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Two songs into his Tiny Desk concert, Jack Antonoff revealed a bit of stagecraft behind his performances with Bleachers.
"My manager says, 'When you play for 1,000 people, don't talk to one person. It's only cool for them,'" Antonoff said. It was offered as an apology — he had just finished aiming a monologue about the link between dancing and crying at a single NPR staffer in the audience — but it was also a perfect encapsulation of the connection Antonoff's songs create. Bleachers makes truly conversational pop, songs that sound expansive but retain a sense of intimacy, even when aimed at the masses.
At the Tiny Desk, Antonoff, along with pianist Mikey Hart and multi-instrumentalist Evan Smith, pared away much of the pomp that can turn Antonoff's layered studio productions into neon-lit melodramas rollercoastering toward catharsis. On three songs from this year's album Gone Now impeccably re-arranged for a smaller space, it was impossible to miss the cracked longing at the heart of Antonoff's work.
"If you ever see Bleachers live, it's two drum sets and it's big and it's kinda like this big statement that I could hide behind the tears with this big rock show. But the songs are written like this," Antonoff said before launching into a version of the '80s-drenched single "Don't Take The Money" that was all feathery keyboards and spoken word verses — plus a brief quote from Queen's 1984 hit "Radio Ga Ga. "
Not that he could resist a well-placed gimmick. "Don't Take The Money" was the only song of the day to include drum sounds, which came from a cassette tape in a boom box over which a microphone had been draped. He started the song by hitting play on the cassette, but it took three tries to nail the ending in time with Hart. For this group, seeing the flaws is part of the charm.
Jack Antonoff (vocals, keys); Evan Smith (vocals, keys, sax); Mikey Hart (vocals, piano)
Producers: Bob Boilen, Morgan Noelle Smith; Audio Engineers: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Colin Marshall, Tsering Bista; Production Assistant: Jenna Li; Photo: Claire Harbage/NPR.
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