June 04


The kids are all right at the AJR concert.

Songs about how parents have had their good lives and now it’s entirely their 20-something progenies’ turns piss me off. You would think that would make me hate the AJR concert I went to the other weekend. And yet, I enjoyed it, being there as I was with my family, including my two sons and the female friend of my older son. The age demographic of the 12,000 purportedly at Forest Hills Stadium (as purported by AJR themselves in a monologue about this being their biggest NYC audience) skewed about three decades younger than that of the Elvis Costello/Blondie show I saw last time I was here. Now, instead of the 40-60-year-olds dragging their semi-interested teenagers to see their heroes, it was teenagers accompanied by their supportive parents, the aforementioned 20-somethings there to party in their bikinis and dude shirts, and younger siblings of most of the above.


I should mention the opening act in this context. Gayle is 17 and her big hit is a viral TikTok sensation anyone under 22 has heard of. “ABCEFU.” I hadn’t, but a quick poll of the youth told me it was omni-present. But I’m not here to bash Gayle. She might be a superstar someday. Good for her. If I were Adam, Jack, and Ryan (the AJR brothers), I’d be a little annoyed by her being able to waltz onto this stadium stage at the age they say they were when they were busking and going nowhere in Washington Square Park—part of the earlier monologue, in which AJR was saying their 15-year-old selves never would have believed they would be here. Then they listed the other “smaller” shows that paved the way to this concert: Bowery Ballroom, Webster Hall, other places my band would have killed to be big enough to play at. In their narrative, they went from busking to playing those shows. (What about respectable mid-levels like The Knitting Factory, Rockwood Music Hall, or the Mercury Lounge, guys?!). But then again, Gayle went from TikTok to an arena tour with AJR. Her fifteen-year-old self was two years ago and had a romantic relationship she sang her most sensitive song about, from her debut EP, which she said she would be happily signing at the merch booth. Okay, so being the opener is different from headlining, but still…

God, I sound like a bitter middle-aged bastard.

AJR are good.

The fact is that AJR puts on a high-intensity yet nuanced show that pulls out all the stops and lingers between innocent adolescence and perverse adulthood, or maybe it’s perverse adolescence and innocent adulthood. “I’m too fucking young to feel so fucking old!” Just potty-mouthed enough to titillate my 8-year-old and poignant enough to move my almost-12-year-old. They engage with their audience (at least in the front standing rows) the way a band does at a coffeehouse gig and then play to the back rows with high-tech screen projections and the occasional upstage treadmill to give the walking-down-the-street visual. They perform acts of illusion straight out of The Prestige and tell personal anecdotes about meeting Elton John and being mistaken for a popular young country group. The Blue Man Group shows up to bang on engorged PVC pipes to accompany one song. Beatboxer Kenny Urban and a half-dozen dancers act out a high school scene of young love at those desks with attached chairs. There’s just enough show-stopping and navel-gazing to keep things interesting.

Me and the Randy Bandits

And what am I thinking about? My birthday party gig the week before. It was in the back room at Young Ethel’s on 5th Avenue in Park Slope. My eternal resurrection band The Randy Bandits were with me, along with other friends who sang and played and watched. My family was there, parents and kids. It was humble and perfect and I still felt like a rock star because that’s what I am deep down. Even if at our peak my band played to 1/1200 of the crowd at Forest Hills Stadium, we were definitely rock legends playing on the ladder between busking and the Bowery Ballroom. 

I think most of us Big City Folkers here are in the same boat. Gayle has eclipsed us, forget about AJR. Some things are so outside the realm of logic that they can’t even be depressing.

AJR talks wistfully onstage of their first ten years of struggling before getting recognized and how hard that was. They are 24, 28, and 31. We wake up at 40, at 50, still writing songs that are really good, still finding ways to record them, to get on stages, to let people know that we lived and this is what we did with our lives. 

There is a culture of numbers, of arenas, of deciding who failed and who succeeded based on fly-by-night followers in the dark, of part-time lovers and all-time haters. And then there’s the music. There’s being a parent making music, or being someone making music who never wanted to be or couldn’t be a parent but might still get lumped together with them based on their years on earth. We remember how we thought it was our time. And it was. But then what? 

It’s inspiring to see Nick Cave or Elvis Costello or Bob Dylan in concert for me because they’re older than me and still going. It’s a different kind of inspiring to see AJR or someone like Gayle. It causes an old familiar feeling to well up.



Jim Knable is a performing songwriter and published playwright. He released the single “Moclips Beach Hotel” in October 2021. His 2020-21 album is Blue Reunion, by Jim Knable and The Randy Bandits. He has had articles published in The Brooklyn RailTablet MagazineThe SDC Journal, and other online and print publications. KNABLE GAZING is a semi-regular column appearing on the Big City Folks blog.