“POP’S NOT DEAD.” You’ve probably seen spray paint stencils boldly proclaiming this sentiment around our city, recently. Some days I kinda wish it were dead, though. If you know me, or have read my articles, you probably know that I’m not too excited about the Top 40 / pop music scene. But after a few recent experiences, I’m starting to come around. Experiencing Bleachers blow up Union Transfer on Thanksgiving Eve was one of those events which give me hope for pop.
After catching a bit of their set at Made in America this summer, I started to take them seriously and dig into Strange Desire. Sure, “I Wanna Get Better” is a made-for-radio jammer single, but it’s also an unfiltered, heartfelt cry for help. After a few more spins of the album, I knew I had committed the grave sin of judging a book by its cover. Just because Jack Antonoff had roots in preppy pop mainstreamers fun. doesn’t mean that Bleachers has to be all superficial veneer and mediocrity—something I learned while falling in love with Bleachers debut venture.
And the live performance backs that up, one hundred percent. The little bit of their Made in America set that I was able to see showed that Jack is having no trouble coming out of the shadows of fun., and giving his own vibrant energy and life to his project. Seeing them pack out Union Transfer to a crowd of dedicated fans (many of whom had just seen them a few days prior at the TLA, as well) was brilliant, with Antonoff and the band giving each song it’s due diligence, and even turning many into sprawling, jam-band-esque arrangements.
Jack Antonoff absolutely shines—both as a guitarist, and a charismatic frontman. Effortlessly transitioning from laying down huge riffs to leaping off of risers and high fiving the audience, it’s apparent that he’s enjoying both figuring out and leading this new contraption of his. During anthemic set-closer “You’re Still a Mystery,” he attempted to get the audience to quiet down and echo back the chorus line, almost at a whisper. When disrupted that by starting an Eagles chant, he gave up and screamed “You wanna get rowdy Philly? Let’s fuckin’ get rowdy, then!” and seamlessly brought the song right up to raging levels.
For the encore, Antonoff came out alone with a guitar, and played a poignant version of Steel Train’s (one of his first musical projects) “I Feel Strange.” The coming of age tune holds more weight now than ever, as Jack looks back over a storied musical career, and also forward into even more unknown. Closing with “I Wanna Get Better” was a surprise to no one, but the hit resonates with people.
Opening the evening were local vibe-wave favorites Vacationer, playing one of their biggest hometown shows yet. Lead singer Kenny Vasoli noted during his set that “This room [Union Transfer] is my favorite venue in Philadelphia, and we’re so stoked to be here!”
Even though Vacationer was the original headliner of the evening before getting the bump from Bleachers, there was no ill will, and the boys clearly enjoyed themselves during their set.
Whether you were there to get your vibes from local favorites or a nationally-known, Top 40-radio-played band, Thanksgiving Eve at Union Transfer was an absolute blast. Pop might still not be my absolute favorite, but I also don’t want it to be dead—I just want it to get better.