“This is my imagination. This is how it looks and sounds.” In the opening song of their newest album, Neotheater, AJR sings this lyric earnestly. After seeing their concert at the Fillmore last week, I have no trouble believing this assertion. I first saw AJR perform at Voodoo Fest 2018, and while it was indubitably fun, seeing them from far away at an outdoor music festival made the concert a less personal experience. I jumped at the chance to see them in the New Orleans leg of their world tour, and they did not disappoint one bit. The concert was an immersive, vibrant experience that gave fans a genuine look into the masterminds behind Neotheater.
AJR is made up of three brothers (Alex, Jack, and Ryan, hence A-J-R) who had their humble beginnings making music together in their living room. They began to seriously make a name for themselves after their first hit song, “I’m Ready”, which featured an iconic sampling of Spongebob Squarepants’s signature catchphrase, made waves on radio stations everywhere. AJR has released two albums since, both of which debuted at a high ranking on the Billboard Top Albums chart.
Their music can be described as somewhere between indie pop and electronic, with orchestral and hip-hop elements mixed in. If that sounds confusing, it’s because it is, but there’s no denying that they’ve found a niche they can thrive in. Their music is unfailingly catchy and buoyant. The majority of their songs are sung in bright major keys, featuring lyrics that are always simultaneously playful and introspective. Every last word is sung with a sincere and high-powered energy that makes the audience want to move their whole body to the beat.
It’s painstakingly clear that AJR writes each of their songs with a vision in mind, and they endeavored to recreate these visions for their live show. An electronic screen served as the concert’s backdrop, and each song featured a unique lighting and background display tailored to its mood and imagery. For one song, two supersized projections of Jack appeared, and Jack played patty-cake with these giant projections until the rhythm of his clapping formed the song’s drum beat. For another, Jack strolled in place on what must have been a conveyor belt at the top of the stage, as the screen behind him scrolled through a city scene. The scrolling city scene followed his lead — as he picked up a bucket and threw it, digital paint splattered across the backdrop.
Since many of their songs feature bold elements of brass instruments, AJR brought trumpet soloist JJ Kirkpatrick with them on tour. Kirkpatrick’s trumpet prowess was highlighted all throughout the concert, and he wowed the audience during solo moments, playing a high-energy trumpet mashup of many fan favorite songs that didn’t make the concert performance cut.
AJR takes any chance they can get between songs to interact and joke around with their audience. They chatted with fans about their dance moves to certain songs, complimented their outfits, and upon request, broke down how they experiment with creating their more unique sounds.They deconstructed their song “Don’t Throw Out My Legos,” rebuilding it step-by-step for the audience. They demonstrated how the song’s creation began with them recording the sound of keys hitting the floor, and they layered several drum beats and short clips of their signature major chords on top, before launching into a rendition of the song.
It’s impossible to leave an AJR concert without a smile on your face. The positive energy in the room is infectious, and whether you like it or not, you’ll leave feeling happier than when you came. They’re currently working their way up the East Coast, finishing the American leg of their world tour before jetting off to Europe. It’s only up from here for AJR, and I’m genuinely excited to see where their sound takes them next.
Cover Photo: Atwood Magazine