Indie Funk band Magic City Hippies talk about growing up in Miami and their Winter Tour

I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to Robby Hunter, Pat Howard, and John Coughlin from the Indie Funk band Magic City Hippies before their show at Paradise Rock Club on the Boston stop of their Modern Animal tour. 

From the streets of Miami, to some of the most in demand venues and festivals in the country, the band Magic City Hippies has been spreading the Indie Funk sound since 2013. Through the use of electric guitars, keyboards, and synth their self-titled debut album blends hip-hop, pop, funk, and beach-bum to define their self made Indie Funk genre. The Hippie Castle EP featuring the Spotify Global Top 50 chart topper “Fanfare”, is soaked in a groove that you can’t help but dance to. 

With a strong and unique sound setting them apart from the crowd, they have found a lot of success touring. However, there is a lot that the audience doesn’t see happening behind the scenes during tours. Their 2019 sophomore LP Modern Animal explores the hardships of touring and how it affects the bands lives and relationships, but it dresses it up in upbeat, indie funk beats. 

I sat down with the three founding members of Magic City Hippies to talk about their new album, their winter tour, and how growing up in Miami has influenced their style. 

How did you guys meet and start forming the band?

Pat: “Robbie was a one man band for a while before any of us met and he basically ended up getting threatened by the cops because he would stir up quite a crowd on the corner of the main intersection.” 

John: “So, he started playing the Barracuda bar with a rotating cast of musicians. Pat just got thrown into the spinning wheel”

Pat: “We only met about fifteen minutes before playing our first show. Then I moved in with John, and we needed a bass player, so we just started playing all these random shows in Miami together, kinda unrehearsed. We played Barracuda bar every Friday for free beer and maybe thirty bucks in tips.”

John: “Magic City Hippies kinda evolved from this live trio setup up to the five of us including the Bellisario brothers [touring members] on bass and keyboard. All the recorded music kinda starts in Robbie’s head, then goes past the producer Pat. It started with the initial pairing of the two and I just kinda completed the three.”

And what is the significance of the Magic City Hippies name? I know Miami is the Magic City, but what does it mean to you as a band?

Pat: “Miami is the Magic City”

John: “Basically, we had this house which was already called the Hippie Castle by our friends, it wasn’t a thing we tried to make happen. We were all in music school, always hanging, people would just walk in without knocking, always jamming to some Beatles music, Pat converted his room into a studio, there was a party pool out back, it was just kinda this vibe. Our friends who weren’t musicians would just come over and shake their heads and go “F**kin’ Hippies.” So one day we just all came together and came up with the name, at the time we were the Robbie Hunter Band, but we didn’t have the ganas to change our name so we just named our first album Magic City Hippies, but eventually we worked up the nerve and changed it to Magic City Hippies.”

So you said your house was named the Hippie Castle?

John: “Yeah”

Isn’t that the name of your EP? 

John: “Yeah, it’s all a grand mythology right?”

Robbie: “The cover is actually a photo of our backyard at the place”

So your first LP Magic City Hippies and your EP Hippie Castle kinda blend into each other, does your latest EP Modern Animal fit into the story anywhere?

Pat: “Modern Animal is more of a road inspired record”

John: “For the most part the EP and The Robbie Hunter Band together are our first body of work and they say the second album is about everything that happened between your first and second album. Modern Animal is more about what happened in the past year or two on the road, relationships you know.”

So you said Modern Animal had a lot to do with touring, has writing about touring at all effected how you guys tour today? 

Robbie: “It really affected our personal lives and our relationships. If we learned something it was to give our girlfriends more time”

Pat: “The world keeps spinning when you’re on tour, it’s easy to fall into the routine of taking everything day by day but you still need to tend to your life and other goals that are kinda peripheral to touring. So there were a lot of challenging things about that, we just dressed it up in some funk.” 

John: “It’s not a sad sounding record. Modern Animal is a metaphor. After riding around for a month on tour, you start to feel invincible, I could go out there and roar like a tiger and people would clap their hands, instead of saying why is that guy making that noise, you get that confidence eventually.” 

How has coming up in Miami influenced your bands performance style? 

