Pillbox

Rock band mesmerizes audience

The powerful bass vibrations and skin-prickling vocals of AWOLNATION were heard at the Altar Bar last Thursday in a sold-out show that disappointed no one.

The California-based band rose to its current stardom last year with the release of its epic single, “Sail,” and is also known for songs like “Burn it Down,” “Guilty, Filthy Soul,” and “Not Your Fault.” Recalling the screaming vocals of Nirvana, elating chorus characteristic of gospel, and bassy tones of dubstep, the group’s music cannot be placed in any one genre, making its recent album Megalithic Symphony fall into “a genre of my own,” as lead singer Aaron Bruno said in an interview before the show.

White Wives, ZEALE, and Imagine Dragons — three acts ranging from hard rock to hip-hop — opened for AWOLNATION, reflecting the wide range of the band’s music. Although White Wives’ intense guitar lines invoked no more than slight head-nodding in the audience, ZEALE’s indie hip-hop sound provoked a remarkable increase in energy in the crowd. By the end of Imagine Dragons, the audience was buzzing with adrenaline.

Throughout the show, AWOLNATION’s Bruno maintained a strong bond with the audience. “I prefer smaller venues like the Altar Bar because you feel intimate with the crowd,” he said. This intimacy was definitely present during the show as he masterfully conducted the crowd’s energy throughout the night. During the vitality-packed hit, “Burn it Down,” he told the audience to get close to the ground and, after a few seconds of slow guitar-strumming and tooth-grinding efforts to resist jumping, the crowd simultaneously leaped up in the air and wildly danced to the song.

The band maintained a balance between intense and soft emotions throughout the night. During one of the calmer songs, Bruno asked members of the crowd to put their arms over the shoulder of the person standing next to them, “Even if you don’t know them — especially if you don’t know them.” Later in the night, he shared a particularly intimate moment with the audience when, having been left alone on stage, he broke into a genuine, heartfelt rendition of “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers, offering his lone voice to the audience in all its imperfection.

As a whole, AWOLNATION’s excellent performance at the Altar Bar can be explained by the same factors that make its songs go beyond the boundaries of simple likeability: The equilibrium between hope and desperation, rebellion and romance, wild guitar riffs and heavenly choruses gives its listeners an unintimidating, almost visceral feeling of revolution. Perhaps the band’s tour motto best summarizes it: “Never let your fear decide your fate.”