Jack Antonoff is declaring his love for a synthesiser. “The entire story of this band is that sound,” he says, referring to the chest-wobbling electronic hum that seems to envelop the crowd. Imported from Malaysia, he continues, the instrument’s pulsing electronics laid the foundations for the sound of his band Bleachers’ debut album, 2014’s Strange Desire: “A little bit John Hughes-y, a little bit fucked up,” as Antonoff describes it. As if to prove his point, the band then launch into Rollercoaster, their homage to 80s teen flicks and lusty adolescent hormones.
Much like a protagonist from one of Hughes’s films, Bleachers remains something of an underdog. While Antonoff is one of pop’s most in-demand songwriters and producers, working with the likes of Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey and Lorde, his band hasn’t quite scaled the commercial or critical heights of his collaborative efforts. As evidenced by the enthusiasm of tonight’s crowd, however, it hasn’t prevented them from cultivating a deeply passionate following.
It also, perhaps, provides Antonoff with the space to let go: unfettered from the creative needs of another artist and without the pressure of expectation, he seems genuinely free to play. At least that’s certainly what you get from watching him live. Throughout the show, he relentlessly flings himself around the stage, clambering around the risers where his bandmates are positioned, kneels on the floor, leaps in the air like Pete Townshend during the propulsive How Dare You Want More and generally flaps his arms like a Thunderbird puppet. To call it dancing would be generous, yet as the dual saxophonists play off toward the end of Everybody Lost Somebody, Antonoff seems possessed by the music, shaking and writhing with abandon.
If Bleachers is Antonoff’s outlet to indulge himself, though, he can take it too far. Two covers – the Waterboys’ The Whole of the Moon and Tom Waits’s Jersey Girl – feel unnecessary, and both Don’t Go Dark and You’re Still a Mystery are overly drawn out with cacophonous outros. Still, his energy and the band’s camaraderie are infectious. Pop outsiders Bleachers may be, but unlike some of the more popular kids, they actually seem to be having fun.