Making Friends With The Mowgli’s And Jukebox The Ghost At The Varsity Theater


It was a very anxious day for me as I counted down the minutes until I’d be walking through the doors of The Varsity Theater for my first time ever to see The Mowgli’s. This was not only going to be my first time attending a show at there, it was also going to be my first time covering a show for Twin Cities Media.

When I finally did arrive at the venue, I could already hear the crowd gathered together, talking excitedly as individuals in the group would take guesses at what songs the headliners would play. As I looked through the crowd, searching for a familiar face to share my own excitement with, I saw that the crowd was comprised of a variety of people from various age groups; college students of the University of Minnesota, young professionals in the mid 20’s and even a few groups of what I like to call, my parents’ generation (I’ll let you decide what I mean by that).

The show kicked off with a performance by Twin XL, a Los Angeles trio that is the creative brainchild of songwriters and producers, Cameron Walker-Wright (vocals) and brothers Stephen Gomez (bass) and John Gomez (guitar). There’s a certain synergy between the three that creates a perfect storm of glistening retro synths, catchy bass-lines, memorable melodies and Walker’s smooth vocal. Like myself, this was a big night of first for the group, it was the first show of their first major tour!

This group was a great band to start off the show, their pop-techno rock and roll performance was the perfect vibe to loosen up the crowd for The Mowgli’s. They choose to end their set with an original Good an upbeat crowd pleaser that had the crowd feeling saucy afterwards. By ending on such a high note, these guys set the stage for the amazing line-up that was about to take stage.

Next up was a band that I was extremely excited to see, The Mowgli’s. Last time I saw this group preform was at Saint John’s University for the school’s annual spring concert (Pines). The Indie-Pop-Folk-Rock group is comprised of 6 artists; Colin Louis Dieden (vocals/guitar), Katie Jayne Earl (vocals/percussion), Matthew Di Panni (bass/vocals), Josh Hogan (guitar/vocals), Dave Appelbaum (keys/vocals) and Andy Warren (drums/percussion/vocals). They band is based out of California, but are amidst a major tour to promote their new EP, “American Feelings”, which was recently released on March 1st.

As the lights dimmed and the crowd grew quiet, anticipating how the band would make an entrance, everyone in the venue was suddenly hit a bone rattling bass sequence. I was crouched down in the photo pit during this mind melting intro, right in front of the sub-woofers… let’s just say I was asking people to talk a little louder the next day. As members of the band took the stage, the crowd screamed and hollered with hopes that the louder they were, the more likely they’d catch the eye of Colin or Katie and hopefully get a wave or a wink in return for their vocal patronage.

The ever so present bass intro started to fade out as the band launched into their first song, Sun Comes Up. With a slew of visuals being projected behind them, all the band mates danced around the stage, while Colin stood at the edge gesturing to the crowd to throw their hands up and dance along to the music.

Everything about how this band operates is flawless and they are incredible to watch live. What really impressed me the most during their set was just the raw intensity that they brought to the stage. I’m a firm believer that a band is only as good as they how perform live. Between the colorful array of colors that flashed across the venue during each song, the choice of visuals to accompany their meticulously crafted songs and how they were able to keep the entire crowd locked into their performance, proves that The Mowgli’s are a top tier group.

After watching the Mowgli’s set I was hesitant that Jukebox the Ghost was going to be able put on a show that was as good as what I had just witnessed. The trio that makes up Jukebox the Ghost is composed of college friends: Ben Thornewill (piano/vocals), Tommy Siegel (guitar/bass/vocals) and Jesse Kristin (drums/vocals). This group has played over 1,000 shows across the country and around the world over the course of their 10-year career.

Any doubts I had about their performance were immediately thrown out the window once Ben, Tommy and Jesse took the stage and the crowd excitement escalated significantly. They didn’t need an intro like the Mowgli’s, the fans in the venue provided a similar volume to warmly welcome the guest into town. A simple point from Ben to any member in the crowd would have the fans oozing with joy. Once the group began their set, the upbeat tempo of their music got the crowd jumping up and down so much that at times I felt the floor shake a bit, and singing as loud as they could as if there was nothing more important in the world than that very moment.

There’s one thing I’ve noticed about 3-piece groups, there’s always that one member that gets the most recognition, for Jukebox & The Ghost, that person is certainly Ben. Not only did he steal the show, I’m sure he stole some hearts as well. His piano rifts caused several jaws to drop, including my own. Now I should be clear, not all the credit should go to Ben, Tommy and Jesse bring a vibe to the stage that, enhanced the show for me.

Tommy’s frequent guitar solos always received a reaction from the crowd, you could see a grin on his face appear every time he was about to go into another. He knew what the crowd was in store for, but they did, and he loved the fact that he was about to hit them with something amazing and unexpected. Then there’s Jesse and the purple unicorn he had set-up next to his drum set, I knew right away this guy was going to be a character behind the sticks. Not only did he provide a constant beat for the crowds to bounce their bodies to, all while putting on a show as he flung his arms around the set hitting exactly what he needed to as hard as he could, he also provided some comedic efforts to the show with his solo rendition of “Baby Shark”.

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised after watching Jukebox The Ghost, they certainly know how to put on one hell of a show that has the ability to get the crowd carelessly dancing, keep fans on their toes with and an impromptu guitar and keytar solos, as well as give the fans a quick break from the music by providing some comedic relief, whether it’s a short rendition of baby shark or mentioning that, in Ben’s words “This next song sounds like if Jerry Lewis drank too much coffee… also, it’s about sex in public.”.

I never did find a familiar face in the crowd, however I started to think about that. Isn’t this exactly what the members of The Mowgli’s and Jukebox the Ghost intended? It’s called the “Making Friends Tour” for a reason. I spoke with many other individuals who joined me in the feeling of bliss as I saw my first show at The Varsity theater, exchanging laughs at the fact that out outfits happened to match (Black Converse, jean, grey hoodie and leather jacket), or told me stories of the first show they saw here. I may not have been around my friends, but I certainly felt like I walked away with a few.