NEW YORK — That grin.
For the past three years Jack Antonoff has been most commonly portrayed as a shrewd pop broker, a co-writer and producer for the mainstream’s most untouchable artists.
When it was announced that Taylor Swift had won her second Album of the Year Grammy Award in 2016, she immediately engaged Antonoff — her bespectacled New Jersey pal and writer-producer on two songs — in the duo’s secret handshake before she took the stage.
And when New Zealand’s alt-pop sensation Lorde returned in March with her first single in four years, it was with Antonoff by her side: the Bergen County native co-wrote and produced Lorde’s terrific new hit “Green Light,” and is seen plinking piano in the tune’s popular music video. Antonoff is the executive producer of the singer’s approaching album “Melodrama,” the most feverishly anticipated pop release of 2017.
But any steely, business-like reputation Antonoff might have accrued of late, as a calculating late-hours studio man, seemed to melt away Tuesday night, from one stubbly cheek to the other, as Antonoff smiled wide and re-embraced his primary form: a buoyant electro-rock star who riffs like Springsteen and writes like David Byrne.
Tuesday began a new album cycle for Antonoff, 33, as he and his buoyant project Bleachers prepares to release its second LP, titled “Gone Now,” June 2. The first, 2014’s brilliant synth playground “Strange Desire” spurred a slew of festival and tour dates — and made Antonoff’s exit from the Grammy-winning pop trio Fun. seem a little less insane.
“We’re f—ing back!” Antonoff screamed to the sold-out crowd at The Studio at Webster Hall in New York, from a stage cramped by two percussion kits and dueling keyboard stations, as well as the four men who purvey Antonoff’s new-wave revivalist jams.
Bleachers unveiled four new tracks from “Gone Now,” two of which have made rounds online over past three weeks. The lead single “Don’t Take The Money,” sustains Antonoff’s quest to emulate the ’80s’ grandest tech-pop anthems, as he strives to write Generation iPhone’s “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” or “Don’t You Want Me.”
The track is invigorating and wholly anthemic, as has become routine for the hit-maker’s work, and seems destined for stages much larger than the 400-capacity room in Manhattan it played Tuesday. I’m still humming it gleefully this morning.
The other tune already released, a bumping groove called “Hate That You Know Me,” set the scene for Antonoff’s big grin; the verse features a natural call-and-fan-response section, and even with the song existing barely a week online, the devout crowd of 20-somethings knew their place on the first try, yelling the petulant “I hate it!” line.
Antonoff’s face lit up from beneath his Woodcliff Lake baseball cap, as if to say “Yes! I’ve been waiting two years to hear you all do that!”
“This album took me a very, very long time,” the singer said during the hour-long set. “Making an album is very hard and playing it is like a celebration.”
Two completely new songs that appear on “Gone Now” were played this night, the better of the pair being “Everybody Lost Somebody,” a mid-tempo tune led by a smooth, almost yacht-rocky saxophone melody from multi-instrumentalist Evan Smith, with whom Antonoff maintains a playful, Bruce-and-Clarence Clemons rapport throughout the show. The crowd knew nothing of the song at its outset, but halfway through many picked up the easy chorus and chanted along.
Ultimately that is Bleachers’ aesthetic — the band is like a drug. One pass through Antonoff’s array of arching choruses and you’re addicted. The live setting only increases the potency; the band, rounded out by drummers Jon Shiffman and Sean Hutchinson, and bass guitarist and keyboardist Mikey Hart, is triumphant and Antonoff plays fiercely, as though there is truly no place he’d rather be while wailing his booming self-help hit “I Wanna Get Better.”
The Webster Hall show sold out immediately earlier this month, as the opener to an appetizer tour of sorts: small rooms like The Roxy in Los Angeles will surely bleed into a larger roadshow, perhaps in the summer or fall.
And us New Jerseyans can also plan on Shadow of the City, the currently unannounced festival Antonoff hosts annually at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park. With so much new music to showcase, Bleachers will likely perform and remind again why Antonoff may be New Jersey’s greatest singular musical export of this young century so far.
Bleachers’ set list
The Studio at Webster Hall, NYC — April 25, 2017
“Everybody Lost Somebody” (new)
“Hate That You Know Me”
“Like A River Runs”
“All My Heroes” (new)
“Your Love is a Mystery”
“Don’t Take the Money”
“I Wanna Get Better”