REVIEW: Jack Antonoff and Bleachers bring the Jersey sound to the Masonic

Bleachers, Jack Antonoff

Bleachers perform at The Masonic in San Francisco on Oct. 16, 2021. Steve Carlson/STAFF.

SAN FRANCISCO — Jack Antonoff is a huge star now, thanks to his contributions to the music of other stars—deservedly so. As a happy side effect, his band Bleachers is now drawing much larger crowds to significantly more spacious music halls around the country. And those new fans are finding out something that Bay Area fans have known ever since Bleachers played a daytime slot on a side stage at Live 105’s (RIP) BFD concert: Antonoff isn’t just just a terrific songwriter and producer. He’s also an extremely talented bandleader. Now touring in support of new album Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night, Antonoff brought his group of “rats” (his words) to the Masonic on Saturday.

Bleachers, Jack Antonoff


The new album is a sort of lament for the loss brought on by the pandemic, and a literal plea to find joy again. Unable to perform on stage, Antonoff battled the “sadness” and didn’t always win. With the touring industry resuming last summer, he was raring to blast off, full of pent-up energy. Bleachers are about halfway through a 33-date tour, which has already seen some postponements after someone with the band tested positive for COVID-19 last month.

Still, that energy (which, quite frankly, Jack Antonoff has had for as long as Bleachers have existed) was on full display in San Francisco. After opening with the plaintive piano ballad “91,” Bleachers took off and slowed down only once the rest of the night. The sextet, whose members switch off between two drum kits, two saxophones, two keyboards, bass and guitar, was as cohesive as ever and never too much. The sound was always rich and the arrangements interesting. The opener, for example, included just Antonoff on an upright piano and the two saxophonists providing harmonies and bass. The three of them were the first to take the stage, followed by the rest of the band right before Bleachers kicked into “Let’s Get Married,” off 2017 album Gone Now.

In spotlight bursts and saxophone blasts, the band came alive. One difference from tours past is that Antonoff wasn’t handed a guitar until the end of the song. Up until then he was in full frontman mode, sprinting up the risers for the two drum kits and gesticulating wildly. Clad in jeans and a leather jacket over a white tank top, he looked like a cross between Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi.

Bleachers, Jack Antonoff


One of the drum risers was decorated with knickknacks, framed photographs and some tomato stickers. Tomatoes are the state fruit of New Jersey. The rest of Bleachers played the role of the E Street Band, and it was easy to spot all the references Antonoff was making to the Jersey sound, even adlibbing a short cover of Tom Waits’ “Jersey Girl,” changing the Jersey references to the Bay Area’s geographical features, as suggested by fans at the front of the stage.

Antonoff referred to “Chinatown,” from the new album, as “a song I wrote about New Jersey.” Hundreds of attendees inside the sardine-packed Masonic sang along to that one. By that point in the set, about halfway through, it was steamy hot. By our estimates, hundreds of people had completely removed their masks.

The New Jersey sound shined through on all the songs led by either saxophone or piano, of which there were many. New song, “How Dare You Want More,” featured dueling brass parts. “Big Life,” also from the new album, gave off a similar vibe. Antonoff showed off his humorous side by chatting it up with the first few rows throughout the night and having some fun while singing “Foreign Girls,” picking a faux fight along the way.

The performance was not without its introspective moments. Ahead of an acoustic rendition of new tune “45,” which he wrote during lockdown, he spoke about how much it means to him to have fans come out to see him perform, before and during a pandemic. There were days over the past year and a half when he had trouble simply rolling out of bed, he said. Fans sang harmony. He then dedicated a short rendition of “Wild Heart” to someone in the room who had recently lost someone close to them. He originally wrote the song for someone whom he had lost, he said.

Bleachers, Jack Antonoff


Bleachers also sprinkled in older hits throughout the night: some early and a handful late in the set, like “Shadow,” “You’re Still a Mystery,” “I Wanna Get Better” and “Rollercoaster.”

“It’s the song that started it all,” he said of the latter tune. “Everybody Lost Somebody,” meanwhile, demonstrated the need for two percussionists, as the two played complementary rhythms rather than relying on a drum machine.

Rather than taking the traditional encore break, Bleachers rolled right through some of those fan favorites as well as “Don’t Take the Money” and the new album’s lead single, “Stop Making This Hurt,” to close out the show on a high note.

Chicagoland singer-songwriter Claud opened the show with a 30-minute set of personal bedroom pop songs.

Claud, Claudia Jeanne Mintz, Claud Mintz


Backed by guitarist and drum machine, Claud began singing and playing bass before switching back and forth to guitar and then a keyboard. Following the woozy “Overnight,” “In or In-Between,” which had a trance-like beat, and the grungy “Easy,” Claud hit a clear highlight with the poppy yet peeved, “That’s Mr. Bitch to You.” The artist’s sandy voice got a chance to let loose on this one.

The slow and dreamlike “This Town” was introduced as a song “about liking where you’re from but knowing there’s something else out there.”

The audience also got treated to a new song called “Tommy,” a heartbreaking and nostalgic tune about missed opportunities.

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