Andrew Jackson Jihad Live at Subterranean

Read my first review for Chicago music publication Pop ‘stache here or below:

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“And could you please sit over there, I don’t want you crying in my beer. Do you want some cheese with all that whine?”

Andrew Jackson Jihad, a punk-folk group from Phoenix heartily sang lyrics like these to a sold-out crowd of energy-hungry Chicago fans on March 18. Often political and other times emotional, this band gives a generously raw performance to every venue it graces. The group played at Subterranean, marking the beginning of what should be many local shows since frontman Sean Bonnette’s move to Chicago. Opening tracks got the audience’s heat wave-night wheels turning: “Rejoice,” “Brave as a Noun” and “Survive” off the much-loved 2007 album People That Can Eat People Are the Luckiest People in the World led the setlist with the abrupt energy that the band is known for.

AJJ has certainly transformed as performers since the days of their acoustic lightheartedness. It seems that as AJJ’s music grows, so does the intensity of its crowds. Moshing, bruised blue toes and sweaty necks drenched the air toward the front of the crowd, a refreshingly annoying side effect of an 80-degree March day. While AJJ maintained its signature quick-beat folk form during the set, band members were clearly enjoying an exploration to a wilder side of their song arrangements. The band sported more members and more voices more often, and even lost the bass cello during most of the set. The lack of original cello and acoustic guitar combinations didn’t seem missed by the moshing majority, however, this change also took with it a trademark style—one that only a return to the album versions would fulfill. This show indicated that they’re actually quite punk at times, which in the past was much more contained within the realm of indie folk. They now jam louder and harder—and love every second of it.

The crowd’s complete saturation by and infatuation for the music is an element of AJJ’s performances that will never change.

Everyone sang and jumped inside the deep-red walls of the venue. These musicians excite a strong sense of relatability with their fans. Something in every lyric presents an honesty that we haven’t heard out loud, or an insight that’s so simple and true, it eases our insecurities and resets our perspectives.

The crowd screams with them during the ballad “Big Bird,” “It’s harder to be yourself than it is to be anybody else, I wish I were a little less of a coward,” and to “Candle in the Wind (Ben’s Song),” “We fuck holes in the world, and fuck everybody else, and we fuck because we are lonely.” Raw, simple and real are strongly craved and due in our world of increasing banality and anonymity. Cheers to AJJ for providing us with music to scream our troubles along with.

Setlist for Andrew Jackson Jihad at Subterranean on March 18, 2012:

  1. “Rejoice”
  2. “Brave as a Noun”
  3. “Survive”
  4. “American Tune”
  5. “Love in the Time of Human Papillomavirus”
  6. “Candle in the Wind (Ben’s Song)”
  7. “Fucc the Devil”
  8. “Black Face White Eyes”
  9. “Distance”
  10. “Sad Songs (Intermission)”
  11. “Heartilation”
  12. “Hate and Kill”
  13. “Little Prince”
  14. “Big Bird”
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