I am a writer by trade, so I am naturally a sucker for well-written lyrics. Unfortunately, lyrics are often overlooked in the music industry. Literary analysis is becoming a thing of the past, so most songs that grab the public's attention have gripping hooks but are otherwise lyrically lackluster. But, this is the story of how one local band grabbed my attention with their brilliant and timely lyrics.
As February was coming to its close, I came across a Facebook event post for a show featuring 500 Miles to Memphis, one of the bands that have been on my radar, opening up for the Undergrads. So before changing my weekend plans to attend yet another show, I decided to research this headlining band. After a quick search, I came across their newest music video for a track called "Jimbo Slice"…and was instantly skeptical because of the name.
Now, I know in the era of the 24-hour news cycle, we have all become desensitized very quickly. However, I watched this video shortly after receiving the news that Russia had started its invasion of Ukraine. I was awestruck by the profound timeliness of the lyrics, particularly the first line in the chorus, "I hope you're there when the bombs drop, and not just the last thought on my mind." I immediately called my husband into the living room so that we could watch the lyric video on the TV while cuddling on the couch. The song perfectly encapsulates so many of the complexly entangled emotional experiences many of us have endured the last few years. When the first verse of a song so beautifully details the sensation behind the phenomenon known as "l'appel du vide," you are going to catch my attention. So, I decided to buy tickets.
At the time, I didn't realize that the Undergrads had such a sizeable fanbase, but after the band took the stage, it was easy to determine how they developed such a loyal following. The band appears to be a well-oiled machine. This goes beyond on-stage chemistry; we are talking about the kind of synchronicity that only comes from rehearsing until you rewrite your own instincts and it all becomes muscle memory. At several points during the show, I saw the lead vocalist shoot various members of the band the same cunning yet cocky smile. A smile that didn't express surprise or relief but instead said, "You made that look easy," or "Look at them! They are eating out of the palm of your hand."
Unfortunately, through no fault of their own, the Undergrads weren’t my favorite band of the night. However, this is not harsh criticism, considering how insanely stacked the lineup was and how many of their local fans came out for this show. While I was hearing most of these songs for the first time, due to their incredibly well-written lyrics, a very sizable portion of Undergrad's local fanbase knew most of their songs by heart and came ready to belt them out loud at the top of their lungs. That is higher praise than any singular music critic with a blog could ever give.
However, due to the number of diehard fans, a few too many microphone-pointing singalongs killed the verisimilitude for me. I am sure hearing your own lyrics sung back to you by your fandom elicits a feeling of pure ecstasy. Still, it makes those beautifully written lyrics sound unintelligible to audience members who are encountering the band in the wild for the first time. It's a delicate balance with such a tightly synergized band that can play so clean. I want to hear those astonishing lyrics sung by the well-rehearsed, if not formally trained, vocalist on stage, not an inebriated crowd of family, friends, and acquaintances. I would love to see this band as an opening act for a larger band or in a festival lineup because I want to see if they have the same charisma if the majority of the crowd isn't there to see them.
Luckily, by their last two songs, which came as a pseudo-encore, the band was starting to master that balancing act. First came an emotionally charged cover of "The Ghost of You" by My Chemical Romance, which included appropriate singalong bits along with cameos from members of the other bands and a still unidentified guest vocalist who brought the house down. It was quite rousing, to say the least. However, I think my favorite moment was them closing with "Jimbo Slice ." I think the song portrays the trepidation of experiencing yet another unprecedented, once-in-a-century event while trying to make the most of what should be the prime of our lives so perfectly. And after such a difficult week, on both a personal and global scale, it was nice to end the night dancing with my husband and singing lyrics that contain such unflinching honesty interlaced with both solace and empathy.
The Undergrads have the honor of being the first band to earn the #bandsyoushouldbook tag from Bands in The Bus. This label is exclusive to local bands who can play near studio-quality renditions of their songs live, have a loyal fanbase that can fill the average venue, and have mass and/or cross-genre appeal. See the lyric video for their song "Jimbo Slice" here.