Dylan Gardner returned to his old home in the Valley on Wednesday for the penultimate show on his Almost Real Tour.
Local indie band Panic Baby opened the evening, bathing the stage in refracted light for a dreamy vibe befitting their set. Helmed by singer Raquel Willand, Panic Baby is ethereal in their musical stylings but it’s the rhythm section that stood out. A tight bass groove turned what may have otherwise been a slow-moving set into an early dance party. The band’s stellar cover of Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” got the audience up from the bar and dancing by the stage.
When Dylan Gardner comes home to Arizona, he always brings the party with him. Wednesday was no exception as he immediately jumped in to “Can’t Stop Thinking,” the opening track on his newest album. Valley Bar was split down the middle and the underage section hung on his every word, sometimes drowning him out with their singing.
“This song is about my inability to talk to audiences,” Gardner joked at the start of “Sign Language.”
He put his instrumentation on display for “Breakup Symphony,” playing on dueling pianos with his keyboardist Sye Sharp. His fans were ecstatic at the inclusion of “I’m Nothing Without You” from his first album.
Gardner is no stranger to the stage. At only 22, he’s been performing for most of his life and continues to wow his fans with his live show. He’s incredibly gifted at his chosen stage instruments of guitar and keys and his first lengthy solo was vibrant proof.
The crowd was meager on a school night, but not shy in their enthusiasm. Gardner’s awkward charm wooed everyone watching, as he spoke about his childhood to introduce the acoustic ballad of the evening for “How It Goes.”
The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” and The 1975’s “Give Yourself a Try” made for a stellar pair of covers- the latter got wild enough for Gardner to play the guitar solo behind his head as the shrieking from the front row intensified. Then it was back to the piano for “Hysteria,” a song inspired by the music of Amy Winehouse (especially with a snippet of “Back to Black” at the bridge).
Gardner was backed by his incredibly tight band. Bassist Michael Ramirez and drummer Mark Gardner kept a strong backbone for Gardner’s energy and Sharp’s complementary keys.
Forgoing an encore, Gardner closed his dance party with “Let’s Get Started” and “Hit Me With the Lights Out.” As is his tradition, Gardner stayed after his set and met every fan wanting to shower him with gifts or just gush and take selfies. Gardner is a gracious performer and person and Arizona certainly can’t wait to have him back.
Story and photos by Olivia Khiel