Live Review: Bleachers at Shepherd’s Bush Empire

Realising you missed out on a Bleachers gig is not the recommended way to take the sadness out of Saturday night; having a pair of Bleachers tickets magically fall into your lap a couple of hours before their second – and last – sold-out London show most definitely is the closest thing to it.

All signs point to a good time: your best friend is about to capture some of the night’s magic from the photo pit (shoutout to Mattia, those photos are sick), your flatmate tagged along despite not being too familiar with the band’s music because “Jack Antonoff is a good enough reason to come”, and you even run into some other friends both outside and inside the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire.

Speaking of Jack Antonoff: not only is he Bleachers, but he also is one of the most prolific, renowned, and accomplished artists in the current-day music scene – I am talking songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist. As touring as a one-man band would be too overachieving even for someone of Antonoff’s calibre, on tour he shares the stage with some of his friends and collaborators: Mikey Hart, Evan Smith, Zem Audu, Sean Hutchinson, and Mike Riddleberger.

With two drum sets, synthesizers, and a grand total of two saxophones – more saxophones in live music, please! –, attending a Bleachers gig feels like teleporting back in time to days when analogue was more than just a trend resulting from nostalgia, it was the way. Adding to the 80s atmosphere were a series of spotlights lined up in the back of the stage as a 1980s streetlamp towered over its middle, the band jumping on and off two white side platforms as the almost-entirely-phoneless crowd – the perfect way to escape the digital era completely – cheered them on. Feeding off each other, both the audience and the band were as vital to the energy-packed two-hour-long show that left little to no room for rest and quiet: from setlist changes per the crowd’s request (“Yeah, we can give you heroes” said Antonoff to the front rows as he got ready to perform the highly requested ‘All My Heroes’), to prolonged chants against ticketing companies “who scammed you out of your money to be here”, the show made the five-year-long absence of the band from the London live scene almost necessary.

Rejecting the norm (encores and “pretending to forget to play our most famous song as you cheer for more while we wait off-stage”) and embracing individualism (“playing for you until we can’t physically play anymore”), the show culminated as Bleachers performed their four closing tracks back-to-back in a blend of calculated chaos and excitement, feelings easily reciprocated by the crowd as they threw dollar bills at Antonoff’s figure during ‘Don’t Take the Money’ and bounced three enormous inflatable tomatoes (these provided by the one and only Garden State, New Jersey, of course) around the pit in a frenzy of jumps, claps, and singing for final song ‘Stop Making This Hurt’.

As people started to spill back into the street, freeing the venue from its claustrophobic-yet-euphoric feel, I could not contain the excitement that came from realising I had just been part of a cathartic, life-changing experience. “I barely knew any of the songs, and yet I had the best time”, said my flatmate Lucy at the end of the show, and if that isn’t a testament to a great show, then I don’t know what is.

Bleachers successfully took the sadness out of Sunday night and all I got to show for it was a fresh-from-New-Jersey-tomatoes t-shirt.

Written by Benns Borgese // photography by Mattia Ghisolfi 

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