Saturday, 14 September 2013

Andrew Jackson Jihad - Live at The Crescent Ballroom

Andrew Jackson Jihad are punk rockers to their core, this is evidenced particularly clearly in their live shows as is generally the case for punk bands. and this translates well on their first live album release Live at the Crescent Ballroom. This live record is one and a half hours and takes AJJ through all their best tunes, old favourites and new gems. Including a few tracks that are (as of yet) unreleased. For live audiences this can be a nuisance when they want to hear songs they know and love, but also a special treat to be exposed to new music in such a vibrant way. 

Sean Bonette’s a great songwriter. He’s lyrics are introspective but vastly rely on descriptiveness of everyday idiosyncrasies and simplicity in a communicatively unique way. His lyricism can be pretty unflinchingly personal, which is a double-edged sword. Maybe you don’t WANT to know this much about him! AJJ is at their best, especially live with tracks like “Heartilation” and “Hate, Rain On Me” thumping jarring rock songs with their signature quirky quip-esque lyrics and excellent instrumental crowd control by Ben Gallaty. These are among the highlights of the concert. Bonette’s quips aren’t always favourable however. Sometimes it goes a little far. One of the new songs “#armageddon” is a good example of taking his particular brand of introspection and cynicism towards culture a bit too…cheesy. Lyrics about hashtags and topic trending are a little too lazy for the DIY kings of Phoenix Arizona. It’s something that has worked very for AJJ over the years. Sean’s unconventional lyrics and their musical style is so unique that it serves them well. Adversely there will always be people who say there is an element of being wacky for the sake of being wacky. With songs like “#armageddon” it’s hard to not see that a LITTLE bit. But obviously this claim is pretty untrue.

Sincerity is definitely present in this recording. Another of the new recordings “Black Dog” is a very short, but incredibly adorable song about Sean’s self-loathing and love for Ben Gallaty’s dog. It’s only a minute long, but one of the most powerful moments on the entire record. The concert is performed in their hometown at the Crescent Ballroom and they couldn’t have a better crowd, composed of new fans and diehards the Phoenix area makes for some of the best concerts, particularly in punk music. 

The enormously high energy is noticeable on the entire record, even during Sean’s acoustic solo songs. Throughout the record, he rotates between electric and acoustic for various different performances, a definite disappointment for fans of their older material that was strictly acoustic. But that particular version of Andrew Jackson Jihad has been dead for a while; their last two LPs, Can’t Maintain and Knife Man have primarily featured electric guitar at the forefront of their instruments. While some of the unique sensitivity of their punky acoustics are lost with more electric songs, they also get spunkier with more traditional punk energy. It’s a trade-off, no matter what you do, you’ll leave some fans upset but it works out very well, for this release anyway. 

For Andrew Jackson Jihad fans that already own and have worn out their copies of the bands LPs there is enough material here to keep them satisfied. The new track “Kokopelli Face Tattoo” is a catchy-as-fuck number which leads Sean through a number of bizarre previous lives and a chorus about hatred. It’s classic Andrew Jackson Jihad. The show’s banter is pretty entertaining as well, one of the elements of live albums that has always been disparagingly ignored by labels who put them out. One of the reasons people go to shows is for the experience, and a live record that keeps all the little things at the beginnings and ends of song IN the recording, has provided you a closer replica of that same experience. 

AJJ’s stage banter is very candid and natural, doesn’t come off as awkward or staged like it does for some bands. This is good, because for a band like AJJ often on the cusp of being try-hard or overly exasperated with their lyrics or music style, would be overly scrutinized for something like this, if it came off unnatural. Good for them. The genre of folk-punk in general is disdained by lots of individuals for its oddity but its massive now. Violent Femmes and The Pogues are looked upon as classics now and groups like Andrew Jackson Jihad and their contemporaries are getting bigger every release. As mentioned previously, it’s the life atmosphere that makes a punk band and with this recording, AJJ has accomplished what a lot of punk bands since the 70s have been unable to do: successfully share the experience of one of their shows with people at home on their turntables.


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