Arts & Entertainment, Features, Reviews

REVIEW: Jeremy Zucker gives charismatic performance on ‘is nothing sacred?’ tour

In a dark room filled with flashing lights and crushed cups of beer, crowds of collegiate stereotypes danced to electro-indie music. But this is no frat basement — the stage lit up and spotlights illuminated Jeremy Zucker, sending the crowd into excited shouts on Nov. 5.

The tour kicked off on Oct. 23 and will continue through Dec. 2. 

Jeremy Zucker in concert at Roadrunner last Sunday
Jeremy Zucker in concert at Roadrunner last Sunday. Zucker’s ‘is nothing sacred?’ tour will run until Dec. 2. KEANNA LANE/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

Following his first EP in 2015, Zucker has released four albums and a number of EPs and singles. In May 2020, the now 27-year-old debuted at No. 7 on Billboard’s Emerging Artist chart, and has since collaborated with the likes of Tate McRae, blackbear and Chelsea Cutler.

Kevin Atwater and Sam MacPherson, both of whom are indie-pop artists I had never heard of, opened for Zucker at Sunday’s show. Although Atwater’s set was composed entirely of slow indie ballads and filled with cliches — like the classic ex-boyfriend sweatshirt and regretful drunk texts — he engaged the audience with his good humor and attempts at vulnerability. MacPherson did not match Atwater’s charisma, energy or ability to connect with the crowd. 

Suffice to say, I was not particularly pepped up when Zucker finally made his appearance.

The lights dimmed and the opening notes to “i need you (in my life),” from the tour’s titular album, began to pulse in and out. I couldn’t help but get excited — there really is nothing quite like live music. The spotlights suddenly illuminated the fellow New Jerseyan, sending the audience cheering like their lives depended on it. 

As the crowd settled down from the initial excitement and Zucker immediately transitioned into “OK,” another song from his new EP, I felt totally engaged. He’d captivated me with the beaming lights and over-the-top guitar playing. 

The silhouette of Jeremy Zucker in concert at Roadrunner on Sunday.
The silhouette of Jeremy Zucker in concert at Roadrunner on Sunday. KEANNA LANE/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

During the next song, “all the kids are depressed,” from his 2018 EP “glisten,” I felt a jarring and sharp twist in expression. I remembered pointedly skipping this track when I listened to the set list in preparation for the concert, purely because of how cringe-worthy I deemed the name. As I’d predicted, the song was painfully bland and shallow. I couldn’t believe how suddenly the show had lost its magic. The audience lapped up what I can only describe as the sonic equivalent of a rice cake, which left me wondering how they couldn’t see the intentionally non-denominational nature of the lyrics.

This jaded feeling persisted through the next six songs, with low points like “somebody loves you” and “internet crush,” songs about a breakup and long-distance relationships, respectively. I don’t take issue with the songs’ subject matter — the break-up song is one of the most important tropes in music across all genres, after all. It’s the trite, unoriginal and uninteresting spin Zucker puts on the idea. His lyrics were a boilerplate mimicry of sad indie white boy music.

So as he transitioned into his acoustic set, I prepared to be disappointed with the one song I had heard before and quite liked: “brooklyn boy,” from Zucker’s 2021 collaboration album with Cutler, “brent ii.” Yet, as the music began to swell for the song’s final crescendo, I was impressed. Be it my lack of interest in his previous numbers or my interest in the actual composition of the song, I thought “brooklyn boy” was a good performance.

After two more acoustic songs followed by two unimaginative songs about breakups and moving on, Zucker introduced “i-70,” the first track on his 2021 album “CRUSHER.” During the song, which describes the uncertainty of change and leaving home, I looked around again and noticed that the audience was positively electrified. While I had been busy evaluating Zucker’s performance, I had been oblivious to the most important part of a concert: the audience’s reaction. 

Jeremy Zucker plays guitar.
Jeremy Zucker plays guitar. KEANNA LANE/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

I’m a firm believer in the importance of good songwriting and musical composition, but it’s hard to argue with the sheer excitement in each person’s face as they sang along to Zucker’s closing song, “supercuts.” As the 27-year-old jumped around the stage in excitement, I did not think of his lack of stage presence but rather his skill at sharing his boundless energy with the audience, who joined him in his unabashedly silly hops.

Somewhere in between the cheesy lyrics, obvious air guitaring, and constant breaks between songs, I let my judgment fall away. Although I thought Zucker’s music a bland xerox of long-uninspired pop-rock bands, his stage charisma drew me in. What he lacked in original songwriting was easily surpassed by above-average vocals and fun, snappy beats you could easily lose yourself in. 

Toward the end of the show, Zucker invited a lucky member of the audience up on stage to join him in singing “Cry with you” in yet another instance of his friendly stage demeanor. His frequent interactions with the audience, his apparent candor as he spoke, or even just his beaming smile — these seemingly inconsequential additions gave the audience a palpable sense of connection, and Zucker’s friendliness stuck with me.

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