OAKLAND — If the story that Jack Antonoff told at his band Bleachers‘ concert at the Fox Theater was remotely accurate, the stars of the show were not the band members—though Antonoff, his two drummers and two multi-instrumentalists performed memorably—but their crew of sound techs, managers and drivers.
The story: The band was awakened at 5:30 a.m. Saturday after their bus had broken down on the freeway between Los Angeles and Oakland. Instead of cancelling the Oakland show, the crew was able to find a truck to haul the trailer full of gear and called in favors to get the band and crew, about 10 people in all, to the Bay Area. The band barely made it, with no time for a sound check, and barely enough time to set up the production. Antonoff would later find crew members sleeping on the floor after the exhausting day.
The missing rehearsal time cost Bleachers on its first song, “Dream of Mickey Mantle,” which began with Antonoff, dressed in military whites regalia and sequins singing into one of a handful of microphones in a press conference-style podium at the back of the stage for a minute. The mic was too low in the mix and drained some of the anticipation in the room; even after the first minute, Antonoff changed out his outfit for some well-worn lounge around the house clothes.
Would the band have to spend the rest of the night rebuilding the energy? Nope, one more song is all it took. By the crescendo of the second tune, “Goodmorning,” Bleachers had won the the audience all over again and were about to embark on a nearly non-stop energy surge that would last through the conclusion of the show.
Antonoff was at his theatrical best, seemingly making eye contact with every individual person from the front row and all the way to the back. It’s unlikely he was actually looking at all these people. There was no way he had had enough time to study the audience enough to acknowledge so many—or, wait, he’s looking right at me!
The Bleachers’ set included all the favorites from 2014’s Strange Desires and this year’s Gone Now, including “I Wanna Get Better,” “Let’s Get Married,” “Don’t Take the Money,” “Rollercoaster” and “Wild Heart,” as well as a cover of Antonoff’s band fun.’s “Carry On.”
The highlight came mid-set when Antonoff, after wishing a happy Yom Kippur to fasting Jews, forced the tour manager onto the stage. He told a story about the manager, who had recently reminisced that in years of managing punk bands, he had never gotten to stage-dive. Antonoff used the opportunity as part of an impromptu Rube Goldberg sequence. See, one of the drummers had celebrated a birthday a few days prior. So, the audience was to sing an off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday,” followed by the drummer blowing out the candles on a “surprise” cake. As soon as the candles were blown out the tour manager would stage dive, the band would kick into “I Miss Those Days,” and the cake would be given to fans.
The sequence went off with only one hitch: The cake was not pre-cut, so after a few people grabbed handfuls, it slid into the face of another fan before hitting the floor.
Two acts opened the show: Seattle indie rock band Tangerine was marking their last show opening for Bleachers, and singer Bishop Briggs her first.
Tangerine, a quartet, blended singer Marika Justad’s syrupy vocals with guitarist Toby Kuhn’s Afropop and new wave melodies during its 30-minute set.
Bishop Briggs received a bit more time on stage and used it to rattle the room with extremely loud hip-hop and trip-hop beats. Other than that mix, which minimized her vocals and wiped out the contributions of her guitarist on all but a couple songs, her set was a win.
Briggs is an emotive performer. She bounced onto the stage like a boxer to “Dark Side,” slowed only by the obstacles on stage. Throughout her set, her face contorted to show pain, sadness and heartbreak. In between songs, she smiled a lot.
Briggs’ jerky dance moves are somewhat reminiscent of Lorde, but Briggs is more likely to release a volume of beat poetry at some point in her career.
She performed her best-known song, “Wild Horses,” and bookended the set with her other single, “River.” But the the watershed moment came during “Dead Man’s Arms,” which gave Briggs a chance to stretch her voice with only minimal backing instrumentation and without the heavy bass.