WRITTEN BY: NIKOLAS SLACKMAN
AJJ, previously known as Andrew Jackson Jihad, tells furious myths and tall tales about the body.
Hailing from Phoenix, the folk duo turned power-pop five piece has culled a passionate following by creating simple, punk-fueled folk songs, with lyrics unmatched by any of their contemporaries. On their first few albums, the angst and folk influence ran strong, including lyrics about murder and visceral reactions to stress played to the tune of cheerful acoustic melodies. It wasn’t until “Christmas Island” that there was a notable switch. Instead of acoustic shows being commonplace, the rock band structure became the norm.
AJJ’s formula was turned on its head, placing less emphasis on the fury of its angrier days. Sean Bonnette, the band’s chief songwriter and strumming maestro, transforms into “a baby killing Cadillac,” with his head expanding into “an air balloon of words”. These songs take longer to decode than the two minutes required to understand most punk songs. However, they become all the more worthwhile once you’re able to wrap your head around the bizarre trip Bonnette’s trying to take you on.
The AJJ live show may harken back to the old days a little too strongly. If “The Bible 2” meant nothing to you, it might as well have. The band’s recent show at Union Transfer rewarded the fan who wanted the classics; the fan who’s been digging on those oldies. And while there were some golden oldies dug up that night, there was a weird feeling of repression, as if the band was holding something back for the greater good.
This isn’t to say that the boys from Phoenix failed to put on a killer set. AJJ knows how to construct a set and bring energy to the crowd unlike any band I’ve ever seen. This band has been in its current incarnation (the most recent drummer swap not being accounted for) for over five years now, and the members can rip into most of their tracks like it’s nothing. Songs like “Fucc the Devil” and “Gift of the Magi 2: Return of the Magi” flowed with raucous ease, while every song played by Bonnette and Ben Gallaty in a folk-punk two piece setup appeared to be deeply ingrained in their memory. This slickness allowed every track to land powerfully among their enthralled audience.
Considering the audience’s high energy, I’m curious as to why AJJ didn’t play much of its new material for a tour intended to promote their new album. While “The Bible 2” has been generally well-received, it is far different than AJJ’s previous discography. It brought the band’s ethereal lyrics to new heights, misleading listeners with complex protagonists and lyrics that are focus more on storytelling.
Whenever AJJ played a track like “Cody’s Theme” or “White Worms,” I was thrilled by the band’s raw energy. It was an absolute joy listening to these massive lyrics about a pissed off kid with an overactive imagination paired with the chilling instrumentation and build in “Small Red Boy”. Although these songs did get their moments in the spotlight,it almost seemed that both the audience and the band itself had cast them into a dark corner due to their unfamiliar nature.
What shocked me was how “Christmas Island,” another more controversial release among the band’s followers, wasn’t highlighted in the slightest, aside from a performance of “Coffin Dance.” I may be a little biased, though, considering the fact that I can’t get enough of these tunes.
The first time I attended an AJJ show was my sophomore year of high school, when I devoured these angst-filled albums with importance. I felt like I needed these albums more than friends and school, due to their honesty. Call it nostalgia, but I was completely satisfied when they only played five songs from the new record in order to play the same number of songs off of “People Who Can Eat People Are The Luckiest People in the World” and “Knife Man.”
Since my first time seeing AJJ, I have seen them twice more. I hope to make catch them the next time they come around to make it four years in a row. This show seemed to be geared more toward the angst and further away from the complex myths. While it’s my hope that they’re able to change up their live presence in the coming years, this show was a service to the “baby killing cadillac” Codies who’d rather scream, “I could kill all my best friends” for the evening.