Playing music and such

A few moons ago, resident music critic Anna Hotter made the trek to Williamsburg to check out Columbia and NYU duo Jack and Eliza. After coming to terms with her own lack of artistic accomplishment, she is now finally ready to report from the field.

When someone told me about a “really successful indie-rock band” on campus called Jack & Eliza, I was skeptical. It’s never easy to hear about other peoples’ success. Especially at Columbia. Especially when your idea of a great accomplishment is doing laundry before you run out of underwear. Intrigued and mildly irked, I looked them up online, only to find with great horror that Eliza Callahan, CC’17 and Jack Staffen, NYU’17 weren’t only every bit as celebrated as my friend promised, but also a whole year younger than me.

Two weeks ago, they played a show at Baby’s All Right in Williamsburg, and so, equipped with my MetroCard, a friend, and an unbecoming bitterness, I boarded the M train.

The venue hilariously describes itself as a “hip music venue with elevated pub grub,” but once you get past the Brooklyn-ness of it all, and the exceptionally friendly bouncer, it’s actually very nice. The drinks menu boasts an “illegal mescal” cocktail called the “Ai Weiwei,” which my friend and I felt very plainly pandered to our demographic. It almost worked, until we realized that neither of us wanted to shell out $11 for a drink named after a political activist. You’re mostly paying for the name.

Gin and tonics in hand, we made our way to the stage, where a sizeable crowd was already gathered. I was surprised by the overall age distribution, which my friend accurately described as “bi-modal:” Standing in front of the stage was the expected collection of students from Columbia and NYU, but in the back was a whole congregation of extremely hip-looking fifty-somethings. Did Jack and Eliza invite both of their extended families? Is it weird that we thought some of them were actually pretty attractive? But before we could do anything we might regret, Jack and Eliza took the stage.

They opened with “Secrets,” one of their more well-known songs, and I immediately heard what all the fuss was about. Their music is nostalgic and intimate, and with only their vocals and two guitars to go around, Jack and Eliza’s sound is actually pretty stripped down. That said, their EP “No Wonders” is still rhythmically interesting and complex in terms of its harmonic arrangements. Jack and Eliza tease a surprising depth from their melodies, which is in large part due to their vocals. Their bittersweet harmonies really are the centerpieces of songs like “Simple Strait,” or “Hold The Line,” and add a great amount of personality to their performance.

While Jack and Eliza list bands like The XX, The Beach Boys, and The Beatles as their main influences, I was also reminded of Slow Club, Real Estate, and maybe even Local Natives (that last one might be the G&Ts talking). The audience was responsive during the entire set, and at the end immediately demanded an encore, which they delivered in the form of a great cover of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

Jack and Eliza certainly aren’t underdogs. They move rather confidently on stage and fulfill, at least visually, the indie-rock archetype. And yet, their talent, complete lack of affectation, and visible enthusiasm for music make them extremely, disarmingly charming. You almost can’t help but root for them.