When it comes to concert venues, music bars are often an awkward transitional stage for a band, where groups tend to approach the evening like the DIY basement shows they’re used to. Generationals seems to have perfected the bar show formula.
Generationals played at A&R Music Bar Saturday on the latest stop of a tour for its newest album, “Reader as Detective,” bringing opener Gemma along for the ride.
Generationals is an indie-pop duo that sprung out of New Orleans in 2009. However, the band has always sounded more 2009 than it did New Orleans. The group brings back memories of my middle school days, when I kept Phoenix and Two Door Cinema Club on heavy rotation, and Generationals hasn’t changed much in the five albums it has put out since then. The band’s influences — ranging from surf rock to synth-pop — combine with a lo-fi palate to produce a sound that appropriately exudes nostalgia.
Gemma started out the evening more than an hour after doors open. I wouldn’t be shocked if Gemma was trying to wait for the crowd to show up, because there were still only around 45 people in the room when the band took the stage. Gemma put out a charming, casual vibe, laying down chill grooves as the vocalist rolled her head back between verses and smiled at the audience. While the laid-back performance was generally fine, a muddy mix hurt their already bass-heavy sound.
The short set was punctuated by friendly interaction. The band asked about the game, a surefire way to win over the college-aged crowd. After about half an hour, Gemma left the stage with little fanfare as a crowd now numbering close to 100 continued to trickle in.
When the lights dimmed in preparation for the headlining act, I noticed the set-up on stage, which had laid dormant since the night began. A&R’s usual stage lighting was supplemented by geometric arrangements of LEDs and pulsing backlights.
As the Generationals’ band members bounded up the steps and took their positions, the lighting gave the small bar the same tense anticipation as a music hall or an arena. It seems in their 10 years of relative obscurity, they have turned these small shows into a science. Their relentless energy during the set confirmed it.
Part of the large venue vibe of the show also came from the band’s behavior. The customary greetings and audience banter were absent. It wasn’t until the third song that the pair even acknowledged the crowd. Between this and the immersive wash of the front-facing lights, it felt like the band was in another universe, despite being all of 10 feet away.
The set was a pleasant mix of tunes spanning the band’s prolific career. Its distinctly dated sound served it well, as few adjustments had to be made to older singles to fit into the tone and instrumentation of its newest release. Generationals’ stylistic consistency has clearly earned it a loyal fanbase; a large chunk of the crowd could be seen singing along as they swayed in time.
The night ended with a humble acknowledgement that the group was not, in fact, playing to a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden. As the lights came on, the band members ran off stage for all of a minute before coming back to perform an encore. They clearly weren’t interested in milking it; the duo wanted to play. Afterward, Gemma and Generationals both came to the merch table to talk, sign albums and thank the crowd.
If I had to come up with one complaint about the band’s overall performance, it would be that it actively encouraged the audience to clap along to the music. Please don’t do that. That’s what drums are for.
Still, Generationals showed that despite a relatively static catalogue, it has picked up a few things in its time. The set managed to capture every element of showmanship that makes a big concert so remarkable without sacrificing the classic bar show charm.