AJR Go Out With A Bang at Xcel


Photos by Alexa Chihos

Even though I was completely rusty behind a camera and totally nervous to step into the Xcel for my first show in almost five months, it had been too damn long since I’ve seen live music in the Twin Cities. While I can only blame training for an ultra marathon as my reason to stay in for so long, it was so refreshing to indulge in a night out. As I made my way down to the photo pit for the opener, the building anticipation as I moved through the crowd for AJR, the headliners of the evening, was palpable and it got me excited to finally be a part of this again.

Dean Lewis was the sole opener of the night. I have found it’s easier to stay true to myself and go in to the openers I don’t know completely blind, and it was no different with Lewis. Maybe I was just in a good pocket of the crowd but I seemed to be the only one that didn’t know his songs word for word and wasn’t effortlessly singing along. Lewis himself easily filled the arena with anthemic original songs, and even dived into a cover of the Goo Goo Dolls’ hit “Iris,” continuing to win most of the crowd over. What sold me on Lewis’ performance was the incredible level of authenticity in his stage presence and vocal ability that left me feeling connected to his music. It’s a shame I haven’t heard of Dean Lewis prior to this performance, but like many others in the crowd, I would happily catch another set of his in the future.

After a quick changeover, the lights dimmed amidst the wave of screams that moved through the arena. I would have been 100% fooled that this was AJR’s first arena headlining tour; this group dominated the stage, playing their their set with ease like a well oiled machine and completely feeding into the energy of the crowd. It was also one of those sets that surprised me with how many of the songs I actually knew; AJR has quite a few radio hits but I found myself familiar with nearly every song they played live.

What was really cool about AJR’s set was not only their meticulous attention to every detail of their production, but their genuine connection with the crowd. The band took several breaks during their set to connect with the fans in the crowd: from pointing out a Lego decorated hat as a potential new favorite and wearing it on stage, to listing out each venue the trio has played across the Twin Cities (starting out to my surprise at The Garage), to even pointing out a fan sign that thanked the band for helping them get through cancer treatment and drawing that fan a custom tattoo on their sign.  There was even a point during their set where the band made their way into the crowd to perform a couple of songs from the upper bowl of the arena. It’s extremely difficult to single out a single highlight from their set, but their live rendition of their hit “Bang!” stole the show for me. That song was complete with theatric surprises (hand puppet trickery) and a drum solo, and rounded out with arguably the loudest crowd singalong of the night. It was just plan fun to be a part of the band’s first arena headlining tour; AJR absolutely delivered an incredible and memorable show.