Review Summary: Any fan of AJJ has heard many of these songs before, but the band alters the songs enough in the live atmosphere to make their Crescent Ballroom performance a worthy addition to your collection.
If my high school senior class' obsession with Dave Mattews has taught me anything, it’s that some bands just sound better live. The artists might sound great on the album, but the background noise of drunken cheers, the small imperfections and improvisations here and there, the banter between artist and crowd all make the music sound complete: a band in its element. Andrew Jackson Jihad is certainly on this list, and it should surprise nobody that their live album is absolutely fantastic. The band is simultaneously casual and professional, constantly laughing and interacting and then playing songs with gusto. The songs are record quality and altered at the same time by the many, many times the band has played them on tour as well as by the different band members present. This album essentially does what all live albums attempt, but few can do; it breathes new life into old music. Sean Bonnette and company are truly a band that must be heard live, but if you are like this reviewer, this is the closest you’re going to come for a while.
Bonnette says at one of the quiet spots between songs that he is going to try and play songs that people want to hear, and a quick look at the setlist shows he really came through with that promise. Opener "We Didn’t Come Here to Rock" and closer "Big Bird" are perfectly suited for their respective roles, and the rest of the songs fall into place, a perfect balance of old and new. some songs that everyone knows and some from b-sides. The pacing of the songs is brilliantly done as well, there are songs that involve the entire band (6 people at one point!) and then songs that have Bonnette alone on stage with a guitar. There is a three song slump of sad songs past the halfway mark of the album with "#armageddon," "Black Dog" and "People II 2, Still Peoplin'," which starts to drag on a bit, but at the end of "People II 2…" when one person in the audience shouts "BUMMER!" a split second before everyone else, the atmosphere instantly changes back to the jumping, pumped up punk atmosphere, and everything seems to just wake up. Besides the hiccup of an extended slow song section, the great pacing makes the album a pleasure to listen from track one to 25.
Regardless of what songs were chosen for the live set, the album would not be nearly as great without the constant subtle tweaks the band did to each song. There are instruments here at the band's disposal that weren't there when some of these songs were originally wrote/recorded, and the band is happy to jump in and add to the tune. "People II: The Reckoning" becomes an entirely different song in the Crescent Ballroom than when it was in the recording studio, the band that was once quiet and defeated becomes an angry wall of sound thanks to a drumset and electric guitars that simply demands attention. Andrew Jackson Jihad has changed their songs frequently on the album; whether or not the live route is actually better than the album version is up for debate, but everybody can agree that the band’s choice to change the songs is refreshing, and keeps the music interesting.
There is something about hearing a crowd shouting the beginning to "A Song Dedicated to the Memory of Stormy the Rabbit" back to Sean Bonnette that makes the song so much more intense and personal. That is a feeling that stretches over the whole album; Andrew Jackson Jihad have perfected the art of using a live audience as a recording studio. The audience is practically another instrument in the band's repertoire. Couple that with the excellent sampling of songs on this album, and "Live at the Crescent Ballroom" becomes the closest thing we have to a best of album from these guys. The album kicks ass, I would recommend this album to both the long time fan of AJJ and somebody just getting into them. Sean has weeded out a lot of the band’s more, erm, "difficult" songs and enhanced their stronger songs in the process. Also they finally explain what The Salad Glove® is, and that makes any album an instant necessity.
You Don't Deserve Yourself
People II: The Reckoning
A Song Dedicated to the Memory of Stormy the Rabbit