Indie pop group Saint Motel, known for their over-the-top live shows, delivered just that on October 8 at the High Noon Saloon. The event was their first indoor show in Wisconsin. The band hails from the Midwest — just a few hours away in Minnesota — and seemed genuinely thrilled to show their neighboring state Wisconsin some love. Saint Motel’s contagious enthusiasm combined with the venue’s inherent intimacy made it seem like the band was throwing a party for their closest friends, and Madison was invited.
Being relatively unfamiliar with Saint Motel, I didn’t know what to expect from them. They’re a tight band, obviously seasoned musicians. Their ska-influenced sound complete with a horn section, A/J’s smooth vocals, and an inventory of inventive lyrics were the foundation of what would ultimately be a playful and entertaining show.
The night’s eccentric tone was set from the get-go when Saint Motel took the stage bathed in warm red and yellow lights, frontman A/J Jackson equipped with a tiger-print guitar strap, straw hat, and telecaster. A/J grinned at the crowd and performed a quick Chuck Berry duck walk as drummer Greg Erwin took a swig of his beer, and the band dove into the first song of their set, “Feed Me Now,” from their 2012 album Voyeur. The remainder of the night consisted of songs exclusively from both Voyeur and 2014’s My Type EP.
The young crowd, mostly under 21, matched Saint Motel’s high energy. Highlights for crowd enthusiasm include singing along to “Honest Feedback” and “Stories,” and shout-singing to “Daydream / Wetdream / Nightmare,” the lyrics “don’t wake up, wake up, wake up” echoing from all directions in the High Noon Saloon. Though every member of Saint Motel was knee-deep in animation (epitomized when they executed a synchronized jumping routine during “Puzzle Pieces” every time the chorus hit), A/J’s crowd connectivity was on another level. The frontman frequented the stage’s edge to get close to the audience, at one point even placing a hand on an audience member’s shoulder in a moment of fellowship.
The night continued in this lively manner, a party atmosphere encouraged by A/J as he shouted, “Meet your neighbor, let’s have some fun!” The crowd had a straight-up dance party during “Cold Cold Man.” The only break in both the band and the crowd’s noise and movement-based display of enthusiasm was purposeful, and increased the evening’s air of togetherness: during “Ace In The Hole,” A/J had everyone in the crowd hold up and gently sway their phones’ flashlights to the rhythm.
To bring the show to a close, A/J fondly recalled playing by the water at the Memorial Union Terrace the last time Saint Motel was in Madison, and joked about the importance of cheese curds to his Wisconsin visits. The band made the crowd feel special by playing “At Least I Have Nothing” during the encore, a song which A/J explained they haven’t played in a long time. When the last chords faded and Saint Motel prepared to exit, Greg threw the set list into the hands of an eager fan. The night ended on a personal note with A/J saying “See you again soon,” as if saying goodbye to friends he’s known forever.
I began the evening expecting theatrics, which I got, but what surprised me about Saint Motel is their ability to put on a show that is bold enough to entertain, yet simultaneously intimate enough to provide a sense of community among everyone present. It’s this combination that makes Saint Motel a band worth seeing live.