The first person I saw when I entered the dimly lit Orpheum was the gargantuan doorman, who branded my hands and shamed me for being under 21. Little did he know that I could probably destroy more brain cells by huffing the permanent green lines he drew on me.
Thanks to my incredible sense of direction, I arrived late enough to miss the first set played by Kevin Devine, the Brooklyn redhead whose music gives a pretty obvious shout-out to Connor Oberst and the late Elliott Smith.
For such a small venue, the crowd was even smaller. This definitely did not faze the second performer, Arthur “Ace” Enders. His impressive wail punctuated new tunes from his solo album as well as the old stuff from his ex-band The Early November. Songs such as “Ever So Sweet” sent me back in time to the ninth grade.
During a brief moment of silence between songs, I could not help but notice his uncanny resemblance to George Michael (not the ’80s icon, the kid from Arrested Development). The guy in front of me squealed in delighted agreement.
After stealing at least eight years of my life while setting up, Steel Train (named after the Bob Marley song that they once covered) finally took to the stage. They already had a “big buzz,” according to lead guitarist and vocalist Jack Antonoff.
Other than being one of the core members of Steel Train, Antonoff is also noted for being a former flame of Hollywood siren Scarlett Johansson, whom he references by name in at least one of his songs. ?Those tight trendy pants he was sporting may have, in fact, been something Johansson forgot to take back from his Brooklyn apartment – but that is purely speculation.
They were playing music from their sophomore album Trampoline, a complete departure from the sound that had gained them tie-dye wearing, deadhead jam-band fans across the nation.
In their previous release from 2005, Twilight Tales from the Prairies of the Sun, the topics they touched upon were not for the faint of heart – borderline morbid, even. In that album you can really tell that Antonoff was deeply affected by the 9/11 attacks and the events that soon followed in his personal life. The death of his cousin in the war, the loss of his sister and the breakup with his long-time girlfriend all took place within the span of six months.
If that is the case, there was no evidence of it in the band’s new material. The stories within their lyrics all have the same gist, but rather than being paired with equally depressing music, they are infused with pop and upbeat experimental noise. Mid-show, Evan Winiker – bassist and fro-sporter – even broke out a xylophone, creating a childlike and almost creepy vibe. On a side note, Winiker – a professional singer (and cutie) since age 2 – played the role of Simba in the Broadway production of The Lion King.
I thoroughly enjoyed the xylophone, glockenspiel, maracas and various other instruments they used, but my favorite part of the show would have to be when the band recreated a barbershop quintet formation and sang along to Antonoff’s guitar strumming of the track “Road Song.” If I closed my eyes, I could have easily been on someone’s grandma’s back porch, rocking out to bluegrass tunes.
The last song ended abruptly, and so did the show. Antonoff said afterward that everyone kept coming up to him and saying that they wanted an encore.
“If just one person would have said it, we would have come back out. Isn’t that how it normally works?” Antonoff asked.
Giving one final salute to the Jolly Green Doorman, I could tell that he wanted another song as well.