Pat: “Miami is a party city, and it’s a very hispanic city, and with that combination, you know, the music has to be very dance oriented, not in an EDM way, but the basis in the pyramid of needs in the music in Miami is groove. The music needs to make you feel really good and it needs to make you move.” 

So do you try to bring that groove to everywhere around the US when touring?

John: “Oh yeah it’s amazing! Some places you can tell that they don’t get a lot of it, Utah is like, “we love funk bands they just don’t come through here as often.””

Robbie: “Even our slowest songs still have a groove. Like you can maybe dance to it, slowly.”

Does it vary how into the show the audience gets from city to city? Does your hometown of Miami get more into the dance groove? Do other cities even compare? 

John: “The south is really lit, which is usually a lot of fun. We just played New York City last night, which is always a good time. West coast, they eat that sh*t up they’re all hippies out there too.”

Robbie: “Lately we’ve been overwhelmed everywhere”

John: “We were surprised in Kansas City, they were one of the first places in the Midwest to get really turned up for us, for kinda no reason” 

Is there any city that you are particularly excited to visit on the tour?

Robbie: “New York was one of them” 

Pat: “LA for sure” 

John: “Every national tour there’s two poles, the New York show and the LA show, as long as you nail those two you have a lot of breathing room in the middle. Everything leads up to the New York show, you play it and then the next thing you know you find yourself in Los Angeles and the New York show feels like years ago, and you’re like this is the biggest show of my life this Los Angeles show right now.” 

Pat: “Were playing in Toronto and Vancouver for the first time”

John: “Officially a North America tour, two gigs outside the United States” 

Are those your first shows outside of the US?

All: “Yes”

Do you plan on playing in any other countries soon?

Pat: “We dream of it” 

John: “We don’t have any plans in the works yet, maybe a canadian run? Living in Miami, we have a lot of connections to Latin America and I think we could really crush it doing a South American tour. We hope to get to Europe someday. I’d love to do a world tour and smash an expensive guitar on the last night.” 

What would you say is the significance of live performance? Is there a message that you guys try to get across that you can’t exactly do on recorded music? 

Pat: “Energy. Regardless of any mistakes we make throughout the night, the intention is what matters the most. You can tell how much we are putting into it and if we get it back from the crowd, it’s just this feedback loop”

Robbie: “Yeah you can’t get that on a record” 

John: “I was talking to a fan the other day and he said it’s kinda like Kirby from Super Smash Bros, we eat the crowds energy and then we become their energy and we shoot it back at them.” 

How would you say that the themes have changed from your first album to your second album? For example the lyrical style.

Robbie: “It’s similar. We are trying to make quote-unquote Indie Funk music, were trying to keep that alive, so we have a lot of motifs that we kept from the earlier album and we put it back into this album. It’s a very nostalgic thing, at least for us.” 

Pat: “We like to throw in little teasers like the “Fanfare” melody, and then a new melodic motif. Soundwise, every year there are new amazing records that come out and we get really into the newest project from the bands that we’ve always loved and find ourselves inspired by their work. For example, in between the EP and our latest album, I got really in the Unknown Mortal Orchestra and we put that kinda vibe on there, you know, Tame Impala, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers.” 

John: “but there’s not like a big shift, there is a continuation of the initial indie funk. Basically it is whatever the three of us have devoured in our lifetime and whoever can play the best guitar part, that’s what gets put on the record. The music were making now, of course feels like the music we were making five years ago but it’s still different”

Robbie: “Not all of them are dance songs anymore”

John: “Right we have a true ballad on there. It’s definitely expanded the sound a lot more.”

Robbie: “There’s a lot more warbly or synthy sounds on there” 

Pat: “There’s definitely a lot more synth, we were in a studio, we had a lot lying around and we’d been listening to synth music”

John: “It’s also kinda psychedelic, not like we are a psychedelic band, but in the way that every sound makes you have to go, “Oh sh*t did you hear that” which is I think the goal of most psych-rock. And we want that effect so every sound is hyper focused and thought out from a keyboard part to the snare.” 

So all of your music is 100% Independently made, why do you consider that to be so important in your creative process? 

Pat: “Well it’s required” 

John: “Well it’s kinda in the sense that we get to own everything, but also all the best things that we’ve made come from the three of our brains together. We are still open to collaboration and trying things with other people, but anytime we’ve strayed too far away from working just the three of us, things get slowed down and the creative process starts not really working. When it’s just the three of us in the studio, that’s where the magic happens.” 

