Jukebox the Ghost is made up of three guys from Philadelphia who met in 2003 at George Washington University, and they’ve been touring since their first album Let Live & Let Ghosts was released in 2008. Their name combines lyrics from 70s musician Captain Beefheart with a line from the 50s Russian novel Pnin, and even though I’ve never heard of either of those things until just now, I think the words “Jukebox the Ghost” capture everything about them – their music belongs in a bouncing 50s jukebox but their lyrics have a lot to do with all sorts of heavy subjects.
Last night was their second concert at Brighton Music Hall within a week, coming back two Thursdays in a row at the exact same time but with two different openers. Ben plays the keyboard and sings on the stage’s right side, Tommy sings and plays guitar across from him, and Jesse’s on drums in the back in a short-sleeved collared shirt decorated with bright red flowers.
Since the first time I saw them in 2010, Ben’s sprouted a faux-hawk that makes for great horizontal optics as his head bounces in front of the mic, Jesse added a blonde streak to his hair, and Tommy must have been happy with his hairstyle because he looks exactly the same. All these guys can play the shit out of their instruments, and having two very different voices at either side of the stage helps mix things up a bit, although last night’s show at Brighton Music Hall was different from most.
Since they were here just a week before, Jukebox played more of their very first album instead of covering everything on their two latest: Everything Under The Sun released in 2010 and Safe Travels in 2012. Their first album is darker than all the others, with songs about the end of the world and one they played last night called “Lighting Myself on Fire.” Their titles are intense and their lyrics follow suit but in a there’s-nothing-to-do-but-laugh kind of way. In Let Live & Let Ghosts those lyrics were closer to the melodies that sometimes went minor and dark and dramatic. But even “Lighting Myself on Fire” is more of a love song than anything else, and most of those first album songs do have the Jukebox gene: bubbly dynamic music given so much meaning with words.
So last night Jukebox alternated between new and old songs, performing the “Good Day,” “Hold It In,” and “Under My Skin” hits from Let Live & Let Ghosts, but also covering “My Heart’s the Same,” “Static to the Heart” (with an extra guitar solo to boot), and “Beady Eyes on the Horzon.” From Everything Under the Sun they performed “Schizophrenia (video above!),” “Half-Crazy,” “Mistletoe,” and “The Popular Thing.” But they started out with their most recent, super catchy/mostly happy songs from Safe Travels: “Somebody,” “Say When,” “Adulthood,” “Ghosts in Empty Houses,” and “Everybody Knows.”
In the middle of the set the band took to performing covers they had learned to play for a friend’s wedding over New Years. “So if you’re wondering why those guys don’t know the words, we don’t know the words,” Ben said before they kicked it off with the 80s song “She Drives Me Crazy.” It was so catchy it made it physically necessary for me to dance, which is why the video above is kind of shaky and doesn’t include the whole song.
Tommy and Ben both have pretty distinct voices so it’s fun to hear a song you know and a voice you know combine for the first time, especially when they’re classics like “Don’t Stop Believing” and “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.” You can really tell how much they love playing those instruments during covers because it’s not really about the words or the message, it’s all just for fun and because the crowd loves it and wants to sing along – which is helpful when someone on stage actually doesn’t know the words.
Overall, it was 90 solid minutes of music that included a three song encore and lots of dedicated fans. Jukebox more than deserves it. This is their first big headlining tour after opening for Ben Folds, Free Energy, and The Barenaked Ladies among others over the past five years.
Even though they’ve been popular for a while, this tour makes it feel more official – they’ve officially/definitely “made it” and it’s so exciting to see how many other people love music that’s happy and meaningful instead of just noisy and mad.
In a 2011 interview with BYT, Ben explained how they got their start:
“We all met here in DC, when the three of us were going to school at GW and started out by playing crappy charity events and open mike nights. We were one of the first bands to play at the Mitchell Hall theater when they built that stage in the basement. First we played a lot of shows to nobody, then all of a sudden there were tons of people there and we started selling out ticketed shows. As the guinea pigs for that venue, we got really lucky.”
See more from Jukebox including upcoming tour dates on their website.
The band also has a free iPhone app to get fans even more involved, plus they post Tommy’s Jukebox-style cartoons of the places they tour on the band’s Facebook page, which is kind of a whole other type of art.