Sean Bonnette of Andrew Jackson Jihad (All Photos by Daniel Ahrendt)
Never before Saturday night had I moshed to acoustic music. Now thanks to Phoenix, Arizona’s jovial riot folk duo Andrew Jackson Jihad (AJJ), the bucket list is that much more complete. Sean Bonnette (guitar/vox) and Ben Gallaty (bass) are at the beginning of a month and a half tour taking them from California up the coast, into Canada, and over to the east side of the U.S. On this leg of their tour, they were joined by touring mates Roar and Laura Stevenson & the Cans in addition to locals The Exquisites. Each act was decisively different sonically with a united theme of gleeful awkwardness, flipping the generally dark, cave-ish nature of The Highline into a spiked boot drunk-hop of childish truth.
Visit the SSG Music Youtube Channel to see a few more videos of AJJ
AJJ’s set started with just the two primary members delivering their stripped down political spunk, including the much adored “American Tune.” Who doesn’t love a satirical barrage of straight white men? Everyone in the rather restricted area in front of the stage loved it and every other tune the band cranked out. Combined with their kind stage presence and the unadulterated fun of their basic punk instrumentation is a very basic and cutting dedication to lyrical pain. In this sense they could be likened to the childish fixation with death of Canadian power-pop masters The Unicorns, but AJJ is less of a homage to childhood fear and more of an understanding that it still exists. Later in their set, the atmosphere was amplified by the addition of two to three other musicians, two of which (along with Ben Gallaty) joined opener Roar earlier in the show. With another three musicians on stage (one of which was Owen Evans of Roar…it’s simpler than it sounds), a drum set, one to two sets of keys, and another guitar, the songs sprang from the full tilt fast punk of “Hate and Kill” to expansive, slowed down power pop. For as heavy as their lyrical material is, the juxtaposition with the gleeful music that accompanies it and the happy musicians that play it make AJJ a truly novel and exciting group. This is what pop punk should be (and I suppose, is).
New York based indie rock powerhouses Laura Stevenson & the Cans delighted The Highline with a mixture of finely crafted, Irish tinged melodies and well polished musicianship. Laura Stevenson’s seemingly recessed, quiet voice just as easily jumps out of the woodwork with more dexterity and melodic intelligence than most and her delightfully awkward nature in between tunes makes her all the more lovely. Owen Evans, the mastermind behind Roar, crafts high pitched melody driven power-pop wisely divided into different song sections highly reminiscent of The Unicorns, but with more defined legato archs. Combined with his synth samples from some comedic horror movie that I now really want to see, Roar put on an impressive if amusingly creepy set. Locals The Exquisites produce a loud, major key-driven, distended sound similar to Fugazi mixed with salt water taffy, and there’s nothing wrong with either of those things.