Last question, if you had to recommend one song of Modern Animal that was not released as a single, which one would you pick?

John: “We released almost all of them as singles so you really narrowing our options, but I really like Float, I get really emotional when I hear the guitar solo at the end, it feels really reflective of the year I was having, which is a very personal thing that obviously the listeners won’t have the same experience.” 

Pat: “Kamikazee is our dub reggae song on there. We listened to a lot of Bitty Mclean and one album of his samples old Treasure Isle records from the 50s or 60s. We wore that stuff out, which ended up kinda injecting itself into our music”

Robbie: “I would say The Wind just because it’s a very personal song for me, Pat has this ending part that almost makes me tear up.” 

Magic City Hippies sophomore LP “Modern Animal” is out everywhere now and they will be touring North America until February 28th. 

A Brutally Honest Review of The Strokes New Year's Eve Concert

As soon as I heard that The Strokes would be coming to NYC for New Year’s Eve AND it had general admission, I knew I was going to be there and I was going to be front row, despite ABSOLUTELY not having the funds to do so. The Strokes are one of the few bands that I consider to have defined my taste in music growing up and they were one of the top bands on my concert bucket list, so there was no way I could miss this.

This New Year’s Eve show was not originally supposed to happen. For the past year, The Strokes have been exclusively playing festivals, not arenas. They were only supposed to come to New York once this year to headline day three of Govenor’s Ball. However, mother nature had other plans. Torrential downpours flooded Randall’s Island causing day three to be cancelled, but not before doors opened and fans began to wait at the main stage for The Strokes. People were outraged, thinking they missed their only opportunity to see The Strokes this year. So, in attempt to make things right, the band added a New Year’s Eve show in New York City and gave priority presale codes to Govenor’s Ball ticket holders. 

Before I get into the story about what went down at the show, I have to preface this with a little history about my unconventional concert going habits. For the past year and a half I have been averaging about one concert every two weeks. Every single one has been general admission and I have been front row to all of them. I do this by waiting outside the venues for hours upon hours to ensure that I will be one of the first people let onto the floor. Most of the time it’s pretty easy, just time consuming, but at large arena shows it is particularly difficult due to factors like VIP ticket holders, multiple entrances, insane people who wait outside for days, etc. So, in order to ease my stress, I decided to purchase the VIP upgrade for this show. The VIP upgrade was advertised to include early entrance into the venue and a poster. 

Okay, so on to the big day. Despite having a VIP ticket, which ensured entrance into the venue before general admission ticket holders, I still arrived at the venue at 9:00am to further secure the fact that I will be first onto the floor. My friend Morgan, whom I met at a concert in June, and I hunkered down in front of the Barclays Center with multiple blankets, gloves, hot hands, and coats trying to remain as warm as possible in the 30 degree weather for the next ten hours. We passed the time by talking and becoming friends with the people around us in line, including one girl whom we had met at another concert the night before. We took turns going into the local businesses to use the bathroom, get something to eat, and just warm up. I even took a nap on the sidewalk at one point, and it wasn’t even that bad! 

As the time inched closer to 7:00pm we all began to get really stressed and I just had this bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. During the entire ten hours we were waiting outside, we had not seen a single person who worked at The Barclays Center, making it so we weren’t even completely sure if we were at the correct entrance. We tried to confirm that we were at the right entrance by calling the venue, no answer. We tried asking the box office, but they didn’t even know that the entrance on our ticket, Stairwell A, existed. So that bad feeling in my stomach just intensified as each minute passed and doors got closer to opening. 

The Barclays Center, Photo from the Barclays Center Website 

A mini sense of relief came over me when seven o’clock finally came around, and the unmarked doors of Stairwell A opened. We were in the right place, and everything was going to be okay. Now, I have never been a runner, but once those doors open I am suddenly a highly decorated Olympic sprinter. I prepared myself to run, but little did I know, I was going to be doing a lot more than just running a couple hundred yards to the stage. 

