Two weeks ago, on Wednesday, Jan. 23, my friends and I went to a Young the Giant concert in Sayreville, New Jersey. I bought the ticket on a whim because my roommate encouraged me to, and because I was familiar with a few of their songs. I have never been so proud of an impulse buy in my life.
The concert was held as a make-up for one that was supposed to happen last year, on the day of a snowstorm when everyone got caught in traffic. However, because the original concert night wasn’t cancelled and some people still showed up, Young the Giant decided to hold a different kind of show so all audience members alike—whether they had come to the snowstorm concert, missed it, or were buying tickets for the first time—could enjoy themselves.
Their solution was an acoustic talk-back show held in a small, general admission venue, before officially kicking off their national tour the following day. The show had a beautiful, intimate simplicity to it. The room was packed, as nearly double the amount of people expected had gathered in the below-zero chill.
There was no opening act, so their tour manager came out to introduce the band and warm up the crowd with some light-hearted jokes. The five bandmembers then came out in grey t-shirts, interacting with the crowd that stood less than five feet from them. They had no theatrics besides the colorful venue lights and their instruments, but nothing else was needed.
As someone who knows only their hits, I was not sure what to expect. But I have never seen a live band perform as well as Young the Giant did that night. Sameer Gadhia, the lead singer, had an incredibly soulful and powerful voice that never fatigued, and he somehow made it seem like he was singing to every person in the room individually. Paired with the raw, ardent power of the four other instrumentalists, their alt-rock music left the room shaking.
In between every three or four songs, the band would take questions from the audience, with their stage manager passing a microphone around the crowd. There were questions from a little boy who said this was his first concert, a man who’d been a fan since 2004, and an extremely inebriated girl who professed her love to them and gave them her phone number. It felt like a very personal way to get to know the band, seeing them joke around and explore their creative process with us. They talked about their experience of forming a band in high school and staying together for years, how they picked their album art, and how their songwriting process worked.
When asked how he came up with such unique drum lines, drummer Francois Comtois said he got the inspiration for the beat in “I Got” from the sound of people walking in the subway. After explaining, the band spontaneously decided to play the song so we could hear the drum line in action.
This was not the only impromptu performance of the night. When one of the audience members asked Gadhia how he came up with the lyrics for “Island”, he likened it to asking someone to remember how they answered an in-class essay prompt in high school, since it was so long ago. However, when prompted by the audience, the band played “Island”, despite having not played it in years. It was a very real, very human experience to see them trying to find the key and giving each other pitches before they began. At the end, a band member said he couldn’t remember the last time he actually felt that nervous performing on stage.
They also performed the first ever acoustic version of “My Body” at the audience’s behest. This lack of a setlist and willing improvisation was one of the things that made the concert so wonderful to me.
When they played “Firelight”, a slow and introspective song, at a certain point they instructed the audience to hold up their flashlights and suddenly the room was bathed in yellow light. You could see the faces of every person there, ranging greatly in ages and dress, while the whole audience sang along. It was an incredibly intimate moment, and one that I remember vividly. Rarely have I been moved to tears by a song I didn’t know the words to.
The band exited after about an hour and a half of playing and answering questions but returned for an encore after nearly four minutes of the audience’s cheers. Since there weren’t plans for an encore, they asked what to play. They ended the night with “Cough Syrup”, a song I remembered from my fifth-grade dances. The five members of Young the Giant then thanked us again, took photos with and accepted homemade scarves from the audience, and left the stage.
Everyone stood awestruck for a couple of moments afterwards. We all knew we had witnessed a concert that was truly a once in a lifetime experience.
Photo via band website