Marching out to a breathlessly kazoo’ed movie theme seems a bit over-the-top and maybe even a tad headstrong. However, when it comes to a band with as much tongue-in-cheek theatricality as Jukebox the Ghost, that grandiose of an arrival seems perfectly appropriate, perhaps, even expected. The Philadelphia trio has garnered over a half-decade of road experience and has used that time to harness its starry-eyed indie rock and lasting stage presence, elements that begged for little tune-up at its Metro gig on Saturday.
The threesome kicked off the show with a shaky rendition of “Oh, Emily,” where harmonies muddled amidst the power pop guitar, rapid drums and insistent bass drum that wouldn’t quit. Drummer Jesse Kristin wasted no time flaunting his own flair for the theatrical by casually tossing his drumsticks in the air with a flick of the wrist or wave of his fingers, foreshadowing what kind of show the band had in store.
Within just a few songs, Jukebox the Ghost proved that it held the key to the kind of whitewashed kick drum pop that listeners had been craving amidst the barrage of auto-tuned imitators and whining has-beens. The soaring harmonies between began to mesh more cohesively with “At Last,” as Ben Thornewill coaxed some charming scales out of his keyboard and released the story to take flight in the fluorescent-charged air with dramatic inflections and ‘70s acid child guitar.
Thornewill showed off some surprisingly serious piano chops with his classically infused intro, effortlessly working his way up every electrified key. Thornewill faded into the chiming jazz intro to “Memphis May Fire,” boasting the theatricality of rock opera and the skin tugging hook-and-line of pop balladry. Siegel’s self-indulgent guitar handling and head bobbing made the song seem a bit too whimsical until a lavish bridge with Journey-like synths and gummy guitars triumphantly bled through. Paired with a light show that matched the dolled-up sound with all the trimmings and trappings of pop and the whimsicality of pop, Jukebox the Ghost seemed to have hit its stride before one of the largest crowds of the band’s career.
“Empire” energized the crowd, as the tinny cymbals complemented the rich grand piano sound with talks of empires and outstretched hearts were reminiscent of Jack’s Mannequin’s glory days, but with a good dose of talk therapy and a smattering of major triads. “Dead” threw the set’s tempo to a grinding halt and proved that the trio could could at least tread in the more heart wrenching waters; the downbeat lull ravenously poked at the crowd’s craving for more nuggets of versatility from the band. The band brushed with satisfaction as it wrestled some yearning proclamations straight out of the upper register and reached for the acoustic guitar. Still, that optimistic glint beamed through until the next half-cocked crowd-pleaser.
Jukebox the Ghost painted a fierce glam rock streak across the booming theater and drove forward with screeching guitar and fist pumps.
The tongue twisting lyrics and flirtatious croons were never thrown to the wayside and floated over adrenaline-pumped drums; they’d found a cozy groove and settled in with some nostalgic decadence.The band definitely seemed to tap on that juvenile funny bone of the crowd’s, but since when is that a bad thing, especially when you have piano chops and a self-assured point of view with plenty of tricks to keep it fresh. The band could have gone back to the wedding band roots and threatened “bad, tacky ‘80s cover songs,” but instead chose the looming task of emulating Freddie Mercury with a cover of Queen’s “Somebody to Love.”
When their eyes aren’t fixed on the glittering spotlight or basking in pyrotechnic glory, the trio’s feet were firmly planted in the glitzier trappings of ‘80s rock, especially evident in the funky choruses and lighthearted guitar rills. Like any great storyteller, the trio spent every minute (nearly 90 of them, no less) coaxing every narrative into a full-on chronicle. Yet, when ends were tied and the final chord fizzled, the crowd was still left wondering if it was really the end, if a punch was pulled or an arc was left overlooked.
Setlist (confirmed via setlist.fm)
1. “Oh, Emily”
2. “At Last”
4. “Say When”
5. “A La La”
8. “Don’t Let Me Fall Behind”
9. “Man in the Moon”
11. “Hold It In”
13. “So Let Us Create”
15. “Where Are All the Scientists Now?”
16. “A Matter of Time”
17. “Wild Ones” (Flo Rida cover teaser)
18. “Shoop” (Salt-N-Peppa cover teaser)
19. “Always Be My Baby” (Mariah Carey cover teaser)
20. “Somebody to Love” (Queen cover)
22. “The Stars”
23. “The Spiritual”
1. “Good Day”