This is where everything takes a turn for the worse. We went through security, got our wristbands, and were directed downstairs where we were given our posters. That was the last time we received any reasonable directions from a staff member at the Barclays Center. After we got our posters, we went down this long hallway which we thought led to the stage, but it just led to an empty room. Not one Barclays Center staff member was in this room to explain what was going on, how to get to the stage, or what this room was. We all had to figure it out on our own by trying every door in the room, getting into the elevator and hitting every button, and going back to the security check to see if the guards knew anything. 

From this point on, every VIP ticket holder was in a full fledged panic. Every person that I had met in line had purchased a VIP ticket because they were front row at Govenor’s Ball before The Strokes set was cancelled and they purchased VIP tickets because they wanted to make sure they were front row again. All sense of a line was lost and the ten hours that we had waited outside was wasted. Eventually, we saw a woman on the other side of these big glass doors that were blocked off by a security guard who had been refusing to talk to us. She noticed us all pressed up against the glass and came over to proceed to yell at us. She shouted, “YOUR TICKETS DON’T GET YOU EARLY ACCESS TO THE MAIN CONCOURSE, YOU GET EARLY ACCESS TO THIS ROOM” before promptly disappearing with no further explanation. 

Now, not only were we more confused, we were also feeling disrespected. We were still all very confused about what was going on since this woman left before clarifying what she meant, so I followed a crowd of people into the elevator, on to the main concourse, and down to the stage. We did not see a single Barclays Center employee on the way down. We were at the barricade and everything was fine. We were frustrated but everything was generally okay. But it didn’t last long. 

After a few minutes security guards came down to the stage and forced us all to leave and go back to the room we entered in through. Now this caused an uproar. Some people were yelling at the guards, other people refused to leave the floor, and some people started running back up the stairs to the club. During this chaos, I feel up the stairs and scraped my knee, because you know I wasn’t having quite a bad enough time yet. At this point, I have lost my friends and my damn mind. 

It wasn’t until after we got kicked off the floor that we connected the dots and realized that the VIP ticket got us early entry into this private room and not onto the stage. We didn’t figure that out from a staff member though since we hadn’t been able to reasonably communicate with one the entire time, we were forced to conclude that on our own. This means that we were being let into the arena at the same time as general admission. By the time we figured that out we only had about three minutes left until the main doors opened. So we began to head back down to the stage, in fact there was a man in the elevator who hit the button for us. But when the elevator doors opened, who do we find but the woman who yelled at us earlier. She told us we needed to go back upstairs and that doors aren’t open yet. It was 7:29pm doors opened in one minute and she refused to let us even stand in the doorway. 

We were so done with this whole VIP experience that we just completely ignored her and when 7:30 hit we ran to the closest door down to the stage, just to be met with ANOTHER person standing in our way not letting us through. She said that she didn’t receive permission to let us through yet, which I understand she is just following protocol, but it was frustrating since I could see people from other doors rushing down to the stage, a lot of them being general admission ticket holders and not VIP. A few moments later she let us through and I BOOKED IT down the stairs and to the stage. 

When I got down there, the barricade was already full of people, except for one tiny sliver of space big enough for me to put my hand down. I grabbed on and slowly, but politely, squeezed my way in there. After about 15 minutes of gentle pushing I was able to rest both of my arms on the barricade and take my celebratory barricade picture. I was on the opposite side of the stage from my friend Morgan, but I ended up next to people that I had become friends with in line, one of whom being a girl we met at a concert the night prior. I also became friends with the people behind me, which made the experience much better. 

Now this may seem like the chaotic rants of a spoiled brat, but I want to explain more why this was so frustrating. I purchased this ticket despite not being able to afford it, because I am terrible with handling money and have major fear of missing out. I added the VIP upgrade to relieve anxieties and have a better chance of getting to the front row. To quote the advertisement and the confirmation email that I received, “VIP ticket holders get early entry to the venue and a poster that is available for pickup in the Qatar Airways Club which you will have access to from 7:00pm – 10:30pm.” This heavily implies that we will have entry to the main concourse to either go down to the barricade or purchase merchandise before the general public and if we want the poster, we will have to go up to the club to get it. Everyone I had met thought that this was what was included, which is an honest mistake based on the wording of the advertisement. The problem was the lack of communication and overall presence from the Barclays Center staff. In fact, whenever we would find someone, they would either yell or talk to us like we were stupid for not knowing what the ticket included. 

