This homecoming, I was pretty hyped. A band I was already a big fan of, Saint Motel, was performing at our homecoming concert, hosted and organized yearly by the Cornell Concert Commission. When I learned I could review the concert and interview the band, I didn’t hesitate to take the opportunity.
Saint Motel is an LA-based indie rock/pop band that has been around since 2007. But they certainly have enjoyed an increasing amount of success in the past couple years: hitting the mainstream with their single “My Type,” touring with Panic! At the Disco and experimenting with multimedia albums. Saturday, they were joined by Daya, an electronic pop artist best known for her vocals on The Chainsmokers’ “Don’t Let Me Down,” for which she won a Grammy for Best Dance Recording.
Daya opened the concert with a strong vocal performance of songs from her 2016 album Sit Still, Look Pretty and a few of her well-known collaborations, including “Feel Good” with Illenium and “Don’t Let Me Down.” Her band performed well, and I especially enjoyed “I Wanna Know,” where the bass drop in the song was achieved almost completely with the instruments on stage.
I spoke to her about her background and evolution as an artist. Her stage name Daya is a Hindi translation of her first name, Grace, paying homage to her Indian American background. At 20 years old, she wants to ensure she is genuinely herself, Grace, on stage, while still incorporating her Daya character. “The Red Bulls get me there,” she joked. Her goal was to provide us students a respite from our studies, with “good vibes” all night. I thought her choice as an opener to Saint Motel was a good one, balancing out their indie-rock approach with a more EDM vibe to appeal to a larger audience of students.
Saint Motel took the stage shortly after Daya left, and they were, to put it simply, so much fun. Part of this, I think, is that they have fully integrated saxophone and trumpet players, which always kick up the energy and provide some groovy solos. That was certainly the case on “Puzzle Pieces” and “Benny Goodman,” two songs from their early discography. The middle of their show comprised of songs from their 2016 album, saintmotelevision, a debut song from their upcoming album and some audience participation. While Saint Motel has only a few very well-known tunes, the middle of their set showed off just how strong their back-catalog is. “Cold, Cold Man” was a highlight for me, having been the song that introduced me to the band. The ridiculously catchy piano riff exploded into a dynamic overture. For their encore, they played “Butch” another old song of theirs, “Born Again” and, of course, “My Type.”
I did expect “My Type” to blow the roof off Barton, but I did not expect frontman AJ Jackson to take it to the next level. He started by dancing through the audience. Then he made a beeline for the back bleachers, where he introduced himself to some of the seated, quieter fans. The crowd started to follow, and by the middle of the song Jackson was attempting to climb one of the steel columns, as some of the crowd clambered up the bleachers, and the sea of students shifted to the back of the venue. Suddenly, the stage was in the back, and we were on it. At the climax of the song, a few hundred students were dancing on the bleachers as the crowd enjoyed the concert from below. Jackson ran down and made it back to the stage just in time for the final chord as the chaos came to a halt and everyone took a breath. I have never seen anything like that in person, and it was incredibly fun to be a part of it.
When I spoke to Saint Motel, an intimate connection with their fans was paramount. “I like to meet every single person,” Jackson said. The band makes a special effort to involve their fans in concerts and on social media, posting fan art and covers on #fanappreciationFriday. “That’s probably our only tradition. We’re honored to see how people are interpreting our songs,” commented drummer Greg Erwin. Their accessibility as a group can be boiled down to “subtle pop music.” They are pop enough to please the average listener, with lots of added layers for music lovers to analyze. That’s the reason they’ve been featured on John Green’s “Paper Towns,” FIFA video game soundtracks and various commercials. “FIFA was probably the greatest thing that’s ever happened to us,” Jackson quipped. “It’s actually one of the reasons we’ve been able to tour in Europe. We even have a custom Saint Motel jersey in the game.”
With the band’s next album The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack on the horizon, they are excited to share this multimedia adventure with their fans: “We’re working with film composers to arrange interludes between each song, so they all blend into one another,” Jackson explained. “The way you hold the album is gonna be really unique … it comes out on October 16!”
From a group that has experimented with virtual reality, augmented reality, 360˚ video and live streaming, it’s clear that Saint Motel will bring their love of film and music together with their new ambitious project.
The Homecoming 2019 concert was a blast due to Daya’s and Saint Motel’s fervent performances. Although the night was plagued with some technical issues that slightly detracted from the show, the engagement and energy from the performances were unforgettable. If you weren’t there, you missed out.
This post has been updated to include information about the program organizer.
James Robertson is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be contacted at [email protected].