Opening its old-fashioned wooden gates to a new school year, the Barn welcomed students with its first concert event of the year, featuring opener Gypsies & Judges and headliner Branches. The two bands’ contrasting styles made for an enjoyable and diverse night.
Operating mostly in different jazz styles, Gypsies & Judges consists of singer and trombonist Chloe Keedy, drummer Eric Hyman, guitarist and mandolinist Jeremy Castillo and bassist Nathan Guze. Though Keedy mentioned that one of her goals of the night was just to “not forget the words” to any of the songs, she consistently delivered strong vocals with a nice mix of cover songs and originals for the band.
Among those covers was Amy Winehouse’s “Now You Know,” and a genre-bending cover of the Modest Mouse song, “Bukowski.” On the latter song, Keedy twisted Modest Mouse singer’s Isaac Brock’s lyrics as she softly sang, “Who’d want to be such a control freak?” Though a bit slow at times, Gypsies & Judges managed to put on a solid performance that not only showcased their skill as musicians, but entertained the crowd.
Indie-folk band Branches, which was formed by classmates at Azusa Pacific University, took the stage soon after the opening band. Lead singers Tyler Madsen and Natalie Nicoles led the first song with soaring harmonies as bandmates Jacob Montague, Tyler Goerzen, Mitchell Dong and Michael Springs provided a gusto of wistful folk instrumentation. After said song, Madsen introduced himself and the band, and made clear that participation was necessary throughout the show. Some students eagerly got up and joined him near the stage, and even those that remained sitting were as active as sitting fans could be, consistently clapping and cheering throughout the show.
If there was one thing that could have been improved before the show, it would be clearing away the numerous chairs and tables that were left fairly close to the stage. During previous shows, they had been put away to leave more room for dancing and to encourage the crowd to stand and interact, which might have brought more students onto their feet.
The show took a slight turn as the band, which partially became famous through their series of covers on their Youtube channel, played Beyonce’s “Halo.” Madsen and Nicoles traded strong, soulful vocals throughout the cover. Despite the crowd’s refusal to stand, they still seemed to appreciate the change of pace; the tune received strong applause at its end.
Their next song, an original track titled “To the Desert,” provided an old Western atmosphere with its frolicking banjo and whistling. The Barn was then treated to an unreleased song by Branches called “Darla,” an upbeat track with a pulsating drum and strong mandolin presence. Its up-tempo made it one of the crowd favorites as the audience eagerly clapped along. After playing another unreleased tune, the band returned to one of its most famous covers — a rollicking, haunting cover of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” Their performance received several cheers from the crowd as the band put all their energy into passionately performing the tune, banging their heads and playing their instruments hard enough that it felt as if the Barn was about to experience an old fashioned shoot-out then and there.
Another highlight of the night was the song “Lines.” By its end, Madsen was nearly screaming, “They’re just lines, they’re just lines” into the microphone, to which the crowd gave one of their biggest cheers of the night. Before closing their set, Madsen thanked the audience for “welcoming us into your home” and said, “We’re Branches, and you’re you, and that’s the way we like you.” They closed the set with a danceable cover of The Darkness’ “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” followed by the band’s most popular song, “Helicopter,” to which the standing crowd couldn’t help but stomp their feet.
After the show, the band stuck around at their merchandise table and chatted, took pictures and signed autographs for whomever wanted them. They managed to evoke an earnest and lively atmosphere to kick off the school year, and their animated happiness and stirring energy could be felt throughout the Barn. The upbeat feelings that both the music and Madsen gave off when he spoke to the audience helped keep this atmosphere going all night long. Whether audience members knew of the band or not, it can certainly be said the Branches planted some seeds of elation at UCR.