What our VIP ticket actually included was early access to the Qatar Airways Club ONLY and a small poster which, if you ask me, was definitely not worth the $100 upgrade fee, which was why we all refused to believe what that woman yelled at us. I am still extremely grateful that I was able to attend this show and have a VIP ticket. I know that there were thousands of people who couldn’t afford tickets or get tickets before they sold out. Despite the major stress of the entire process everything worked out for me and my friends, but I can’t say that for everyone else I met through the night. In general, I’m pretty much fine with anything bad happening to me as long as I get a good story out of it. 

Now onto the actual show. 

Hinds, Photo By: Rita Plante

The lineup for the night featured Hinds, Mac Demarco, and The Strokes. First up was Hinds, an all female indie rock group from Spain. They were a late addition to the lineup, only being announced about three weeks prior to the show. I was super excited to see them since I am a fan of their songs “The Club” and “Bamboo”. I was originally introduced to the band by a girl that I met in line for a concert over a year ago, so this really came full circle. They were so bubbly and energetic and you could tell that they were probably more excited to be there than anyone in the audience. They really lifted the spirits, since you could really feel the negativity in the pit after that whole VIP nightmare. They played so well together, they covered The Clash and even debuted an unreleased song. I would definitely go see a full concert of theirs. 

According to the advertisements, the next act was supposed to be Mac Demarco, but there was an unexpected late addition to the lineup that was never announced. His name was Kirin J Callinan and he was…interesting. He came on stage and introduced himself by saying, “I have some substantial dirt on multiple members of The Strokes, so they are letting me do these mini 10 minute sets between openers in order to keep me quiet.” At first I thought it was a joke, but the longer his sets went on, the more the possibility of blackmail seemed to make sense. During his first set he dropped his guitar pick inside the hole of his acoustic guitar and spent more than five minutes trying to shake it out before proceeding to smash the guitar on the stage. During his second set he went over his allotted time, so they cut his music and he sang a song fully A Cappella featuring the bizarre line, “I’m not a baby, not yet a boy, I’m the toddler” before they forcibly removed him from the stage. While his sets were definitely funny, I’d much rather have had Mac Demarco or Hinds play a longer set. 

After Kirin’s first set was Mac Demarco. I am a huge fan, I’ve seen him twice and I even have his signature tattooed on my ankle. So when they announced that he would be an opener, that just further confirmed in my head that I had to be there. Mac’s music is very chill, but his shows are anything but that. He always manages to get the crowd all riled up, creating mosh pits to songs most people would just sway to. In fact, at his last show in August I broke my toe in one of the mosh pits. This show was no exception. Despite not being the headliner, he obviously had plenty of fans in attendance. He played all his top hits like “Chamber of Reflection”, “Freaking out the Neighborhood”, and “Salad Days”. He opened his set by swinging the microphone above his head by the wire to “On the Level”. Later in the set during “Cooking up Something Good”, he did a handstand into a forward roll. These are just a few examples of how much of an entertaining performer Mac is. My only complaint would be that his set wasn’t long enough!

After Mac Demarco, Kirin came on for another short set, which led right into an introduction for The Strokes. In fact, the last thing Kirin said before leaving the stage was, “Please welcome, in five minutes time, The Strokes.” Little did we know that they wouldn’t come on for another thirty minutes. The Strokes are notorious for being late to their shows, so this came as no surprise to many members of the audience. However, this did later cause them to cut two songs from their setlist, making the whole experience even more frustrating. 

While we were waiting for the show to start, people were fainting left and right. Each time a person fainted, EMT’s had to lift them over the barricade and bring them to the medical area, which was pretty chaotic especially since there were about twenty photographers in the way between the barricade and the stage. These photographers were very annoying at this show. They were confined to the right side of the stage, exactly where I was standing, so they were all right in front of me blocking my view. One man even brought out a mini ladder and stood on it directly in front of me blocking my ENTIRE view for half of the first song, which of course would be my favorite song by The Strokes. 

But enough with the negativity. After a ten hour wait outside followed by a disappointing VIP experience and a long set of openers, 11:30pm finally came and it was time for The Strokes to perform. 

