Judah & the Lion at The Jefferson: Not a concert, but so much more

The band’s storytelling ability overcomes and enhances an unorthodox format

judah-the-lion

Judah & the Lion performed at The Jefferson on Tuesday as part of their "Pep Talks" tour. 

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Judah & the Lion visited Charlottesville Tuesday as the first stop of their “Pep Talks” tour. The unreleased songs of the album are set to drop May 3, so fans may have entered The Jefferson expecting — perhaps with some naivety — the usual concert format where old songs are performed in order to promote the new ones. Somewhere between The Jefferson requiring phones to be locked up and seeing absolutely no instruments on stage, though, it became clear this was something entirely different. 

The three band members got up on stage to explain that instead of a live concert tour they planned to contextualize their album and experience for the fans who loved them most. They were going to talk for a little bit about the inspirations and the challenges behind the songs they wrote, show a series of videos to accompany the entire upcoming track listing and then play a few acoustic pieces to round out a more intimate storytelling experience. 

While unorthodox, audience members who may have expected to attend a concert were rewarded for sticking around.

It might just be a testament to the earnest charm of the band’s stage presence or the true musical talent of their latest album, but this unconventional format not only serves to subvert the classic concert template but transcends it. The format is weird but not distractingly so — and it leaves the audience feeling much more connected to the band as they share the experiences that led them to create a definitively different album from their previous works. 

Ear-splitting music or bass an audience could feel down to their toes would surely service their old work far better than this new tour. Judah & the Lion is famous for singles like 2017’s “Take it All Back” and “Suit & Jacket”  — loud, unapologetic and fun music that served as a great introduction for the still independent band. In contrast, “Pep Talks” reveals the newfound maturity of the band — they’re a little older and a little sadder, and that’s clear in new songs such as “Quarter-life crisis” or “I’m ok.” 

The new material never felt too heavy in the small, close-knit venue of the Jefferson, however — “Dance with ya” and “Passion Fashion” show that the band still remembers its dance-able origins, but intersperses them with more complex depictions of grief and loss. The story is deeply personal and specific to the band — singer and guitar player Judah Akers wrote most of the lyrics in an effort to understand the divorce, alcoholism and death suddenly present in his family — but the themes of pain they incorporate into their new songs are universal and raw. 

A large part of that shared experience, however, wasn’t in the admittedly impressive lyric work of the songs — it was largely due to the venue. Choosing to perform a story of various art forms in a concert setting works for the story and the intimacy the band is trying to achieve. Whether or not the concert template would be as successful for a band which relies less heavily on stage presence or acoustics is unclear, but Judah & the Lion shines using this method of storytelling. 

Their “Pep Talks” tour may not have the same all-encompassing feeling in the chest a live concert would evoke in its audience. But Judah & the Lion use this unorthodox storytelling style to create an atmosphere for the audience to feel much more than they would at a traditional show. It’s not just the heart-wrenching lyrics or the banjo/mandolin duo or the “Space Jam” video clips or the awkward but endearing dialogue. It’s the unique way the band somehow manages to cohesively combine them all that makes their “Pep Talks” performance truly special. 

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