This was like no other ‘folk’ gig I have been to before. Judah & the Lion’s new track ‘Suit and Jacket’ slowly came to life as lead singer Judah Akers walked on stage dressed head to toe in white. Brian Macdonald (mandolin) and Nate Zuercher (banjo) steadily strummed, slowly rising towards the crescendo of the second chorus “everybody I know is growing old, is growing old too quickly”. Written by Akers after a family loss, the song turns his feelings into a positive message about living life to its full.
These positive messages are exactly what Judah & the Lion brought to the Apollo. They quickly jumped into ‘Folk-hop sound’, a showcase of their new direction with harsher vocals and fuzz bass added to the underlying (early Mumford-style) strumming of the banjo and mandolin. The energy of the song lifted both the crowd and the band as Akers jumped around the stage, knocking over the mic stand and went into the crowd. Whilst other folk/bluegrass bands may say a quick thank you or comment after songs, Judah & the Lion stepped forwards to the front and carried out a short, choreographed dance. To the amusement of the crowd, this was to T-Pain’s ‘Booty Wurk’ of all things.
However, the band have clearly not lost their slower style as they performed a stripped back version of ‘Rich Kids’, sinking the crowd back into the nostalgic sound of their debut EP Sweet Tennessee (2013). Yet the slower song was quickly shaken up again as they faded into an intro that I couldn’t instantly place. It wasn’t until Akers started singing and the band got louder, that I realised they were playing a bluegrass-style cover of ‘Mr. Brightside’, lifting the crowd once more.
As expected, the band went out with a bang. For an encore, the Americans played ‘Take it All Back’, arguably their most popular track from the new album with top 10 places in numerous alternative charts throughout the States this year. Extending the song, Akers sang “it feels so nice when the people sing along” whilst roaming amongst the crowd. This was whilst the other band members ran around with their tops over their heads. Before I knew it, Macdonald had also stage dived, leaving the security staff bewildered to see a mandolin player surfing the crowd like a rockstar.
The energy of their folk-hop style, combined with Akers incredible stage presence, spread into the whole crowd, a difficult feat for a folk band to achieve especially at a venue the size of Manchester’s O2 Apollo. More simplistic lyrics are also made up for with their strong themes of positivity and even stronger melodies emphasised through their live set. Judah & the Lion are eccentric and eclectic; the amalgam of musical genres they incorporate kept the whole crowd on their toes and left the Icelandic band Kaleo, who were next on to play, a lot to live up to.By Max Haydon