A Great Big World / Jukebox the Ghost / Greg Holden – Starland Ballroom (Sayreville, NJ)
Music, at its most basic level, is art. Art that exists to be seen, to be experienced, to be felt. The best music – regardless of the genre – is that which makes you feel something: happiness, melancholy, laughter, tears – anything and everything on the emotional spectrum. While A Great Big World’s latest tour, with support from Jukebox the Ghost and Greg Holden, doesn’t have a name per se, to call it – with apologies to Kris Kristofferson – the Once More With Feeling Tour wouldn’t be far off.
The night started off with Brooklyn-based – by way of Aberdeen, Scotland – singer-songwriter Greg Holden. Holden, who has toured with backing musicians in the past, took the stage alone for an all-too-short six-song set. He may not be a household name, but his music certainly is. Holden co-wrote the song “Home”, which American Idol-winner Phillip Phillips would perform on national television and then go on to sell more than 5 million copies of.
Holden’s honest, heart-on-his-sleeves performance quickly won the crowd over – playing through “I Don’t Believe You” and “The American Dream” before unveiling a new, bigger song, “Give It Away”. He followed that up with “Boys In The Street”, an emotional tale about a father dealing with his feelings about his gay son. Written for Everyone Is Gay’s The Gayest Compilation Ever Made, vol. 2, the song’s final verse produced a cheer from the crowd – followed by a very loud “Thank you Greg!”, from one audience member in the back.
The crowd – which really should have been billed as the fourth act of the night – then provided pitch-perfect callbacks during Holden’s rendition of “Home”, as well as hitting all of the prompts during his final number.
Jukebox The Ghost’s Tommy Siegel, Jesse Kristin, and Ben Thornewill
Next up was the thoroughly enjoyable Jukebox the Ghost. The trio – Ben Thornewill, Tommy Siegel, and Jesse Kristin – play with so much energy and abandon, it’s hard not to smile as you sing along. Listening to them play through the Thornewill-led “Adulthood”, “Somebody”, and “The Great Unknown” – co-written by Holden – as well as the Siegel-fronted “Emily” and “Say When”, two things are inherently obvious. First, Thornewill’s vocal range runs the gamut from Elton John to Billy Joel to Rufus Wainwright and everyone in between, with Siegel’s vocals acting as a perfect compliment. And second, these three can fill out a room like nobody’s business.
Their sound is so full and vibrant, I have no doubt they would out-play a room of any size. Their penultimate song – and, for me, the highlight of the entire night – was their rendition of Queen’s “Somebody To Love”. What I wouldn’t give for an actual recording of that performance. Thornewill, Siegel, and Kristin all played the hell out of that song – holding nothing back throughout their take on this near-40-year-old tune.
After Jukebox’s dust had a chance to settle and the lights dimmed, A Great Big World “opened” their set with “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King, before finally taking the stage to a thunderous cheer. Once again, the crowd did not disappoint, hitting every note of “Rockstar” and “Land Of Opportunity” while singer and piano-man Ian Axel tried to break his stool – something that he has quite a propensity for (at least according to their latest YouTube videos). And who can blame him? A Great Big World exploded practically overnight on to the pop scene, and every blast of that is carried over on to the stage. Axel, along with singer and sometimes guitarist, sometimes trumpeter Chad Vaccarino are larger-than-life characters in person – taking nothing less than pure delight and joy from their performance and interactions with the crowd.
Those characterizations extend to the rest of the band as well – each member adorned in shinier pants than the last. During this brief pause one audience member called out, “I love your pants!”
“Whose pants?” Axel adeptly responded.
These breaks were few and far between as they ripped through their own equality anthem, “Everyone Is Gay”, followed by “Already Home”, and “This Is The New Year”, all the while playing their slower, quieter songs in “I Don’t Want To Love Somebody Else” and the ubiquitous “Say Something” – the latter of which brought the crowd noise down to a whisper, giving Axel’s ballad the spotlight.
If A Great Big World’s non-stop touring schedule is any indication of this band’s efforts to take over the pop music world, they surely have the energy and the will to make it happen. Watching Axel, Vaccarino, and Co. perform – seeing them bounce and spin and sing – is infectious. It’s hard not to walk away feeling happy and fulfilled – an experience I can only hope to have again in the future.
(Words and Photos by Josh. Show date: 6/21/14)
Everyone Is Gay works to improve the lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning/Queer (LGBTQ) youth using a three-pronged approach: providing honest advice to youth while keeping them laughing; talking to students in an effort to create caring, compassionate school environments; and working with parents of LGBTQ kids to help foster an ongoing dialogue and deeper understanding. (source: everyoneisgay.com)
In addition to all this great work, they have released two compilation albums. The first of which, released in 2012, contains the first appearance of A Great Big World’s “Everyone Is Gay”. The second, released earlier this year, features Holden’s “Boys In The Street”, as well as many, many others.
Note: Emo At Heart’s photo coverage for the event was limited to Jukebox the Ghost only. Stay tuned to Emo At Heart for our full interviews with Greg Holden and Jukebox the Ghost