In the Shadow of the City with Bleachers
Words and Photos by Lloyd McCullough
August 29, 2018
There's something special about a hometown show.
Whether it’s The Strokes in New York City, The Killers in Las Vegas, or LCD Soundsystem performing in Brooklyn, “there’s something cathartic about coming home,” Jack Antonoff, frontman of Bleachers, said to his audience midway through their headlining set at the Shadow of the City festival in Antonoff’s beloved home: New Jersey. The annual celebration, now in its fourth year, gathers rising musicians, benefit fundraisers and passionate fans from far and wide to the Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park, NJ, where, beaming from ear to ear, Jack welcomed a crowd of over 1,500 with open arms and stadium-sized anthems on August 25th, 2018.
Always fascinated with bringing fans into his home, Jack Antonoff continued his tradition of transporting an exact replica of his bedroom, constructed in a covered car trailer, on tour for fans to explore. Meticulously recreated- down to the gig posters on the walls, favorite movies and CDs on his desk, and personal mementos and snapshots scattered around, it offers an intimate glimpse into his personality, influences, and the space he inhabited when he wrote most of his music. Now, coming full circle, fans were able explore this impactful space in Jack’s geographical home of New Jersey.
The lineup this year consisted of Ex-Reyes, a band lead by Bleachers’ own Mikey Hart, who opened the day with abundant energy and his signature cowboy hat. Next up was a DJ set by Clams Casino (Michael Volpe), producer and songwriter from Nutley, New Jersey, followed by the hardest rocking band of the day: Beach Slang. Their singer, James Alex, came armed with an impeccable wardrobe and a voice that could surely be heard from the ocean across the street. No strangers to the Stone Pony Stage, VA natives Turnover played the next set, delivering more laidback summertime tunes. Julien Baker took the stage solo afterward, performing seven songs with just her guitar and loop pedal. Gearing up for a European tour starting the next day, she powered through some equipment hiccups and delivered a flawless performance, ranging from her fragile song “Sprained Ankle” to the thundering guitar and vocals of “Turn Out The Lights.” LGBTQ+ icon Hayley Kiyoko ran onstage next, fresh from her VMA Best Push Artist win. She was all smiles as her energetic dancing took the crowd from daytime through sunset, and she ended the set with her hit song “Girls Like Girls.”
In between musical acts, Jack and his sister Rachel Antonoff’s foundation The Ally Coalition raised money for LGBTQ activism through a raffle, dunk tank, Mario Kart tournament and a hot sauce cooking lesson by Bleachers sax player Evan Smith. Throughout the event The Ally Coalition raised over $6,000 for its activism efforts.
As the sky turned dark, so did the stage lights, as the first notes of “Dream of Mickey Mantle” filled the air and Jack Antonoff, backed by Bleachers, performed the first song from his latest album kneeling on the stage in a state of partial isolation from the crowd. After this, he launched into a setlist of favorites to close out this chapter of touring behind 2017’s Gone Now. Antonoff and the band’s joyous chemistry had the crowd singing and dancing non-stop, but he did take a few breaks to talk about this day’s importance to him. “You remember being fourteen and driving to shows in New Rochelle and playing to nobody, you remember being eighteen and driving to shows in Montclair and playing to nobody … you remember so specifically these spaces and what they do.” Newcomers and locals alike could really feel the passion and pride Antonoff has for his home.
Since playing in Steel Train, working with Lorde and winning three Grammys for work with Fun. and Taylor Swift, Antonoff is finally at a place where he can put all of himself into his music, and it shows - these songs are the most personal he’s ever written. As upbeat, poppy and danceable as his songs with Bleachers are, they often have a bittersweet undertone. Before playing “Rollercoaster”, he talked to the audience about self-doubt, living with happiness and sadness, and the feeling he attempts to capture in Bleachers’ music. Playing a low, humming note on the keyboard, he described it as “filled with darkness”, but also with a sense of potential. It was a sound he immediately fell in love with when he found it, for a nostalgic feeling of home, loss and hope all at once. “The idea was to take that sound and mix it with something that could be hopeful … it’s the sound that started this band.” Bleachers transitioned that low note into “Rollercoaster” from 2014’s Strange Desire, as audience members climbed onto each other’s shoulders and raised their hands into the night. Later in the set, Antonoff played slow, stripped down versions of Fun.’s hit “Carry On” and Bleachers’ “Like A River Runs”, the latter of which is a touching tribute to his sister, who died of brain cancer when he was 18. Jack Antonoff’s ability to turn sadness and uncertainty into something hopeful and joyous is at the core of his loyal fanbase’s dedication, some of which travelled hundreds of miles to share in this hometown celebration with him. Ending the night with a short cover of “I Like Jersey Best,” Jack Antonoff and Bleachers said goodbye to Asbury Park until next year, but surely his lyrics from Gone Now will continue ring in his ears: “I’ve gotta get myself back home soon.”
Bleachers Setlist in Asbury Park, NJ 2018
- Dream of Mickey Mantle
- Let’s Get Married
- Wild Heard
- Hate That You Know Me
- Everybody Lost Somebody
- Wake Me
- Reckless Love
- I Miss Those Days
- Alfie’s Song (Not So Typical Love Song) [From Love, Simon]
- Jersey Girl (Tom Waits cover)
- All My Heroes
- Carry On (fun. cover)
- Keeping A Secret [from Love, Simon] (Partial)
- Like A River Runs
- This Year (The Mountain Goats cover) (Partial)
- Just Can’t Get Enough (Depeche Mode cover)
- You’re Still A Mystery
- I Wanna Get Better
- Don’t Take The Money
- I Like Jersey Best (John Pizzarelli cover)
Originally published in Floated Alternative Culture Magazine