If you haven’t heard of the band Bleachers, you’re missing out. This group, led by ex-fun. front man Jack Antonoff, recently came to Portland’s State Theatre for a colossal concert experience. The band, on tour this year with their 2017 album Gone Now, shared music, jokes, and personal anecdotes under lights Friday, March 30 for a crowd of thousands.
The band started with track two off the album, “Good Morning.” The strong drums and piano gently introduced the theme for the rest of the concert: energy. As the group transitioned into more tracks from Gone Now, they carried the energy level and excitement they started with. Many of the songs the group performed highlighted their particular 80s pop/rock vibe; “Everybody Lost Somebody,” “Let’s Get Married,” “I Miss Those Days,” and “Don’t Take the Money” all used synths and harmonies reminiscent of a John Hughes film soundtrack.
While the majority of the performance emphasized the 2017 album, several tracks from Strange Desire were played; “Wild Heart,” “Rollercoaster,” and “I Wanna Get Better” are all some of my favorite works by this group and I was happy to hear them performed. The group also played “Carry On” made famous by fun. and “Alfie’s Song” released by Bleachers earlier this year.
One of the most surprising aspects of the performance was the saxophone player, Evan Smith of Portland, ME. He played a prominent role both in the songs and in the stage presence of the group. His riffs and melodies helped carry the band’s songs from Gone Now, as most of that album uses a saxophone in the band.
While the band’s energy and sound were all upbeat, the lyrics and personal anecdotes shared throughout the performance were much more somber. “The pain of waiting alone at the corner/ Trying to get myself back home/ I gotta get myself back home soon” embedded in “Everybody Lost Somebody” demonstrate that even the upbeat, pop-y songs have dark roots. When trying to hear what a crowd member was yelling (“Do you want to get a drink with me?”) Antonoff revealed that he was on medication to manage his depression and consequently could not get a drink or even smoke pot with the person who yelled. He later implied that the management of his illness has been tumultuous and challenging, but a source of lyrical inspiration.
The group closed off their set list with three high-profile songs, “You’re Still a Mystery,” “I Wanna Get Better” and “Don’t Take the Money.” While the first and third songs listed recount experiences in romantic relationships, “I Wanna Get Better” harkens back to the personal struggle Antonoff (and many of his friends) underwent in their management of various mental illnesses. As the title suggests, the narrator of the song tells the story of someone dissatisfied with themselves; the resolution is “I put a bullet where I shoulda put a helmet,” a reference to a choice many people dealing with mental illness elect.
While much of the concert was all cheers and band banter, I picked up on the darker undercurrent resultant from the inspiration of each song’s emotional lyrics. Bleachers were truly masterful in their performance. They both demonstrated their excellent musicianship while also hinting at the inner struggles bandmates and audience members alike share. If you are looking for subtle yet gripping lyrics and a pop-rock sound, look up the band on your music app of choice; I promise you will not be disappointed.