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Review: We Were Promised Jetpacks, Royal Bangs, Bear Hands at Crescent Ballroom

I was mistaken in thinking last night’s We Were Promised Jetpacks, Royal Bangs, and Bear Hands show at Crescent Ballroom would not draw a crowd. To be honest, Bear Hands was the band I went to watch, but like any great show, the impression the other band’s left lingered in my mind (and ringing ears) long after the show had ended.

In other words, it was a success.

The audience stood back at first.

Bear Hands spread across the stage. Frontman Dylan Rau stood on the left side, an odd place to find a lead singer. Drummer TJ Orscher and bassist Val Loper shared the center stage, with Orscher positioned closer to the front than most drummers. (We’ll discuss this later.) Ted Feldman, on guitar, stood to the right and concerned with the placement of the audience, coaxed the onlookers forward. “That’s better,” he said when fans, as if they had been waiting for the instruction, moved to the front.

As expected (on my behalf), Bear Hands delivered a lively set, playing several songs from their High Society EP. The crowd seemed to swell with excitement when “High Society” and “Crime Pays” were played.  A fan yelled a request for “Vietnam,” a track Rau said was “very old” and joked, “we don’t like that song.”

The band played on and when they announced they had two more songs, the crowd, who had be busied with shaking and nodding, shared their disappointment in unison with an “awww.”

“We’ll be back soon,” said Rau. “We’re considering moving here or Tempe.” Feldman suggested that the move would only be an option if we got Jan Brewer out. He asked when we could make this happen. “Tomorrow,” yelled a guy in the audience.  (That’s not true, no matter how much you will it.)

At the close, the band invited fans to meet with them at the merch table where they’d be selling “bongs and drug paraphernalia.” Still intoxicated with the idea that Bear Hands could become a local band, we spoke with frontman Rau after the show to find out if the Brooklynites had seriously considered relocating to the desert. I’m sad to report  that Rau’s statement was just that, a statement holding no truth other than the fact that Rau, “sometimes wants to get out of NY.”

A consolation prize — the frontman admits that he actually enjoys visiting Phoenix.

*Sorry about the sound on the videos, folks. We’re still trying to figure out how to best capture audio at the very loud Crescent Ballroom.

Royal Bangs kept the momentum. The rock band  from Tennessee aligned across the front of the stage.  A barricade of musicians, fully equipped with multiple instruments, powerful vocals, and passion.

What were they holding back? Nothing. What did they give? Everything.

The audience danced in appreciation of the showcase. And when the band asked to have their keyboard turned down, the crowd asked them to “turn it up.”

Drummer Chris Rusk swung his head and arms with such intensity. Even when his body was stationary, the look in his eyes was indescribable. If I have to find words — intense, frightening, and yet hard to look away from. (We’ll discuss this later.)

The band were little talk, big action. I know many people appreciate dialogue with their favorite artists during a show, but don’t fight the truth: Sometimes a live music set can speak louder and longer than one liners between songs.

Royal Bangs knows.

We Were Promised Jetpacks walked onto the dark stage, with blue backlighting, greeted by the hoots and hollers of an eager crowd. They wasted no time giving the audience what they wanted, beginning with “Circles and Squares,” the lead track off their latest album In the Pit of the Stomach.

“Let’s have fun tonight,” said lead Adam Thompson. Fans cheered in agreement. “So much positive energy here, isn’t there, Sean?” Thompson said to bassist Sean Smith. (Ironically, a couple concertgoers claimed that Smith looked bored and lacked energy throughout the show.)

Concertgoers soaked up every second of the set. Most weren’t bothered with capturing moments on their cellphones and cameras. Though there was a guy recording the show with his iPad. (Video proof or it didn’t happen.)  Instead, they were making memories in their minds and you could read it in their dazed and glazed eyes.

When Thompson talked to the audience, his voice was sometimes muffled by the microphone and a few people behind me were asking each other, “What is he saying?” Well, most of Thompson’s monologue was reserved for gratitude to fans who had been present at past shows and present that evening.

“More” an onlooker yelled.  The band glided through their set of fourteen tracks, a generous portion of their music catalog, and did so with a steady energy that showed in the sweat dripping off of their faces.  They played some old, some new. To be precise: new, old, new, new, new, old, new, old, new, old, new, old, new, old (View setlist). It’s hard to imagine how much more they could have done.

“Thank you. It’s been an absolute pleasure to spend the evening with you,” said Thompson before leading into the last few songs of the set.

And it’s thunder, and it’s lightning, coming home,” he sang in the closing song “It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning.”

Flickering white lights on the stage mimicked lightning.

“I have to say goodnight. I’m leaving before you’re punching out my lights. I’m leaving.”

The crowd rumbled like thunder. And then there was darkness. And for a moment, silence. And then it was over.

Before leaving the stage, the members handed three setlists to outstretched arms. And drummer Darren Lackie, who commanded attention during the set (we’ll discuss this later), offered up his drumsticks and took a picture of the audience with his cellphone, motioning for them to get closer together.

The performances of all the bands were notable, but I was particularly impressed by each of the drummers. They brought an enthusiasm that is rare, and because of that, absolutely special. I can’t imagine what the sets would have been like without the stage presence of these skin-banging guys. I hate to rate, but perhaps the most entertaining of the drummers was Chris Rusk of Royal Bangs. Check him out:


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