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Show Review: Judah and the Lion, Smallpools are nothing but a good time in Phoenix

Saturday night was a family affair in downtown Phoenix when fans of all ages piled into The Van Buren to see Judah and the Lion, accompanied by Smallpools, on their Happy Again Tour. From running through the halls of the venue to sitting on their parents’ shoulders, plenty of wide-eyed children were getting their first taste of live music, ensuring the next generation of concertgoers. The kids are alright. 

And the music? Even better. Smallpools have already made an appearance in the Valley this year, but they were welcomed back with open arms to kick off the show. The group cherry-picked some highlights from their last decade (!) making music together and even made time for some covers of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Creep.” As is tradition, vocalist Sean Scanlon also told the story of writing “Killer Whales” — searching their band name yielded online rants about the unfairness of keeping orcas in small pools — and released an inflatable into the crowd. It’s the most fun part of a Smallpools show, though closing with “Dreaming” is a close second. 

The crowd was, by now, warmed up and ready for Judah and the Lion. And when the group walked on stage, their camaraderie and joy was immediately infectious, taking the fans’ cheers to a new volume. 

“It’s Saturday night!” frontman Judah Akers shouted with a huge smile on his face. He certainly didn’t need reminding. The group is out on the road promoting their latest, Revival, but the undisputed highlight of the set wasn’t from their catalog at all. “This is karaoke,” Akers said, asking the crowd to lend its female voices for the first song and its male voices for the second. “And for the last song, we’re just going to vibe.” The result: “Since U Been Gone” followed by Creed’s “Higher” and then a synchronized dance to “Snap Yo Fingers”. The fans went absolutely wild. 

Following that performance, Akers slowed things down with an acoustic rendition of “Why Did You Run?” and “Blue Eyes,” dedicated to everyone who has lost someone. He recognized the difficulties of the past few years and expressed appreciation for being back in Phoenix — it was a hometown show for touring guitarist Dylan Ogelsby. The acoustic songs added depth to the set, which promptly resumed its fun-loving tone all the way through “Take It All Back.” Riding the wave of their fans’ enthusiasm, Judah and the Lion delivered a three song encore, closing out the night with a bang. 

Check out all the photos from the show!

Story and photos by Taylor Knauf