LIVE REVIEW: Jukebox the Ghost in Portland, ME (04.01.23)
“This is not a test, this is the real thing.” Jukebox the Ghost on April Fool’s Day was probably exactly what you would expect from the “friends of many years.” Witty banter, silly stories, and practical jokes filled the room with good spirits, while they played a tight set encompassing all their hits, crowd favorites, and then some.
Jukebox has been a band for over 17 years, and seem to always be on the road; having played Portland pretty much a year ago to the week. But the way that they interact with one another and the audience, their friendship welcomes the crowd into their inside jokes and creates a bond that proves why fans travel state lines to hit multiple stops and keep coming back for more, especially since every show is different and unique. (The door man told me he saw a lot of MA and NH IDs, even though the tour hit Boston the night prior).
The layout of PHOME is interesting in the sense that the dressing room does not connect directly to the stage. Bands have to descend stairs, then walk around the back of the audience before taking the stage. Always jovial, the band made their “grand entrance” to a clip of their song “Century in The Making” ringing out over the speakers. Ever the prankster, lead singer/keyboardist Ben Thornewill switched it up on the guys with the April Fool’s version of “Schizophrenia,” singing only the first verse over, and over, and over, until he was laughing too hard to continue. After regaining composure, they played the song proper, before the keytar-tastic sing-along, “Million-Dollar Bills” – “Give the people what they want,” and what they want is keys.
Drummer, and former brief Portland resident, Jesse Kristin came forward for his first exhibition of the night to sing the interlude “Raise A Glass” before singer/guitarist Tommy Siegal took over for his apocalyptic “How the World Began.” With their latest album Cheers not even a year old, it makes sense that they would show off the shiny, new songs, blending nine tracks into their 22 song set.
With six albums under their belts, making a set that keeps every level of fan happy is an art they master well, bringing back songs that are, “Old in a good way” like first album’s “Under My Skin,” which Thornewill told the speedy story of how it references his British royalty family lineage.
Fresh off the release of their new music video for “Brass Band,” they lead the crowd in a rompy, stompy sing song bigger than the three piece they are, while throwing in a dig about “trashing part of Florida.”
Stand alone track, “I Got a Girl” had the hand claps and singing (and Siegal’s fun sound effects) that continued into charmer “Stay the Night.” Adorably goofy and slightly awkward Kristin joked, “Hard to choose where to eat dinner in this town” to make comedic banter.
It wouldn’t be a Jukebox set without going down the “spooky jam” rabbit hole of Siegal’s despair and existentialism. “Sci-fi nerd songs” “The Machine” and “Everybody Panic” weren’t a downer, but a warm reminder of how versatile the band is in their music. Happy, poppy, love songs paired with the end of the world, but well composed!
To make things even more interesting, the resurrection of the wheel of songs had everyone’s full attention. With a discography as expansive as theirs, sometimes they just have to let fate decide. The wheel landed on Hall and Oates, to which they delivered a cover of, “You Make My Dreams Come True.”
Keeping the set moving to pack it with as many favorites as possible, they charged into the interactive combo of “Girl” and “Jumpstarted,” complete with more keytar. The always fun “Hold It In” had everyone clapping in time to the beat and “oohing” along.
Off to the Races hits “Fred Astaire” and “Colorful” got the remaining dance hold outs grooving, with the latter sparking an Isley Brothers’ style “Hey oh” sing-along.
Further calling attention to the band’s connection to Maine, Siegal pointed out his new shirt with the Maine Dead Project logo (a PHOME residency band). “I bet you can’t even name 4 songs.” “Don’t pretend you’re not a huge Dead fan when you’re in Maine.”
“Ramona” and “Everybody’s Lonely” kept the energy flowing over an hour in, a testament to the attention they garner and the passion they give out.
Nearing the end of the main set, Thornewill called Kristin up to the front too early, essentially pranking him by leaving him to stand in the spotlight thinking the song’s going to start while he rambled about not knowing what to do for the encore. Circle back to the layout, and it’s evident the band had nowhere to go once they got off the stage. After Thornewill decided because it was April Fool’s they would only come back on after the crowd was entirely silent, he queued Kristin in for the glamorous “Hollywood.”
While they congregated in the small wing, a hush fell over the crowd for a good 30 seconds of delightful awkwardness before they emerged again to snickers and cheers. “It sucked even worse than we imagined, but you did wonderfully,” joked Siegal, before they jumped into a really old song from their college days that wasn’t quite ready for the world until 2022, “Hey Maude.”
Because the show was sold out, they granted the crowd a second wheel spin. Comically, it landed on “One Dollar” where the audience is supposed to give them a dollar. Instead, Thornewill let a girl in the front choose whichever song she wanted, to which she enthusiastically replied, “Beady Eyes on the Horizon.” “How old were you when that came out?” To which she replied, “Seven.” “How do you even know that?!” Siegal exclaimed. To which Kristin replied, “The internet exists.” As infrequently as that song has been played (setlist fm says 20 times), that was a treat for the longtime fans in the crowd.
Ending with a toast, “Cheers!” was the perfect send off for the every day people to raise a glass and feel connected one last time.
The fun of a Jukebox show is that they don’t take themselves too seriously, but they’re solid musicians who work together as a cohesive unit because their friendship is the driving force. There’s a lightheartedness that allows for an evening of spontaneity, laughter, and fun.
Notable Opener: Wildermiss warmed the crowd up with gentle tones that built up in layers to pack a punch. Their theatrics and musical imagery made the set flow and put on a stage show that kept fans intrigued. Warm synth and thumping bass swirled around soft and sweet vocals to make a space like adventure in sound.