Atlas Genius at ONCE Ballroom

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ONCE Ballroom in Somerville played host to three bands Oct. 14 for a night of spirited entertainment and broken boundaries.

Half the Animal, an alternative pop rock band from Laguna Beach, California, opened the show. Made up of lead vocalist Chase Johnson, drummer Nick Gross, bassist Evan Smith and guitarist Alex Asch, they gave a theatrical performance, drawing the crowd in through sing-alongs and dancing.

Their biggest hit of the night was “Bad Bad Love,” their new single, released Sept. 22. A song about an addictive relationship with a woman who seduces the singer into crossing lines, the music is strongly reminiscent of the Southern California folk-rock vibe, with a strong focus on Johnson’s emotionally-rich voice, set against a mesmerizing and rhythmic beat.

Also from the Los Angeles area, indie-rock band Magic Giant, made up of lead vocalist Austin Bisnow, violinist and banjo-player Zambricki Li and guitarist Brian “Zang” Zaghi, took over the stage after Half the Animal played their final song, “Somebody”. Evoking a Bohemian vibe, all of the instruments and even the stage itself were decorated with colorful, patterned strips of cloth and bundles of feathers and beads.

Many of the band’s upbeat songs were connected to personal stories. The most stirring of these was “Jade,” a song written during the summer of 2016.

“A girl came up to us after we played this song and she told us that her best friend had passed away when she was 16 and that she couldn’t help but feel the presence of her friend when we played this song,” Bisnow said. “The song was untitled at the time and it became about her friend as we finished writing it. Her friend’s name was Jade and so with this song, we celebrate Jade.”

The high point of the performance came when the band decided to play an acoustic session in the middle of the audience. After asking everyone to quiet down, they each took an instrument off the stage and headed onto the floor to play “Great Divide.” As they performed, they rotated around their small space to ensure everyone felt included; Bisnow in particular also made sure to make contact with everyone who reached out to him.

Throughout their set, the band members never once stopped smiling, infecting the audience with their energy and joy.

After a short break, it was time for the headliner to take the stage. Originally formed in Adelaide, Australia, Atlas Genius consists of three brothers, Keith Jeffery on lead vocals, Michael Jeffrey on drums and Steven Jeffrey on synth, with touring members consisting of Daniel Curcio on bass and Boston’s own Josh Rheault on guitar. Boston was just one stop on their 63 Days of Love Tour and their ongoing journey to connect with fans.

In a mission statement published on their website, Keith and Michael Jeffrey discussed the reasons behind the tour name, stemming from their new song “63 Days,” which was about a recent breakup.

“It’s a love letter I wrote to someone I broke; a girl who meant everything to me who trusted me to hold her heart. A heart, I, accidentally, shattered because I, simply, forgot how fragile it was,” the website stated.

After analyzing the relationship’s end, the two brothers came to the conclusion that the reasons why people break up are the same reasons why ruptures occur in the world. They decided that they were not just a rock band, but, as stated on the website, “citizens of the world” who felt “compelled to act in whatever way we can to help bring people together.”

The band played a varied mix of songs from both of their albums, 2013’s “When It Was Now” and 2015’s “Inanimate Objects.” Fan favourites included “Trojans,” which reached #4 on Billboard’s Top Alternative Songs Chart in 2013, “Back Seat,” one of their dance hits written about a seedy nightclub near their house, and “Symptoms,” a song from their first EP that was created as a reminder of home.

“We knew we were coming to America for the first time and at the same time it was really exciting and also extremely daunting,” Keith said during the show. “We grew up near the beach, we surfed a lot as kids and this is kind of paying homage to where we came from.”

In addition to their own songs, the band also did a cover of Dead or Alive’s 1985 hit “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record).” Losing the 80’s synth, they transformed the song into a sleeker, more mellow, almost melancholy piece.

In between songs, Keith made sure the audience never forgot they were in Boston and that a Rheault was from the city, making a quip about the number of audience members probably related to Rheault and even taking a break in between songs to try a local beer and give it positive reviews. Keith also ensured the crowd never lost their energy; at one point, he asked everyone to crouch down on the floor and then at his signal, jump as high as they could.

The night wrapped up on a high with an encore performance, to the delight of the clamouring crowd, of “Stone Mill” and “Molecules.”

Header courtesy of Samantha Schraub (Sunlight Magazine)

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