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Show Review: Jack Antonoff pours his heart out in Phoenix

Arizona isn’t often the first place artists think of when they get sentimental onstage, but Jack Antonoff is not just any artist.

Antonoff brought his immensely successful project, Bleachers, to a sold-out crowd at The Van Buren on Tuesday and wasted no time in waxing poetic about his love for the desert.

New York duo Diet Cig opened the show with an energetic, sometimes campy set. Singer Alex Luciano’s vocals were girlish and fun but came a little too close to piercing at times. A surprising sense of déjà vu ensued, as Diet Cig was reminiscent of Save Ferris’ dive bar band cameo from classic teen flick 10 Things I Hate About You. Regardless, the eager crowd responded kindly as the tension built for Bleachers’ first proper headliner in Arizona.

Taking the stage to frenetic lights and fanfare from his band, Antonoff powered through the first few songs before taking a moment with his rapt audience. Dropping memories of Steel Train shows at now-defunct venue The Clubhouse elicited cheers from the older fans and mentions of fun. brought back memories for fans dedicated to their Arizona heroes.

The setlist was a stellar mix of the strongest songs from Bleachers’ debut album, Strange Desire, and their latest effort, Gone Now. Set highlights included an incredible sing-a-long to “Shadow,” the crowd swaying in unison to “Wake Me” and the dance party that didn’t stop between “I Miss Those Days” and “Let’s Get Married.”

Credit: Chris Colclasure

However, it was the second half of the set that cemented Bleachers as truly one of the most dynamic bands to see in concert. Antonoff curated the soundtrack to a movie called Love, Simon and he played “Alfie’s Song (Not So Typical Love Song)” and “Rollercoaster” back to back.

But it was the lead-up to “Rollercoaster” that started the sentimentality for the evening, as Antonoff reminisced on his process for writing what would become the first Bleachers album in his house with nothing but headphones and an imported keyboard. What started as a concept for a terribly sad album turned into one of melancholic celebration, one that the fans wholeheartedly agreed with in their response to the song’s performance.

The entire show was sprinkled with Antonoff’s dorky charm and humor, making the audience laugh when he confessed to not being able to find his pants before going onstage (instead opting to play in his pajamas).

While every second of Bleachers’ set was electric, the tears really started flowing when Antonoff paused his usual setlist for a mashup cover of Steel Train’s “Bullet” and a few precious bars of fun.’s “Carry On.” This homage to everywhere he’s been to reach where he stands now was a genuinely emotional acknowledgement from a man who loves what he does for a living.

Credit: Chris Colclasure

After successfully making the entire venue cry, Bleachers picked us right back up with a killer cover of Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough,” a song Antonoff credits with inspiring him to start making music.

One huge evolution of Bleachers as a band is their camaraderie onstage. Antonoff was joined by a fantastically talented group of musicians, most notably, saxophone player Evan Smith (whose specialty hot sauce was a merch table favorite). The band closed the set (before jumping immediately into the encore) with “You’re Still a Mystery,” a dancey number that ended in a guitar/sax battle for the high notes.

Antonoff and co.’s love for music, performing and the fans that make it all possible shone throughout the show. Closing with “I Wanna Get Better” and “Don’t Take the Money,” the audience never let their singing falter, and the joy on the band’s faces said it all.

Bleachers is a truly special band with stellar songs and an even more stellar live experience. Fans left The Van Buren sweat-soaked, satisfied and, in many cases, still wiping away tears of joy for a band that can’t return soon enough to their second home here in the Valley of the Sun.

Olivia Khiel