Maybe I’m odd, but I distinctly connect music with specific time periods and memories in my life. ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” conjures up memories of riding with my carpool on the way to elementary school with my mom as the driver. “Low” by Flo Rida and T-Pain was the soundtrack of middle school outings to the skating rink. More recently though, Jukebox the Ghost’s album “Off to the Races” formed the soundtrack of my entire spring semester, one I spent abroad in London. I listened to the album constantly, in order and on repeat. Listening to it now immediately connects me to memories of red buses, the Kingston University library and seeing shows on the West End. However, you can only listen to an album and group so many times before you desperately want to go to their concert. On Sept. 11, I did just that and traveled with a friend to the Neighborhood Theatre for Jukebox the Ghost’s Off to the Races Tour.
I rarely go to concerts, typically because I only seem to discover artists immediately after they’ve traveled to Charlotte. Thus, this was my first trek to the Neighborhood Theatre, and also my first experience with a standing-room-only concert venue. I loved the location. Firstly, it was only a four-minute walk from the 36th Street light rail stop. The stop is the closest to Charlotte’s North Davidson Historical Arts District (or as it is more popularly known, NoDa), in which the Theatre resides. Both this location and the Theatre’s history as a converted movie theater from the 1940s give it character and make the venue unique. It was fairly empty when we arrived which meant my friend and I were able to stand incredibly close to the stage.
The opening band for the night was The Greeting Committee, an indie rock band comprised of four high school friends. Initially launched into the music scene with their EP “It’s Not All That Bad,” the band plans to release their debut album in October. The standout was lead singer Addie Sartino who had definite stage presence and looked at home performing there. While I did like their music, it just wasn’t music I think I’d feel the need to hear in concert again. However, I’d be happy to listen to it on Spotify while doing homework. It is hard to believe it comes from a band this young. Unfortunately, the group also suffered from the fact their set went on for too long. The venue continued to fill and it seemed the audience was ready to see the headlining band.
When Jukebox the Ghost took to the stage, I’m pretty sure my heart stopped beating. It is an out-of-body experience to hear songs you’ve listened to on your phone 100 times performed live. Jukebox the Ghost considers itself a piano rock band and consists of three members, pianist/vocalist Ben Thornewill, guitarist/vocalist Tommy Siegel and drum player/vocalist Jesse Kristin. They had the difficult task of deciding on a setlist from twelve years of making music together, which has resulted in six albums. However, a majority of the songs performed were from their newest album “Off to the Races.” Of the ten songs on that album, only two weren’t a part of the setlist. Songs from their self-titled “Jukebox the Ghost” album, “Safe Travels” and “Let Live & Let Ghosts” were also performed.
Due to Jukebox’s long history, it felt almost impossible to know every song. However, the band has such an incredible stage persona that it really didn’t matter if the audience knew the words or not. One of the best things about witnessing the band live was realizing how versatile its members are. Thornewill and Siegel would typically switch roles as lead vocalist depending on the song. At one point, Thornewill ditched his piano to grab a keytar and jump into the audience. It was also breathtaking to witness the band go from slower power ballads to intense pop songs. One moment, the audience would stop to listen to the words and emotion connected with a song. At another, the audience would jump up and down and scream the words. I danced. I stared in wonderment. My ears rang for forty minutes after I left.
Music wise, “Off to the Races” demonstrates a strong influence from the band Queen. This is especially apparent in songs such as “Jumpstarted” and “Everybody’s Lonely.” It was interesting to see how the band pulled off playing such songs in concert as the recordings rely on the overlaying of a number of vocal tracks. The group used a couple of different tactics to simulate this, including singing into a megaphone, asking the audience to choose a voice part and computer technology. At other times, a device was used that would repeat the phrases sung into it on a loop to allow the group to build musical moments. This worked especially well during the emotional “Time and I.” It was beautiful and I have never seen anything like it.
I left the performance venue enthused and excited, certain of the fact I really should go to more concerts. It was a great experience, from a location that allowed me to get literally five feet from the stage to the fact I finally saw one of my favorite bands. However, I’d really love to see Jukebox the Ghost get a bigger and more complex stage in the future. The band members are natural performers and their music is already incredibly layered and intricate. Get this band the corresponding light and stage show. They deserve some dry ice and roaming, colored stage lights.