Judah and the Lion // Orpheum
Sit back and get ready to go for a wild ride, because that’s exactly how the Judah & The Lion concert felt.
Their advertised opening act Floracash was a no-show, with local Vancouver band Harlequin Gold taking their place without explanation.
Set in the gorgeous Orpheum theatre, the acoustics played out well, although the seating situation made it a little hard to rock out. When it was time for Judah & The Lion to come out, the lights dimmed drawing a hush over the crowd. The great white sheet hanging in front of the stage became illuminated, silhouetting the band and their marching drums hanging from their necks. An intense play of light and sound began, with the shadows and flashes matching the marching band beats. Choir like vocals filled the air and then suddenly the curtain was dropped to reveal Judah & The Lion performing the title track from their latest album “Pep Talks”.
In a blast of music and art, the concert was underway with such high energy from Judah Akers as he ran around stage moving in such a signature way, it was hard not to smile at his authentic love of performing.
If you’re new to Judah & The Lion, they’re a Tennessee band with a 21 Pilots-meets-bluegrass vibe. Their music is a wonderful amalgamation of guitars, banjo’s, electronics and suburban teen angst. Their lyrics are always relatable and honest in a way that makes you feel like you’ve lived the same life, or at least a parallel.
Judah kept referring to the seats in the Orpheum as a hinderance to rocking out, but urged the crowd to overlook the seats and come dance in the aisles. Between songs, he made audience participation a game by separating the crowd into two teams. One team was placed on banjo player Nate Zuercher‘s side and the remaining team on mandolin player Brian Macdonald‘s side. Making everyone dance without inhibition, Judah kept the crowd participation up the entire night, constantly jumping from side to side without playing favourites.
The segue between songs was a beautiful storyline, carried along by perfectly timed lights and sound.
It felt like a magical experience in a church of music, with the way Judah slowed down the music and took the time to talk about his personal experience of being on the road, and how he came to write “pictures” – a song recorded with Kacey Musgraves.
Judah opened up about his parents’ divorce and struggle with addiction, explaining that the song stemmed from an emotional call from his mother, while she was packing up his childhood home up during his tour. The song started with only him on stage, but ended with the entire band coming out to support him with vocals and other instruments.
Each of the band members wore tops that had the word “family” emblazoned across the front, and it felt like family and unity were the main themes of the night.
Moving from slow songs on piano, to high energy seemed like an impossible task, but with flashes of air cannons and bright lights, they were at it again, throwing the cheering crowd into favourites from their 2017 album Folk Hop N’Roll.
Running into the crowd and all the way to the back of the theatre, Judah made sure to high five as many fans as possible (something that must have been a nightmare for his security). He announced that he wanted to “bring out the rowdy” from the crowd, urging all of us to let go of our shyness and just dance, or do what felt right.
Though this was the 54th show on their Pep Talk tour, the band showed no signs of fatigue.
There was a truly touching moment when Judah played a song on his twelve string, slowing everything down to truly connect with the crowd. Nate had several gorgeous banjo solo’s, showcasing his true talent of the instrument, with quick fingered bluegrass riffs. Not to be outdone by his bandmates, Brian switched between various guitars and the mandolin throughout the entire set. The supporting band members were just as incredible with their energetic playing and tight beats.
This is a band that needs to be seen live to have a masterclass in what a great performance looks like. From the cohesion that came with telling stories between songs through light and sound, to the rad dance moves of Judah moving like liquid and solid state all at the same time, there was not one fault during the almost two hour long set.
Positivity oozed from the band, and they reinforced the importance of family, love, respect and not letting your negatives stop you from doing anything.
Their encore consisted of three final songs, the crowd practically yelling the lyrics to “Take It All Back”. Once the final curtain had closed and the lights were up, the crowd walked out on clouds of elation. People that were once strangers felt like friends, not a single unsmiling face was seen in the Orpheum.
Review: Melissa Riemer
Photos: Louis Lay