AJJ CONCERT REVIEW

by Hadley Schaffer

About a year ago, I stumbled across a weird band called AJJ (formerly Andrew Jackson Jihad). I thought one of their albums (People Who Can Eat People Are The Luckiest People In The World) had a funny name, so I decided to give it a listen. I instantly fell in love. Their folk/punk style was unlike anything I had ever heard, and the lyrics really spoke to me on a personal level. I then proceeded to go through their discography and try to introduce them to as many people as possible.

Fast-forward to just a few months ago: AJJ  is now probably my favorite band of all time, and they just announced a tour. They were coming to Charlotte on a Tuesday night, which seemed perfect seeing as that’s only about 90 minutes from Columbia. There was just one problem: one of my best friends had become a huge fan of the band as well, and we promised each other we’d see them together if they ever went on tour. 

We considered meeting up for the Atlanta show, which was on a Monday night, but neither of us felt like driving all the way back to our respective campuses right after the show. Then, we realized the Orlando show was on a Saturday. My friend, who goes to the University of Central Florida, offered to drive up to UofSC that Thursday if I drove us back to UCF on Friday for the concert on Saturday. A total of 12 hours of driving per person, but it would make for an amazing trip.

And that’s exactly what we did. The show was set to start at 8, and we got to the sold-out, 367-capacity venue around 7:30. I was a bit shocked that they were performing at such a small place, but it made for a very intimate setting that I was beyond happy with. 

Right on time, the first opening act (Emperor X) came on stage at 8. He didn’t stay up there for long though, as he split the crowd in half and performed his opening song right next to us on the floor. It was such a cool moment and truly set the tone for the entire rest of the night. He then got back on stage and proceeded to do a few of his more popular tracks, until he decided to take requests from the crowd. It was pretty crazy to see how many people there actually knew and enjoyed his music. He was a great performer, too, always finding creative ways to play his songs. At one point he even started strumming his guitar with a microphone, which made for some sick-sounding distortion. Unfortunately he didn’t end up playing my favorite track of his, but the set was impressive enough as is that I honestly couldn’t be mad.

The next opener, Tacocat, came on stage after a brief intermission. Their set wasn’t quite as memorable as Emperor X’s, but it was still very enjoyable. The band had a really entertaining stage presence, and you could tell they were all having a lot of fun up there. The drummer specifically was absolutely killing it the entire time. We were actually able to meet her after the show, and we made it onto her Instagram (@lelah.ikea) which was cool.

Finally, after another intermission, AJJ came on stage. At this point, my friend and I were perfectly in the center of the crowd, which is exactly where I like to start out at concerts. I had a perfect view of the stage, and I had never been more excited. They kicked off their set with the first two tracks from their new album Good Luck Everybody, which was a nice little appetizer for what was to come. As soon as “Normalization Blues” ended, we heard the strumming that signified “Brave As A Noun,” and everybody went crazy. 

The entire crowd rushed forward as a mosh pit opened up and we all screamed “I COULD GO OFF THE DEEP END! I COULD KILL ALL MY BEST FRIENDS!” I immediately lost my watch in the mosh pit, but I was too happy to care. It was an unbelievable feeling to hear hundreds of people reciting every last word to one of my favorite songs ever. 

I was already sweating and out of breath from that one minute of moshing, but luckily we got a short break with a few less energetic songs. And that’s pretty much how the rest of the night went: one insane, high-energy cut followed by two or three more relaxed ones. They performed for over an hour, and I loved every second of it. I’m not going to go in-depth about every single track they performed, but I’ll get into a few of my personal highlights. 

When they played “Kokapeli Face Tattoo,” I completely lost it. I just started bawling. It felt like the entire year had been leading up to this moment, and I was just so overwhelmingly happy. After “No Justice, No Peace, No Hope,” one of the band members talked to the crowd about registering to vote, and Sean Bonnette dedicated the next track, “Mega Guillotine 2020,” to presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. They closed the set with “A Big Day for Grimley,” which featured a beautiful repeat-after-me segment as well as a whistle-solo. Lastly, for their encore, they performed my all-time favorite track of theirs: “Big Bird.” It’s one of the most emotional, heart-wrenching songs I have ever heard, and seeing it live served as the perfect ending to a perfect night. 

I have determined that punk shows have the absolute best crowds out of any genre. The mosh pits are some of the most intense and aggressive you will experience, but they are also the most loving and caring. Whenever anyone falls, they won’t be on the ground for more than half a second before someone helps them up so they can start moshing again. It’s just such a fun and welcoming environment that I am so happy I have had the privilege to experience.

My weekend didn’t end after the concert, though. To celebrate a sold out show, Sean put on a free performance at a record store in Orlando the very next day. We got there right on time to see yet another set, this time featuring a few tracks we had heard last night and a few that we hadn’t. At one point Sean asked for requests, and the store erupted with screams of what sounded like every song the band has ever released. After the performance, Sean and a couple band-mates stayed to talk to the fans and sign CDs and records. They signed my Good Luck Everybody CD and my friend’s People… and Knife Man CDs.

I really can’t think of any way this weeknd could have gone any better. I’m going to cherish these memories for the rest of my life. Thank you Sean Bonnette. Thank you Ben Gallaty. Thank you Preston Bryant. Thank you Mark Glick. Thank you Alice Hayes. Thank you AJJ.