I got the chance to interview Antonoff earlier in the week over the phone and he promised me that he would have a moment with me if he could spot me in the crowd. I would be incorrectly stating that I got my “moment” as everyone had a moment with him. During the songs he would make intense eye contact with people, when he noticed people clapping along or dancing he would point them out and give them an agreeable smile and in between songs he would lean into the crowd and give high fives to as many people as possible. It was simultaneously an intensely intimate show and communal experience.
Since Bleachers only have one album of material to work from they needed to pad their set a bit so they threw in a cover. Antonoff specializes in timeless pop music that could be popular at any time from the 70’s onwards it was fitting he performed Fleetwood Mac’s biggest hit Go Your Own Way. The crowd sung the chorus for him so he focused on dancing around in his bundle of energy. This is a man hitting all kinds of musical peaks and throwing in a blistering pop punk solo was one of many highlights of the night.
Antonoff screamed “Toronto, give me everything” leading the intro of the single Rollercoaster. It’s almost unfair at how easy it is for him to control a crowd with his talent. When You’re Still A Mystery played one of the synth players came on stage with a saxophone and proceeding to wail away like he was Clarence Clemmons (that’s the closest you will see me compare Bleachers to a fellow New Jerseyite that others seem obsessed with comparing him to). “I’ve been to Toronto with Steel Train, with fun. and twice with Bleachers. I fucking love, love, love Toronto!” During the last song Antonoff introduced the band members one by one and they each got to play extended solos showing off their skills. “In my fifteen years, I’ve always wanted two drummers and I finally got two!” After introducing the synth/sax player they had an epic duel. Antonoff would play mini solo on guitar and would be matched note for note. Antonoff shreds then the sax player wails. It was exhilarating to watch especially with Antonoff’s excitement every time the solo was matched exactly. As the song was ending Antonoff got both synth players to join him on the risers, where like an 80’s film all three jumped off them together on the final note.
When the band came out for the encore Antonoff shared one of the most honest assessments of concerts and concertgoers I’ve ever heard from an artist. “It blows my mind when people spend their hard earned money and come out to a show. Thanks so much” They ended the set with the one song everyone wanted to hear, I Wanna Get Better. I can’t figure out if it was the perfect song to finish a set with or should be used as the opener because after seeing a Bleachers show it is impossible not to feel better.