The arena erupted in screams as Julian Casablancas and The Strokes walked on stage. After taking a sarcastic bow, the lights went dark and the shattering sound of “Heart in a Cage” began to play. This moment was magical, I had been waiting for this moment for so long, and it was finally here. “Heart in a Cage” was a fantastic show opener, the energy in the arena was electric and it made all of the trouble to get to this point worth it. I was initially impressed by Julian’s live vocals, but what really surprised me was the incredible talent of Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. The two switched back and forth between lead and rhythm guitar all night and had some amazing solos. I was particularly impressed by Albert’s solo in Reptilia and Nick’s solo in New York City Cops. Their live talent made me really understand how The Strokes have become such a defining band in the garage rock genre and why they’ve inspired so many popular bands today. 

Albert Hammond Jr. from The Strokes, Photo By: Rita Plante

They prepared a very special set for the night. They played an unreleased song which they have played in festivals before called “The Adults are Talking”, but they also debuted another brand new song called “Ode to the Mets”, which was hauntingly beautiful. Along with these two new songs, they also teased a new album to be released in 2020. Later in the night they brought out Mac Demarco to sing Regina Spektor’s part in “Modern Girls & Old Fashioned Men”, a deep cut that they haven’t played live since 2003. 

Deep cuts and new singles are so exciting, but the most special part of the night, by far, was the New Year’s Eve countdown. Hinds, Mac Demarco, and Kirin J Callinan all joined The Strokes on stage to ring in the New Year. Albert Hammond Jr. even brought out his dog. All of the jumbotrons showed the Time’s Square ball drop celebration and once the clock showed ten seconds left, everyone in the arena joined in to countdown the final seconds of the decade. Once the clock hit zero, several confetti cannons exploded and blanketed the arena in multicolor paper whilst The Strokes covered Auld Lang Syne. Julian even came down from the stage and touched everyone in the front row’s hands (including me) which is something that is very, very rare for him. I wouldn’t want to end the decade any other way and I will remember this moment forever. 

For the remainder of the concert, they played more of the hits like “Last Nite”, “Someday”, and “Barely Legal”. Julian Casablancas continued to impress vocally, he also had a lot of hilarious and sarcastic commentary that made it feel like he was just talking to a bunch of his friends. Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi  just blew me away all night with their incredible solos and Fabrizio Moretti (drums) and Nikolai Fraiture (bass) were the backbone of the performance. 

After the concert, I met back up with my friend Morgan and we left with these three people that we had just met that night to go drink champagne in their airbnb. My mom tells me not to talk to strangers, but technically she never said I couldn’t drink champagne with a bunch of people I just met at a concert! 

This night started out being extremely stressful and frustrating, but once the show began I completely forgot about all the negative things that happened earlier and was able to enjoy all of the amazing performers and this magical New Year’s celebration. I am looking forward to The Strokes’ new album and I can’t wait to see them again, hopefully, very soon. If I had the option to relive all of the trouble to experience this night one more time I would definitely do so with no hesitation. 

Alt 92.3 Not So Silent Night 2019

New York’s Alt 92.3 has put on a large concert at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn featuring several popular indie rock artists for the past two years, and they call it Not So Silent Night (NSSN). This year’s show had a stacked lineup featuring Mumford and Sons, Vampire Weekend, and Cage the Elephant as headliners and Jimmy Eat World, Of Monsters and Men, Judah and the Lion, and Shaed as special guests. 

Once the lineup was released, I knew I was going to drop everything to go to this show. I was even lucky enough to get a general admission floor ticket by getting onto ticketmaster early during presale. Now, general admission concerts are not a casual night out for me, they are an all day event and I am willing to fight to the death to get to the front row. So, naturally I showed up at the Barclays Center at noon on Thursday, December 5 to have the best odds at getting to the front. 

I met up with my concert friend that I’ve seen at several concerts in and around New York and we made friends with three other girls in line. The five of us braved the 30 degree and below temperatures for 6 hours by talking, sharing social media accounts, and going to the local restaurants to get some food and warm up. One of the best things was the large group of women in front of us in line that offered us hot hands and cupcakes while we were waiting. The barricade community is always looking out for each other! I was already having a great time before the doors even opened. 

