Live Review: Jeff Rosenstock @ Crowbar
Standing resolute and damp with sweat, Jeff Rosenstock addressed the small, though clamouring, crowd. “I only have three guitar strings left.” He’d been wrestling with his guitar the entire show. For whatever reason, it never co-operated with him. Strings broke which in turn sent the tunings out just slightly. The strap lock defied its purpose and made an excellent case for having gaff tape on hand at all times. His touring band of John DeDomenici, Kevin Higuchi and Dan Potthast filled the silences the best they could.
Now at the end of their set and one guitar short, instead of ending with whatever they had originally planned, they ended with a song from another Jeff Rosenstock project; The Bruce Lee Band. It briefly turned the vibe from pop-punk, anxiety-ridden angst, to a ska-fuelled, fun-lovin’ atmosphere. This was the type of show that was electric, sort of messy, fantastic and, despite how I make it sound, entirely unpretentious.
“It gave a sense of what to expect from the next…hour: tight changes, kinetic energy and delivering lines with a sense of casual misery and humour”
Get Old Forever opened the set, as it did on the album. It gave a sense of what to expect from the next better part of an hour: tight changes, kinetic energy and delivering lines with a sense of casual misery and humour. Sometimes there’s a disparity between live shows and a recording. It could be that the intensity of the performance gets lost during the recording, or that the recording is of such a fidelity that it can’t be recreated in a live environment. Listening to the album version of Hey Alison, Nausea and, You, In Weird Cities I wondered whether Rosenstock could hit those sporadic pitches and changes. Not as an indictment of his vocal ability – he had played guitar for Camp Cope that same night and his vocal style manages to sound perpetually frayed.
The worries were unfounded, it turns out. Even as his voice shook, his falsettos were still as sharp as they were on the record; even during the momentous, yet straining, breakdown of Darkness Records, which was the ultimate cause of the guitar strings giving way. Apart from the mentioned ska-throwback at the end of the show, the set list resembled a rearranged track listing to ‘We Cool?’ (2015). There was, however, a new song that was played mid-set. It followed the same structure and style as the rest of the material, a fast, rupturing pop-punk anthem. While the new song didn’t carry the same weight for me as his other material due to it’s unfamiliarity, it’s good to know that there’s more to come.
The dark, low-ceiling basement of the Crowbar seemed fitting for Rosenstock, even though he’s played in several successful bands since ’95. Rosenstock is similar to acts like Lightning Bolt or Japandroids. They’re not similar in sound, but they’re bands that provide an atmosphere that gets more diluted the bigger the stage. Bands like Polyphonic Spree and Sigur Rós need grand environments and a sea of people. Rosenstock only needs a carpark and four-dozen people, some holding those giant PBR cans.
“Yet somehow, through the raucousness and gratuitous distortion and all the irony-laced self-deprecation, there was a sense of togetherness”
The audience huddled around the stage and the bands modest, confidently loose attitude gave the performance the air of a house-show; small, intimate, someone there is too drunk to stand, and the whole place smells of sweat and stale beer. We were all crowding in front of the crushingly honest Rosenstock, who detailed his conflicts with death/age/social anxiety and thoughts of loneliness in a volatile manner. Yet somehow, through the raucousness and gratuitous distortion and all the irony-laced self-deprecation, there was a sense of togetherness.
The sense of belonging, self-awareness and defiant positivity in the face of defeated melancholy is what made ‘We Cool?’ such a strong album; there’s rousing inspiration to be found behind the malaise. All this is intensified standing in the middle of a crowd of people who look like they’re from an early Judd Apatow project. Suddenly, sleeping in till noon isn’t so bad, playing music in your garage and not earning a living wage is fine, and staying indoors, getting high and watching Robocop is A-Okay.