Bleachers took to the stage in Brooklyn’s McCarren Park yesterday, brightening up the otherwise gloomy and grey afternoon with an amped up hour-long set! Their long-awaited debut Strange Desire isn’t due to hit shelves until July 15th, but we were treated to a vibrant sneak peek from .fun guitarist Jack Antonoff’s new musical project. The performance not only helped kick off this year’s Northside Music Festival, but was part of the finale for VH1’s Make A Band Famous!
They got things started with the rhapsodic album-opener “Wild Heart,” reminiscent of a 21st century “Thunder Road” with twinkly piano, thundering drum crescendo, and Antonoff’s husky croon. But then again, what do you expect- like Bruce Springteen, Antonoff also hails from the great Garden State. In place of the gigantic E Street Band, this massive wall of sound came from just Antonoff’s Gibson guitar and three multi-instrumentalists who alternated drum, bass, keyboard, guitar and sax duties.
The frontman’s stage presence swung wildly, from murmuring sentimental lyrics deep into the mic to taking furious stabs at his axe. He speaks casually to the audience in between songs, as if we were all sitting together at a dinner table. “Welcome to Brooklyn!” screamed a voice in the crowd. “I live here, man,” he replied with a smirk. It’s true, he reportedly lives nearby with girlfriend Lena Dunham. Sadly we couldn’t spot her in the crowd, thus preventing the event from becoming the most Williamsburg thing that has ever happened.
The triumphant homecoming continued with “Shadow,” the band’s most recent single, and “Wake Me,” a love song presumably about his relationship with the Girls creator. “I can’t believe I captured your heart,” he sings, providing the perfect closing credits to every future hipster rom-com ever. In fact, a major chunk of his lyrics appear to center around their love life, which (despite some false reports to the contrary) seems to be going smoother than ever.
A highlight of the set was the debut live performance of “You’re Still A Mystery,” the last song written for their new album. It featured a gorgeous sax solo that would do Clarence Clemons (or Rick Astley) proud, was capped off with a sing-along “natural fadeout.” But things flat-out rocked on “Who I Want You To Love,” starting with a swampy, funky bass breakdown that lead into a searing display of Antonoff’s guitar prowess. He removed his glasses before setting off the guitar pyrotechnics, shredding like a rock Rick Moranis.
They wrapped things up with their debut single and biggest hit to date, “I Wanna Get Better.” Radio-friendly in the extreme, the song is a perfectly marketed slice of ear-candy aimed squarely at angsty teens, and those who still sometimes feel like them (i.e., all of us). To our ears, Antonoff offers an anthem for those struggling to find their place, and dream of one day find what they’re looking for. Sure the lyrics are occasionally over-the-top teenage poetry, but it works. The whole band is a John Hughes film put to music.
“I didn’t know I was lonely ’til I saw your face, I wanna get better. I didn’t know I was broken ’til I wanted to change, I wanna get better.” The crowd sings along on the final chorus, and suddenly we’re all back in high school, sneaking a clove cigarette at recess under the bleachers and dreaming of the day when we’ve arrived at where we want to be.