When 6pm finally rolled around, it was GO TIME. The Barclays Center does a fantastic job with security and organizing lines for shows. They made a separate line for general admission ticket holders and took us through security very slowly as to not cause a stampede or Olympic sprint-type race. Because of Barclays’ amazing security and the fact that we were only about 15th or so in line, all five of us were able to get front row, no problem. While we were waiting for the first band to come on we were even able to leave our spots to use the bathroom and buy merch which is not very common in barricade culture. We also were able to get a selfie of all five of us on the Jumbotron by tweeting Alt 92.3 using their hashtag #NSSN.

       My tweet that was featured on the Jumbotron

After waiting for approximately 7 hours, it was finally time for the show to start. The first band Shaed came on at 7pm. They are most well known for their Summer 2019 hit single “Trampoline,” featuring Zayn from One Direction. Their lead vocalist was incredible, I think her voice sounded better live than on their studio recorded tracks. She moved around the stage very confidently and was able to dance without jeopardizing the sound quality of her vocals. Shaed also featured two twin brothers that played keys and synth. My favorite part of the set was during the chorus Trampoline when both brothers were whistling and it sounded exactly like the recorded version. Entertaining all around and a great start to the show. 

     Shaed 

There were seven acts on the lineup, so they had to stay on top of timing, especially since the set times that NSSN released only had 3 minute gaps between each band. I was wondering how they were going to keep the show running smoothly on such a tight timeline. They did this by having small monitors on stage with a countdown for each band to watch. They also had a rotating stage where they would set up and break down the act’s stage on the back side of the divider, not visible to the audience, while the bands performed on the front side. In between acts, they also had multiple different MCs from 92.3 come out and introduce the bands and play interactive games with the audience. These things exemplify how well organized the event was. 

Next up on the line up was Judah and the Lion. I had seen Judah and the Lion back in early 2018 as an opener for Twenty One Pilots, so I knew some of their songs going into it. Despite being one of the lesser known bands on the line up, they were still able to get people up on their feet and dancing, especially during their cover of Blink-182’s “All the Small Things.” They had a very good set, one of the best of the night. Their vocalist and frontman was a very energetic performer and very exciting to watch, he even went into the audience and walked around the arena. 

After Judah and the Lion was Of Monsters and Men. The folk-rock band is most well known for their hit song “Little Talks.” They are a well respected band; however, they lacked much of a stage presence. I would’ve liked to see them make better use of their space since Barclays has a huge stage. They also could’ve done more talking to the audience to increase overall audience engagement. They pretty much came out, played their songs and left. There is nothing wrong with that performance style, but it was just not as entertaining compared to all the other bands on the lineup that night. That being said, they were still a very talented band and a great addition to the line up. 

Jimmy Eat World 

Next up was Jimmy Eat World. I was very excited to see this band perform since I’ve always been a big fan of their songs, “The Middle,” and “Sweetness.” The girls we made friends with in line were big fans of the band and were super excited to see them. They were very enthusiastic and dancing, which is what you need from a concert friend or else the experience just isn’t as fun. The band saw how into it they were and waved at us throughout the set and threw us drumsticks afterwards. Jimmy Eat World had an amazing set, their performance was just how you’d imagine any early 2000s pop punk band’s to be, high energy, heavy guitars, and a lot of teen angst. The band has been around for 26 years, but you can definitely tell that they love what they do and won’t be stopping anytime soon. Again their frontman could’ve used more of the space on stage, but that is hard to do when playing instruments. Overall, the performance exceeded my expectations and I’d love to see them again after checking out more of their songs. 

