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Review: AJR at Value City Arena

AJR, Gayle sweep away audience of 8,000

Review: AJR at Value City Arena

At AJR's May 13 concert at Value City Arena, Jack Met estimated he and his brothers Ryan and Adam Brett have played Columbus the second most out of any city behind their native home, New York City.

To prove it, the alternative band singer listed every venue they've played in central Ohio.

"We first played the Basement, the A&R bar, Lifestyles indoors, Lifestyles outdoors," Jack said as he conferred with his brothers. "Each time, we think we can't do better than this.

"We've been told there's 8,000 people here tonight. So it's going to take a lot to top this."

It is difficult to imagine a more perfect evening for the band. During their 19-song set, the Met brothers provided a high-octane, highly Columbus-centric show that combined videos, humor, and brutal honesty. At a time when many bands seemed to be reading off a script -- ("Hello (insert city name here). It's great to be here in (insert state name here) -" made their show a unique experience.

After opening with "Bummerland," a song released in the height of COVID, the trio launched into a trifecta of "Karma," "3 O'Clock Things," and their hit "Bang!" that put the audience on their feet and kept them there until the show's end almost two hours later.

Few bands utilize their video screens as well as AJR. During "3 O'Clock Things," Jack and his trademark fur hat appeared to be running in front of a video screen dodging the objects being hurled his direction. During "Ordinaryish People," Adam and Ryan seemed to be splashing up an assortment of paint on the screen as both of them played the drums.

If there was a low light to the show, it was the band condensed a nine of their bigger songs, including personal favorites, "Netflix Trip," "Break My Face," and "Turning Out" in a 5-minute montage of instrumentals by trumpet player Arnetta Johnson, who bounded across the stage as the video screen displayed what song was being alluded to.

That being said, the trio however didn't hide behind the screens and slick production value. They used their screens as a device to reach out to their audience. At one point during the show, Jack and Ryan joked about things the audience was doing to distract them. Among their targets was a high school aged fan, who was sitting in Section 106, bearing a sign that said, "Jack, Wash Your Hat."

"This person could have made a sign that drew attention themselves, but no, they did it out of concern for my hat," Jack joked. "That must mean it smells really bad, especially if you can smell it all the way over there. I see you're wearing the same hat. Have you washed yours?"

After the fan said no, Jack rolled his eyes and shouted, "HYPOCRITE!"

Ryan also proved to be a masterful storyteller as well, regaling the audience with their chance meeting with Elton John at the I Heart Radio concert. It must have been one of those rare life-imitating-art moments. In their song, "I'm Not Famous," AJR jokes about living in relative obscurity: "The Paparazzi are at an all time low. The Paparazzi don't care where I go."

Apparently, Sir Elton is among the people who don't recognize them. A huge Elton fan, Ryan was stunned when John came over to say hello. "I'm a big fan of yours,'" he said.

"We were looking at each other and saying, 'this is really happening.' Then he talked about how much he enjoyed our collaboration with Justin Bieber and all we were doing for country music.' We realized he thought we were Dan+Shay. At this point, we had two options: we could have pointed him to Dan+Shay and embarrassed him. Or we could just take the compliment. We took the compliment."

The ruse fell apart when Dan+Shay was called to the stage and began performing when AJR was still talking with Elton.

What endears AJR to its audience is the trio's honesty and openness without appearing to be fraudulent. In songs like "Joe," (from their most recent release, OK Orchestra), Ryan sings about how he still carries the scars from a middle school bully in a way that seems very real, relatable, and honest.

Perhaps the most moving part of the night came at the end of the show in the middle of the aptly named, "Way Less Sad." Taking on the mannerisms of a gospel preacher (only a Jewish one wearing a fur cap), Jack talked openly about his struggles after being diagnosed with obsessive compulsive personality disorder five years ago. He compared OCD to a big Do Not Push button that sporadically appeared through the show on the video screen behind the band.

"I learned that my OCD stems from a greater fear of letting people down, of looking weak, of letting others see that I am anything less than fine," he explained. "So now this button follows me around and I know if I push it, maybe I will finally break free and feel free from being trapped underneath. Or maybe it (will result in) just another facial tic that won't help me at all.

"As much as I want to, I can't push it tonight. You have to push it. The one thing I haven't tried is talking about it, looking weak, looking vulnerable to the people I want to impress most. You are the ones who have stood beside us the last 10 years. If you push that button, maybe I will feel a little less alone. That would make it a pretty cool show for the both of us."

Jack then handed over a miniature red Do Not Push button to a random fan who eagerly pressed it. The stage exploded into a sea of blue, making it look like the band was swept away by a cascading ocean.

As far spectacular endings go, the Mets delivered a perfect one. After all, chances are Columbus will welcome them with open arms the next time they resurface.

GAYLE, a 17-year-old songstress from Dallas, opened the show with an energetic, soulful show that got the audience primed for AJR.

"This is just my third arena show," she said. "I can't imagine a better one."

GAYLE high-kicked her way through a 10-song set, drawing material from her debut EP, "A Study of the Human Experience, Volume 1." For a teenager playing in front of her third major crowd, she seemed perfectly comfortable, leading sing-a-longs on "UR So Horny," "Orange," and then closing with "ABCDE ...F U."

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