AJR pioneers virtual concert experience

Luke Davis, Culture Staff Writer

With the stage set and the harnesses ready, indie pop trio AJR’s “One Spectacular Night” was set to begin for an audience of zero.

On Dec. 26, the group of NYC-based brothers started livestreaming their performance to hundreds of thousands of fans, who had the power to “cheer” using a clap button. 

There was a lot to cheer for: a reconstruction of their hit single “Bang” where they showed you how it was made, flashy and dynamic backdrops and dynamic mid-air stunts with harnesses.

Tickets were available for the reasonable price of $20, but for the more dedicated fans there were more expensive options that offered enticing bonus features, chief among them a post-concert breakdown of the show.

Izzy Pipa

Now, I have to be transparent here, I am a pretty dedicated fanboy when it comes to AJR. I can gush at length about just about everything they’ve ever put out. 

Due to this bias, I don’t feel that it’s all that fair to try to review the quality of the actual songs they performed. They’re all a perfect 10 in my eyes. 

However, the experience of live music is quite singular, and one that is not fully compatible with remote forms of viewing. Consequently, in many ways One Spectacular Night fell short as a virtual concert.

The principal shortcoming is pretty obvious: It doesn’t feel like a concert, so much as watching a recording of a concert. You can’t feel the bass in your ribcage, and at times it can feel somewhat impersonal. 

AJR made the questionable decision to not record the concert, which on some level I understand but ultimately find infuriating. 

I get that the fleeting nature of One Spectacular Night is part of its appeal, both as an experience and as a piece of art, but for a lot of people this was their one shot to see AJR perform. 

This one night, of course, being a Saturday night at 8pm the day after Christmas, a time when most people are spending time with their families. I could imagine the frustration felt by those who weren’t able to be there.  

All of that having been said, One Spectacular Night got a lot of things right and it deserves to be recognized for them. 

As a virtual experience, AJR  had the ability to manipulate what the audience can and cannot see. This sounds like a negative, but it can lead to some fascinating moments that wouldn’t otherwise work in a normal live concert setting. 

An example is in order. “Netflix Trip” is an emotionally charged song about growing up alongside one’s favorite TV show, off of AJR’s  2017 album “The Click.”

During their performance of this song, the camera slowly moves backward while staying fixed on the faces of the singers during the verses. 

This allows for a musical game of leapfrog. Once a line had been sung and the camera focused on the next person’s face, the first singer would slink out and rejoin the line ahead of the camera. 

This made for a seamless transition from member to member, and it created a fun moment of perspective trickery that would never work in a live setting.

For someone like me who is more of a homebody, being able to enjoy a live performance from the comfort of my own home is the absolute best way to enjoy a concert. 

Having the ability to get up to grab a drink or to go to the bathroom and take the concert with me on my laptop is a level of convenience that normal concert-going can’t compete with.

Not to mention being able to jam to my favorite tunes performed live while wearing pajamas, with my cat next to me, without sweaty strangers bumping into me every three seconds. 

In a similar vein, watching a concert over stream means that I as a viewer get to customize the volume to whatever I want. Hearing damage is a serious risk with live music, and being able to vibe without any long term risk is a serious upside. 

Lastly, while this is specific to this performance and therefore not relevant to a discussion on virtual concerts at large, I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t mention the harnesses. 

During the show, the members of AJR were secured in harnesses Cirque du Soleil style and performed wild in-air stunts. 

During “Burn the House Down,” lead singer Jack Met ascended a ladder onstage, and then jumped off as the beat dropped. The harness caught him, and what can only be described as a bridge made of light was projected in the air. 

Jack then proceeded to dance about on this “bridge” for the remainder of the song, suspended in midair above the rest of the group. 

The most dramatic harness moment came during “Turning Out Pt. ii,” a piano ballad about falling out of love. During the emotional climax of the song, Ryan Met was slowly but surely hoisted into the air by the harness. 

Jack joined his brother with a guitar, and the music crescendoed with Ryan being suspended at a 45 degree angle to the ground, all while playing the piano and singing perfectly. 

It was truly an amazing shot, and probably the highlight of my year. 

I’ll level with you guys, it made me cry. It was such an emotional high point at the end of a crummy year, and I just had to get my feelings out. 

If a virtual concert can elicit that strong of a reaction, then in my eyes they’re 100% worth it.