Dan Campbell, Philadelphia’s pop punk poet laureate and singer of The Wonder Years, brought his solo project/character study Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties home to an extremely sold out Foundry Thursday night, capping off a tour in support of his latest entry into the Aaron West saga, Routine Maintenance (released this May on Hopeless Records).
Following two impressive sets by indie pop bands Diva Sweetly and Pronoun, Campbell, guitar in hand, walked onstage as Aaron West, his Long Island Llewyn Davis-type troubadour character who can’t seem to catch a break.
Within the context of Campbell’s narrative framework, Wednesday’s audience suspended disbelief and engaged with what was ostensibly an Aaron West set, shouting every hook, chorus, and refrain back onto the stage.
Listeners have come to empathize with West as his story has unfolded in Americana-tinged pop-rock releases: 2014’s We Don’t Have Each Other, a smattering of singles, and now Routine Maintenance. It’s a reflection on the ways death and loss can wildly change the trajectory of our lives and influence how we connect—or fail to connect—to our loved ones, as West’s loss of his father and unborn child set the stage for a series of low points that explore the finer details of divorce proceedings, unpaid motel bills, and nights spent sleeping in cars.
Routine Maintenance is the redemptive arc in the Aaron West saga, and West performed selections from his catalogue as stories in their own right, having come through the other end, scathed, but here to tell the tale.
As an audience member aware of the meta-structure to a character referencing his own plotline onstage at a concert, I was impressed with how Campbell structured his setlist. Opening with “Just Sign the Papers,” recounting West’s final legal proceedings with ex-wife Diane, he used in-character stage banter to weave in older tracks as flashing back to earlier points of his story, thus presenting this show as living in a post-Routine Maintenance point in the Aaron West Cinematic Universe. Very clever.
Across cuts like “Grapefruit,” “‘67 Cherry Red,” and newer tracks “Runnin’ Toward the Light” and “Winter Coats,” Campbell weaved what felt like a very difficult thread in theory in emphasizing character arc with stakes that feel as high as anything presented as nonfiction.
Like our favorite Broadway musicals, I was touched to find a sold out room emphatically singing for West’s failures and victories, and for Rosa! And Catherine! And mom and dad! And Robert, and, Jessie, and the Thunderbird staff! And for Colin, and for every character and piece of this project that speaks to its universality, and Campbell’s place in great American songwriting tradition.
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