It’s been less than a year since AJJ performed for Dallas crowds, but that didn’t stop fans from turning out in droves to their sold-out tour, celebrating the 10th anniversary of their popular album People Who Can Eat People Are the Luckiest People In the World. This show offered fans a chance to experience the old, classic setup (or, as was probably the case for the tons of young fans, a new, exclusive setup) with Sean on guitar and Ben on bass yelling into the crowded room. After some delays and traffic issues, I arrived in Deep Ellum just in time for the opener to get started at 8pm but it turns out they also had some delays and traffic issues. I’m still not sure what the original order of the bands was supposed to be but at 8:40 Treasure Mammal took the stage, followed by Fishboy, and finally, AJJ.
Watching the members of Treasure Mammal first appear in normal, run-of-the-mill hipster punk clothes and then disappear and reappear in an assortment of bright spandex and colorful mumu-looking robes with inflatable Christmas decorations, I was completely lost and unsure of what to expect. Then the lights dimmed, a projector shone abstract videos on the white tarp behind the stage, and the lead singer said “We like to start the show by joining hands and saying a prayer” while “My Heart Will Go On” started up. The crowd swayed and he murdered the notes with a joking intensity. Then the dance music started. Most of the members of the band served only to run through the crowd and dance while the lead sang and yelled over his backing track and drummer.
At first, I was intrigued and amused at the band’s performance, like when they split the room then told everyone to run at the other side for a chest bump. But after a while, the music bored me. I had trouble imagining myself going home and blasting these guys on Spotify because it seemed that their whole schtick was that they’re fun in concert. Now, I didn’t get in the pit with the teenagers and dance it out so maybe I didn’t have the right perspective. The fact remains that I found myself hoping the next band was more to my taste.
To my appreciation, my hopes were fulfilled. Fishboy took the stage with a much more unassuming look to them. Just four guys in t-shirts with their guitars plugged into amps and a floodlight on the lead singer’s mic stand. They started out by saying “I don’t know if we can match Treasure Mammal’s energy” then explained the story of the first song about a baseball player who hates The Wave. Fishboy played through their entire album Art Guards, stopping to tell the story of each song which featured a different character in an intertwined tale of tragedy and comedy all building to a climactic fight at a pizza place. Their music was funny and exciting, and at the end of each song, I was on the edge of my seat wondering what character would come next and if it could top the last one, which it always did. The band jumped around and had fun playing their music just as I had fun listening.
Given how many shows I go to, it’s not often that I come across an opener I’ve never heard of who rocks my world but Fishboy was one of them. I find myself wanting to tell everyone about the band, especially here in DFW where they reside and play convenience store shows to small crowds. After the show, I bought a hand-painted copy of their album, which comes with a comic illustrating their characters, which I am currently blasting in my car.
Finally, a stripped down AJJ walked onto the stage and was met with a roaring applause. After a short introduction where Sean and Ben asked the sound tech to boost only their instruments because they “thought there’d be a bunch of singing along tonight,” they launched into People Who Can Eat People, blasting through the 25 minute album in about as much time. Stopping only to take a couple breathers the increasingly sweaty AJJ hardly needed to sing at all. The whole album was recited by heart by what I suspect was the entire audience, Sean’s blisteringly fast guitar playing providing only enough volume to break over the chorus that had formed in Club Dada. Every song was energetic and the audience was pumped, and then it was over. I half expected them to just say goodnight after the album but they rocked on.
They started the next set with “American Body Rentals,” a song off their new EP, Back in the Jazz Coffin, a song Sean introduced as one that “really shreds”. They played an assortment of odds and ends from their discography; some favorites that were belted out by the audience with the same intensity as the first part of the set, and some rarities that left the crowd practically silent when compared to the response to the People Who Can Eat People performance. Although it was an electric show, everything just worked, Sean and Ben played vigorously and powerfully, leaving the audience a bit worn out when it finally came to an end. I didn’t think they would, but they finished it off with barren version of “Big Bird” from Knife Man. The song began with Sean singing acapella before the guitar and bass kicked in. It swelled and brought the crowd together for one more lasting line: “I am a knife man.” After another roaring applause, they decided to “play one more song and you’re gonna like it,” ending the show how they began with a second rendition of “American Body Rentals” which really does shred.
It was long evening that left my back aching from standing so long but it was totally worth it. We left exhausted but glowing from a rare and special evening.