I have come to understand certain “rules” of the concert experience. A concert never starts on time. The break between the opening act and the headliner is always a good 20 minutes longer than makes any rational sense. The band will probably make some complimentary, pandering comments to the audience and tell a few brief stories between songs.
When Run River North, the indie folk-rock band formerly known as Monsters Calling Home, played at Brighton Music Hall last Friday, they totally disregarded these rules.
The opening act, “The Lighthouse and The Whaler,” came on at 9 p.m., just as the ticket said, much to the chagrin of the many people who turned up late on the assumption of the perennial lateness of rock musicians. The band’s high energy set, which lasted a generous half-hour, was an ideal setup though lead singer Michael LoPresti’s mumbled comments between songs were often swallowed by the noise of the audience. That said, the music spoke sufficiently for itself: the crowd-pleaser “Venice,” from the band’s 2012 album “This Is An Adventure,” as well as the slow-building “We Are Infinite” from 2015’s “Mont Royal” were particular standouts.
After a quick takedown and setup for Run River North, done with admirable efficiency by members of both bands, Run River North left the stage again in order to make a grand entrance to the theme from “Jurassic Park”—an intriguing and entertaining choice that never received any explanation, which was perhaps part of its charm.
While everyone took their places, lead vocalist Alex Hwang stepped out to the edge of the stage and let his hair down, a symbolic gesture if there ever was one. And without further ado, the band started off strong with “Pretender,” one of the more recognizable tracks from their new album, “Drinking from a Salt Pond.”
The sincerity that makes their lyrics so relatable was also present in Hwang’s commentary. One aside about misconceptions regarding their song “Foxbeard” and the lyrics “glory to his name,” which Hwang made perfectly clear reference the Devil and not God, had an unexpected–but far from unwelcome–gravity to it.
“We never get the question, ‘do you guys worship the Devil?’” Hwang said. “It’s always, ‘what’s it like being Korean American and playing music?’ And I don’t see the correlation there. So hopefully, one day, that question will stop being asked, but as long as we’re Asian, I guess, it’s gonna happen.”
“But the point that I wanted to make was that, that’s what happens, when you write a song, or you do something and you put it out there, it stops being yours,” he continued. “It’s not mine anymore, regardless of whether I worship the Devil or not. It’s your song, and you make it what you want, and I think for this album, that’s all we can say about it.”
The heaviness of comments such as these were well balanced with much more lighthearted fare, such as the explanation behind their naming one of their songs “David Robinson” because they’re big fans, or when guitarist Daniel Chae tried and failed to tell a joke. “This isn’t working out, dude,” Chae quickly admitted, and Hwang took over once more.
The show was extremely well balanced, with the band’s most popular songs interspersed throughout the set. When they came around to “Run or Hide,” a song that manages to maintain a wistful, almost melancholy tone while retaining a bright energy that makes it incredibly catchy—unsurprisingly the most popular song off the album—many audience members joined in, especially when it came to the chorus. Which is probably why Hwang couldn’t help but replace the refrain “I think I changed my mind about a million times” at one point with the tongue-in-cheek “I think I changed my mind maybe a couple of times.”
The humor tended to be of the sharp-edged variety, but always remained enjoyable. “It’s our one quiet song, so if it’s okay to ask you, could you guys shut up for just one song?” Hwang asked at one point, eventually adding, “I mean that with all love, by the way.” Thanks to the sincerity shown everywhere else, this actually rang true, despite the context. Because while they did not pander to the audience, they did express tremendous gratitude and were even more compelling for their lack of meaningless flattery.
Overall, it was the sort of quality concert experience that not only pleased existing fans of Run River North, but certainly earned them new ones.