Former Bomb the Music Industry! and Arrogant Sons of Bitches frontman Jeff Rosenstock opened his world tour at Beat Kitchen on Wednesday evening, performing one of a handful of one-man acoustic shows before hitting the road (and seas) with his band for a few months. His headline show featured support by fellow punk singer-songwriters Gillian McGhee of Turnspit (under the name Hi Ho) and Kyle Geib of Dog & Wolf, as well as local comic Goodrich Gevaart.
Geib opened the show as the crowd trickled in for the early start, playing an informal half-hour in which he talked to the audience between every song. The crowd appreciated his set, which included a surprise cover of Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy” that set the tone for a night of humor to go with all of the emotional intimacy.
I’ve never seen a comedian do a routine in between a bunch of musicians, but Gevaart handled the situation well. A punk fan who found an excuse to drop a Youth of Today reference into one bit, Gevaart was excited to talk to an audience that knew his favorite music and didn’t need references to things like the straight-edge movement explained to them. His set included anecdotes about the CTA, Tourette’s and his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
The show returned to emotionally revealing singer-songwriters with Hi Ho. Gillian McGhee wasn’t afraid to open up, but also had a sense of humor about the whole thing, opening with the line “This is a song I wrote when I was 17, and I still think it’s not trash” and singing about modern relationship problems, such as a guy liking her photos on Instagram instead of being forward. She continued the 90s cover theme with her take on Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn,” which was almost like a mass karaoke session.
Bomb the Music Industry! was a band whose sound was defined by maximum noise. Rarely did they have a moment of empty space—usually that would be filled by not just guitars, drums and vocals, but saxophone, trombone, keyboards, etc. Rosenstock’s solo work is a bit more streamlined, but it’s still worlds away from just a man with an acoustic guitar. While at first it was jarring to see Rosenstock on stage without an audience going totally bonkers, the stripped-down approach emphasized just how much his gift for melodies and lyrics serve as the heart of his musical greatness, whether it’s with BTMI!, the Arrogant Sons of Bitches or on his own.
Even by himself and acoustic, Rosenstock made sure his set felt like a normal show, constantly bantering and self-deprecating as he occasionally messed up lyrics or hit the wrong notes. It’s strange to here a song like “I’m Serious, I’m Sorry” without its big electric guitar slides in the chorus, but Rosenstock’s manic energy at the microphone and a crowd who knew most of the songs inside and out made up for the missing noise.
Rosenstock has been almost exclusively playing songs off of his proper debut We Cool? when touring as an opening act for bands such as Andrew Jackson Jihad and Modern Baseball, but as a headliner he took the opportunity to play a handful of Bomb the Music Industry! material, from the rarely played “Unlimited Breadsticks, Soup and Salad Days” to the staple “25!” He even debuted a new song (working title: “Festival Song”) that may be included on an upcoming album, to be recorded this spring. The audience certainly appreciated the curveballs, and the new song sounded especially great.
Rosenstock is one of the hardest working men in underground music, but it’s clear that he loves playing for people more than just about anything. With this unplugged performance, half the joy came from watching him have fun. Hopefully he can keep it up as he travels to Australia and Europe in the coming months.