Photos by Leysha Caraballo.
Standing atop a television on standby, flanked by two massive cameras and one enthusiastic trumpeter blaring just behind him, Saint Motel frontman AJ Jackson leaps across the stage like some figment of the imagination. Teleporting effortlessly from the massive retro television adorning the wall behind the band, to the dim-lit bar just ten feet away, and back to the stage in a flash, he flickers like the endless changing of a channel. Once he finds the right channel, and the band’s jazzy rock sound fills the room, our prime-time entertainment for the evening is just kicking off.
While I might have only just recently discovered the dreamy pop sound of Saint Motel, one of their first hits in “My Type” popping up in the 2015 film “Paper Towns,” I’ve been fascinated as of late by not only the hypnotic pop anthems off their latest record ‘saintmotelevision,’ but the band’s unique brand of performance as well. When I heard they were bringing their televised shenanigans to Charlotte, I jumped at the chance to see them live. In a night full of riotous pop, checkered blazers and 70s TV commercials excavated from a time capsule, Saint Motel lit up the stage, entrancing the audience in a storm of grand nostalgia and vibrant melodies.
With the sensual R&B vibes of opener Gibbz dying down, the towering television on stage sparked, quickly cascading into a barrage of television advertisements from the era of Lite-Brite and the birth of the Internet. From old men trading Grey Poupon mustard to a slew of rather creepy Japanese marketing, the somewhat-elaborate prologue to Saint Motel’s arrival offered up an intriguing peek inside the pop-culture treats within their latest album. While some of the commercials sprawling across the stage might have seemed a tad bit obscure, the visual palette of the band in this vibrant intro led into an explosive entry for Saint Motel to quickly overtake the room.
Kicking off the night with one of the more recent hits I’ve heard from the band, ‘Puzzle Pieces,’ the crowd swayed in delight as Jackson and the band leapt from silhouettes against the massive television screen to radiant characters full of life. As they rolled through rapid-speed anthems like ‘Getaway’ and ‘Sweet Talk,’ and slower tracks like ‘You Can Be You,’ the large TV continued to spray out vivid imagery that spoke to the concepts behind each song. With many of the band’s music videos concocted and directed by Jackson himself, his imprint on the visual display that adorned the band’s music was clearly evident on stage. From fragments of vintage cinema to the endless crashing of waves in an unknown sea, Saint Motel’s performance played out like a spectacular, obscure movie, set to one killer soundtrack.
While much of the band’s discography might remain an uncharted venture for me, the night gave myself and many others a fantastic introduction to the creative minds behind Saint Motel. With their sprawling, jazzy hits in ‘Move’ and ‘Benny Goldman’ giving way to their more alternative punk-rock sound in ‘Do Everything Now’ and ‘Born Again,’ the band delivered yet another one of my favorite live performances of the year.
Saint Motel consists of lead vocalist AJ Jackson, lead guitarist Aaron Sharp, bassist Dak Lerdamornpong and drummer Greg Erwin. Their latest album, ‘saintmotelevision,’ was released on Oct. 21, 2016, and includes the hit singles ‘Move,’ ‘Getaway’ and ‘Destroyer.’ The band continues their ‘Late Night with Saint Motel’ tour into next year.