Live Review: AJR Strike Ears, Eyes, & Hearts on the “Maybe Man” Tour in San Diego

AJR's Jack Met © Isabella Le
AJR's Jack Met © Isabella Le
With musical and performance tact, inexhaustible charisma, and storytelling excellence, sibling indie pop trio AJR take center stage (and center seats) for the “Maybe Man” tour in San Diego.
Stream: “Maybe Man” – AJR

When you go into an AJR concert with no attachments, no expectations, and little to no knowledge of the music, you’re on your way to experiencing one of the most jaw-dropping, mind-blowing live acts to ever happen upon a stage before your very eyes. That’s me speaking with utmost sincerity by the way, because it’s exactly how I went in just a few weeks ago.

On May 1st, indie pop band AJR (comprised of brothers Adam, Jack, and Ryan Met) arrived at the Pechanga Arena in San Diego playing their eighteenth show of their first headlining arena tour in support of their latest album, Maybe Man. It was a Wednesday night – for a college student who knew nothing about AJR outside of their most popular songs from TikTok (I jokingly called “World’s Smallest Violin” a sleeper hit to some photographers I met), I honestly was more focused on how to beat traffic after the show ended before it even began. With my camera in one hand and my cell phone in the other, I texted my friend sitting in the stands from the photo pit, attempting to kill time and boredom while waiting for the show to start. I had the mindset that I was there strictly for coverage, and I didn’t expect anything particularly out of the ordinary (at least as far as concert experience went).

Well, it wasn’t long before that changed; even less, before my attitude shifted.

Australian singer-songwriter Dean Lewis opened the night with “Waves,” throwing hand-hearts big and small to the audience throughout his set. Covering Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer” and The Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris,” Lewis orchestrated the arena crowd with gentle sing-alongs and energy-filled dance-alongs, making for an electric performance whether the audience was familiar with him or not. Lewis closed with “Be Alright,” a cathartic acoustic ballad, and bade farewell by sending hearts and kisses into the crowd.

Then, there was the half-hour break; I spoke to some AJR fans holding posterboards and giant letters spelling out “AJR,” with many donning fur hats and miscellaneous merchandise, both homemade and official. In my interactions with and observations of the crowd in San Diego, I saw an enormous community of passionate and positive people, from children and teenagers to adults and seniors. A telltale sign of a good musician is in their ability to connect to and resonate with people from all walks of life, and it was clear that AJR did just that.

AJR's Jack Met © Isabella Le
AJR’s Jack Met © Isabella Le

If anyone is at all familiar with AJR shows, you’d know that it’s a visual experience as much as it is a musical one; I was one of the few that night who weren’t. The lights shut off and fog filled the stage, as a montage of the bottom of the sea, snowfall, a beehive, and a shot of the concert hall was projected on the screen behind the band. “Maybe Man” opened their set, as spotlights shone on what appeared to be multiple forms of frontman Jack Met as he sang from different positions on the stage: holding a red balloon on the left, sitting on a block towards the back, and suspended from the ceiling by a wire. Having no pauses before getting into “Sober Up,” the band was now visible in its entirety, with Ryan standing behind his painted piano, Adam looking into the sea of faces, bass guitar in hand, and Jack singing with a guitar strung on his shoulder.

With an opening so larger than life, it came as a surprise to see the brothers speak so casually on stage, with witty banter and on-the-fly fan interactions in between songs. Jack points out a fan holding a stuffed animal of Panda from Cartoon Network’s “We Bare Bears” from the front, describing his view onstage: “I come out, and he’s holding this guy up. It seems like the whole reason he came to the show was to give this little guy the greatest experience possible!”

“Bang!” saw AJR’s creativity and set design at its very best. Red lighting cast Jack’s silhouette against the back wall as Ryan and Adam formed shadow puppets of walking figures and cars over the song. A drum set was wheeled out, and the silhouette of Jack’s drum solo against the wall moved in sync with his drumming – until it didn’t. The audience erupted into cheers as Jack’s shadow pulled out a trumpet, cymbals, and a cowbell, ending the song with nothing short of a “Bang!”

Jack Met © Isabella Le
Jack Met © Isabella Le

Ryan’s tripartite solo, “Turning Out” parts I, II, and III, took a turn for the slower, simpler, and mellower; there weren’t any extravagant graphics, optical illusions, or over-reliance on props. Introducing the trilogy of ballads before taking a seat at the piano, he explained, “This is one song about thinking I was in love, another song about realizing I wasn’t in love at all, and a third song about actually falling in love.”

“We’re up here now!” called Jack from a distance. “San Diego, follow the lights, here we are!” A spotlight shone on Jack, now seated at the upper bowl of the arena, as the band played “World’s Smallest Violin” and “Steve’s Going to London” (literally) alongside the audience. Making their way back to the stage for the ending of the latter song, Adam introduces violinist Ginny Luke, trumpeter Arnetta Johnson, and drummer Chris Berry, followed by dramatic solos from each musician on their respective instruments.

Ryan Met © Isabella Le
Ryan Met © Isabella Le

The brothers proceeded to explain the twenty-year creation process of “Way Less Sad,” an upbeat, theatrical pop track that juxtaposes candid lyrics with optimistic melodies. Visuals of clattering plates, high hats, and old home videos over an audio sequence played onscreen before AJR got into performing the song, giving the audience an intimate glimpse into the creative process and soul behind their work.

With so many effects, tricks, and skits in one show, something was bound to have gone wrong, right? Close to the tail end of the night, a stage light fell from the ceiling, which the audience met with uproars and eye-rolls, as it seemed like just another part of the show. AJR were adamant on it being unintentional, as a few janitors in yellow safety vests walked on to clean the stage of glass. I was wholly convinced that it was an accident, until one of the janitors ripped off his face mask, revealing Jack in costume as green lasers flashed from beneath the stage. White text reading, “It was a part of the show” shot on the screen as AJR went into “100 Bad Days.”

Adam Met © Isabella Le
Adam Met © Isabella Le

As theatrical (and at times, absurd) as the concert was, it was just as heartfelt and human. Jack spoke on growing up with bullies and the existence of an AJR hate club in high school, but in spite of it all, the brothers never let dissenters bring them down.

Touching on the recent passing of their father, Jack accredits him for being the biggest supporter of the band, and the person that motivated them to become the biggest versions of themselves they could be. Walking offstage singing “2085,” Jack’s shadow was shown against a thin white sheet before it dropped to reveal a stage-sized animatronic of his likeness, peeking from behind the screen.

Standing side by side to take a bow, the brothers disappeared as Jack sang, “For two or three minutes, then I’m gone.”

AJR © Isabella Le
AJR © Isabella Le

Masterfully fusing elements of storytelling, illusion, comedy, and drama into musical performance, the AJR brothers are redefining concerts and entertainment.

I exited the venue (not worrying about traffic as I had initially anticipated) with a newfound appreciation for live music and AJR for their ability to connect, move, and unify people, even if only for a few hours. Love or hate them, AJR are some of the best entertainers you’ll find in live music or otherwise, and that alone is worth checking out the “Maybe Man” tour at a date near you.

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:: stream/purchase The Maybe Man here ::
:: connect with AJR here ::

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? © Isabella Le

The Maybe Man

an album by AJR

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