Matt Schultz from Cage the Elephant

Now it was the time we were all waiting for: Cage the Elephant’s set. Matt and Brad Schultz and the rest of Cage the Elephant are one of the best live bands around today. Their performances are so exciting and creative, any person who likes live music will love their set. They opened up their 45 minute time slot with “Broken Boy,” the title track off their 2019 album Social Cues. Matt Schultz, the front man and vocalist, came out wearing multiple layers of clothes, a hat and a mask. Throughout their set, he stripped down to only spandex. Schultz is a ball of energy, running around the stage and the arena like a crackhead, dancing as if no one is watching. He uses his space so well that everyone around the stage was able to see him up close at some point. Brad Schultz, lead guitar, also jumped off the stage and dove into the pit while playing guitar. He also danced and moshed with the fans for an entire song before returning to the stage. Not only was their performance incredible, but their set design was scary good as well. At the most exciting points in the performance, the stage erupted in fire. Being front row during those moments was amazing, I could even feel the heat from the fire on my face. Schultz finished the set with their 2013 song “Teeth.” During this song he ran around not only the stage, but the entire arena as if he was being chased. Once the song was over, he crowd surfed for several minutes, but not before power launching his microphone back to the stage, a sound tech came running trying to save it, but was not successful. I find it difficult to accurately depict a Cage the Elephant concert in text, I think it is something that every music fan needs to experience for themselves. My one and only criticism for the night is that their set was way too short. I saw their full 75 min set in August and I still think about that show nearly every day. 

After Cage’s set was over a stage manager threw a crumpled setlist off the stage, a photographer near me picked it up and obviously didn’t know what it was so I got her attention and begged her for it, and luckily she gave it to me. By the look on her and the surrounding photographers faces, they obviously thought I was crazy, but I don’t care, it was worth it. One photographer stared at me for an uncomfortably long amount of time before asking me if he could take a picture of me with the setlist, I haven’t been able to find that picture yet, but it’s probably for the best considering I was critically over hyped on endorphins and SWEATY.

  The Cage the Elephant setlist I got. 

One of the only issues with NSSN was the fact that a band had to follow Cage the Elephant, which is NOT an easy thing to do. Vampire Weekend was the next band on the list. I was pretty excited to see them perform since I love their songs “Sympathy,” and “A-Punk.” All members of Vampire Weekend are incredibly talented musicians, at points it even seemed like their instruments were playing themselves. My favorite part of their performance was their lively lead guitarists with a huge afro, he was dancing around the stage and playing that guitar like NOBODY’S business. After they played all their hits, they closed their set with a long instrumental outro, which further proved how instrumentally gifted the band is. I would’ve liked more action from the frontman, but that may have been just because they directly followed Cage the Elephant. Every band on the lineup could be considered boring in comparison to Cage. Overall, Vampire Weekend stood out from other bands in terms of raw talent. 

At a particularly exciting point during the set, the drummer’s drum stick broke in half. After the set finished, I made eye contact with the drummer, and he pointed to one half of the drumstick and mouthed the words do you want this to me, I said yes and he came over to me and gently tossed it to me. I caught it no problem, I didn’t even have to fist fight anyone for it! I had a very lucky day. It all started with the ATM malfunctioning and giving me $120 instead of $20 with no extra charge to my account, and ended with me front row at NSSN leaving with three new friends, a Cage the Elephant setlist and half a Vampire Weekend drumstick. 

The half-drumstick I caught

Finally, Mumford and Sons came out to close the show. They had the longest set time and the most fans in attendance. Objectively, they put on an entertaining show, used their space well and had a lot of audience engagement. However, they came on at 10:45pm and, at this point in the night, I had been on my feet and dancing for nearly five hours after commuting to the stadium for 4 hours and waiting outside for 6 hours, so I was exhausted. I tried to view their set with an open mind, but the fact that I was criminally over tired and already not a fan of folk-rock made it difficult for me to enjoy the set as much as I would’ve liked to, especially since they were the closing act. However, I was still able to vibe with their big hit songs “I Will Wait,” and “The Cave.” The security guard in front of the barricade was even dancing despite NOT being allowed to. I feel like I would’ve enjoyed their set much more if they came on earlier. I would suggest that in future years, NSSN should start the show an hour earlier so that the show would end at 11pm rather than midnight. 

Overall, NSSN was an incredible experience. I have been to over 50 concerts and I can now confidently say that NSSN is in my top three favorites. They had a fantastic security team, were extremely well organized, stayed on top of timing, and even collected donations for the American Cancer Society. The fans were also very respectful and fun. No one was screaming, pushing, or being rude in the pit. I had plenty of room to move around and dance without the fear of losing my spot or getting hurt. All the fans I met were kind, friendly, and just there to have a good time. The fans can make or break a show, and the fans at NSSN were amazing. I am very impressed with how successful this show was considering it was only 92.3 second time running the event. I am looking forward to attending Not So Silent Night again in future years to come.