Concert Reviews

Review: Awolnation at Summit Music Hall, 8/18/2011

If you were at the Awolnation show last night and you didn't have fun, you are dead inside. The band played in shorts, for fuck's sake. Shorts pretty much always mean fun. The band brought its A game from song one -- opening with clappy, dance-y "Guilty Filthy Soul," and immediately getting everyone to throw their hands in the air and clap along - but the crowd reciprocated with the same spirited vibe.

Everyone, it seemed, had come to have as much fun as possible, and we started doing so by packing in to cheer on the first opener, the New Regime, and then sticking around to support the second, Wallpaper, singing along to Prince with enthusiasm during set breaks. And then Awolnation came on, strutting out in those shorts and, in the case of lead singer Aaron Bruno, red Tom's, and Summit Music Hall absolutely exploded.

Not bad considering the band formed just under a couple of years ago and has released just one album, Megalithic Symphony -- a blend of rock and electronica with catchy harmonies, boneshaking beats and lyrics you can't help but yell along -- all written by Bruno. That came out in March, with the song "Sail" debuting at 30 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart.

One-hit, one-album shows can be tough because the audience loses interest after getting the one song it came for, but that wasn't a problem here: This wasn't a crowd that had come for "Sail" alone. Megalithic Symphony was an ideal album to bump on the long, warm nights of summer -- and just about every single person at the show knew every single lyric to every single song. And so Awolnation did exactly what they should have done, namely played the songs from the album with obvious relish and encouraged the crowd to let loose and party. After the rocking start, the group never let up, leading us right into "People" ("I was born to rage") and "Kill Your Heroes."

Bruno is electrifying on stage; he never stops moving, bouncing around with the rest of the band in front of a sparse set comprised basically just a lit up AN sign that provided a backdrop of red, white and blue. The crowd mimics his every move, jumping when he jumps, throwing arms in the air when he throws arms in the air, crowdsurfing when he crowdsurfs. And he crowdsurfed during the fourth song, "Jump," encouraging everyone else to do the same, with a friendly warning to help anyone who fell to get back to their feet.

About halfway through the set, the band took a moment to collect itself, then moved into the slower, catchy, almost gospel-like "All I Need," instigating a singalong during which the crowd stopped bouncing long enough to pull actual lighters out of their pockets.

We didn't have to wait much longer for "Sail," which sent ripples through the crowd. The show, it seemed, had built up to this, and the floor erupted, bouncing wildly in rhythm, tossing cups and beer in the air. That manic energy continued through the last two songs, and during the final number, "Burn it Down," a few people mounted the stage, dancing like wild animals.

The guys did the obligatory duck out, but we brought them back for an encore -- how could we not? -- and they played the loud, long, synthy "Knights of Shame." The tune, which starts, "Dance, baby, dance cuz the world is ending," is pretty much the song you always want to use to end your dance party because, thanks to its beat and happy melodies, lets you go out on a euphoric but final note. Which is exactly what the band did, giving a group bow and then exiting.

And we all sauntered out with a last-call attitude: We weren't quite done having fun, but we knew it was time to go home. And because we had to quit while the band was ahead, we'll all listen to Megalithic Symphony and think about how much fun we had that one night at Summit Music Hall when Awolnation came to town. Why the hell else would you spend money on a concert ticket?


Personal Bias: Megalithic Symphony has been one of five albums in heavy rotation this summer, but I actually DON'T know every lyric to every song. Random Detail: During the encore, Bruno took over for the drummer, which makes sense since Bruno actually played the drums in the recording studio. By the way: Dear Summit Music Hall, you could use a few more bartenders during the initial crush. Just saying.


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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk