Jack Antonoff's very own festival returns for a passionate and brilliant third year
New Jersey is incredibly important to Jack Antonoff, the mastermind behind Bleachers. It was his home for most of his life, until a few years ago when he made the move across the Hudson to New York, and a place that has undeniably influenced his music throughout his career. Three years ago, he set up his own festival in the state’s Asbury Park, a small seaside city on the Jersey shore.
Tonight (September 10), a sold-out third edition is well underway. Held at the legendary Stone Pony, where Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi played early gig, it’s a celebration of some of Jack’s favourite artists old and new and raises money for The Ally Coalition – the charity set up by his old band fun. and sister Rachel to fight for equality for the LGBTQ community.
Locals Brick And Mortar are one of the first bands of the day, and they adopt some interesting costumes to grab the attention of early arrivals to the outdoor space. Throughout their set of odd indie-rock, they appear dressed as goblins, prescription bottles and popes. It’s fun and certainly different, but you can’t escape the sense that, without the gimmicks, they’d be a lot less entertaining.
The eclectic bill features some Jersey stalwarts, including Titus Andronicus and Brian Fallon. The former’s grizzled punk sounds even more searing under the scorching sun, but the swelling crowd is less than captivated by their performance. Fallon, meanwhile, fares a little better, his Springsteen-tinged anthems like ‘Red Lights’ and ‘Mary Ann’ provoking some sections of the audience to punch their firsts in the air with fiery passion. A lengthy between-song chat about pumpkin spice lattes is more than a little endearing, and his cover of Elvis Costello’s ‘(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love And Understanding’ rounds of his set with an awareness that’s fitting for a charity festival.
Between the two, El Paso teenager Khalid brings the slick R&B of his debut album ‘American Teen’ to the seafront. Since being booked for the festival, his star has risen meteorically, thanks in part to some Snapchat love from Kylie Jenner. As a result, his set is watched by a sea of phones, all raised and recording his every move. Given all the hype around him and the superlative quality of his album, Khalid’s performance is a little lacklustre, but not many seem to mind. Each track is greeted with a new raft of screams and – apart from the headliners – he’s easily the best received act of the day.
Later, Andrew McMahon, formerly of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin, provides the final performance before Bleachers close things for another year. He brings with him a ton of props, from two giant air dancers to a raft of beach balls. An energetic performer, he leaps from his piano stool across stage, into the crowd and back onto the top of his piano multiple times, but nothing beats when he rides a giant, inflatable rubber duck over the audience during ‘Don’t Speak For Me’.
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In between all the music, there’s a charity dunk tank on the go. Throughout the day, fans can donate $5 to The Ally Coalition in return for one go at getting Jack Antonoff, Andrew McMahon and various members of Jack’s family soaking wet. Between every performance, there’s a crowd gathered by the well eager to see someone, anyone, get unceremoniously submerged in a pit of water, and a long line of people more than willing to do the dunking too.
That spirit of fun carries over into Bleachers’ headline set. Second album ‘Gone Now‘ has been out for a few months and thus those remaining at the Stone Pony when Jack and his band make it on stage are well versed in every word. That means when they emerge on stage, their leader dressed in the same regal outfit as on the album cover, and burst into ‘Dream Of Mickey Mantle (Rolling Thunder)’ the place goes nuts. It’s a level of energy that doesn’t ever let up, either – each song, new or old, or fun. cover (the band drops a rendition of ‘Carry On’ mid-set), is greeted by huge cheers, even bigger singalongs and infectious displays of enthusiastic dancing.
“This is my favourite day of the year,” Jack says early on, a huge grin on his face. “This is a dream.” It’s hard to disagree with him – the likes of ‘Everybody Lost Somebody’ and ‘Hate That You Know Me’ are sung back at him so fervently that, if you haven’t got goosebumps, you probably should be checking your pulse. Each Bleachers performance is full of passion, but tonight feels even more special than usual – a celebration of not only ‘Gone Now’ and everything that came before it, but life and love and New Jersey too.
“You spend your whole life wanting to leave New Jersey, and then you leave and realise there’s nothing better,” Jack says later. If New Jersey was like Shadow Of The City every day then there’s no doubt no one would ever leave.