I arrived at Kaplan Arena 40 minutes before the start time of the 2019 Spring Concert put on by AMP and Student Assembly, my floor tickets screenshotted on my phone, for fear of arriving too late and missing a chance at the very front row. I felt the papery blue wristband press against my skin as I stepped into the venue, my eyes zeroing in on the front of the stage — only to find a handful of students mingling on the floor level while the seats in the general admission area were more empty than full. Shrugging, I worked my way to the center of the stage, and as the lights went down, I prepared myself for my very first front-row concert experience, even if it seemed that most of the campus wasn’t in attendance.
Suffice it to say, the experience delivered in full, even if the audience appeared to miss the mark.
March 29, the Spring Concert boasted performances from soulful singer Ari Lennox, young pop sensation Daya and upbeat band Misterwives. All three groups gave it their all onstage, presenting powerful performances that got the crowd both moving and moved.
Lennox came onstage in a somewhat unassuming manner, her cheetah-print jacket hanging off her shoulders in a carefree fashion; her smooth, rich voice spoke volumes as to her talent as a singer and an artist. Lennox sang with a quiet confidence, swaying from side to side as her vibrato resonated throughout Kaplan Arena. While her songs had a slower beat and thus did not really get the crowd dancing, her ability to interact with the audience with charm and wit gave her set a special spark.
Following Lennox’s opening number was 20-year-old Daya, who skipped onto the Kaplan stage with dark tinted glasses and a confident gait. Her personality struck a chord with those in attendance almost immediately, as she shyly asked the audience if anyone knew her personally since she’d grown up in Pittsburgh and shouted out her high school — then transitioned immediately to an impassioned performance of one of the songs from her 2017 album “Sit Still Look Pretty,” her conspiratorial smile transforming to match the emotions of the track.
Daya performed her radio hits to pitch-perfect accuracy — the crowd’s energy heightened significantly for “Hideaway” and especially for her closing number “Don’t Let Me Down.” But the best moments from Daya’s set were the songs that weren’t as well known. Her performance of “Back to Me,” a song she’d written in high school, was soulful and bittersweet, done solely with piano and vocals, its simple brilliance and stunning delivery connecting instantly with the audience. Daya also performed a cover of Janelle Monae’s song “Make Me Feel,” adding a fresh color to the track while hitting every note. The singer’s strong stage presence, pitch and personality left many of her songs stuck in the heads of those in attendance — particularly her newest single “Insomnia” that she performed for the first time live on the Kaplan stage.
Misterwives rounded out the Spring Concert with an exciting new energy and a flair for the unexpected. They filled the arena with an array of exciting instruments, from the drums and guitar to the trumpet and saxophone, as lead singer Mandy Lee skipped across the stage, interacting with each band member in turn while belting each catchy tune. Misterwives’ set had the crowd dancing, as each song had a fresh beat and hook that was impossible to sit through without at least some toe tapping. Their most well-known songs got the largest reaction from the audience, but Misterwives also premiered a brand-new song titled “Why Why Why” from their upcoming album that was easy to echo by the second or third chorus.
Misterwives’ energy and their ability to play off of each other during each song was an instant hit; the camaraderie within the band shone through and made their set all the more appealing. The band tried to bring something new to their familiar songs: they added an extended percussive segment to their closing performance of “Our Own House” before proceeding to take a bow, thank the audience, and pretend to hide behind their drums in an attempt to end the show. Five seconds of silence later, lead singer Lee looked over at a fellow band member, mouthing to him “Are we done?” before the whole band launched into the song’s final chorus with passion, smiles dancing on their faces from their attempt at hoodwinking the audience.
In between tracks, Lee spoke to how music transcends the mundane events of our lives and allows us to escape the hard times we endure by virtue of singing along to a song that we love. She mentioned that she was going through some of the hardest moments of her life in her adult years, but that the experience of performing with the band and with the crowd was like no other, and something that helped her get through the darker times.
At the end of the day, regardless of concert attendance or turnout, that’s what matters most: the ability of music to unite a group of slightly sweaty, packed-together college students on a Friday night and encourage them to forget the exams and commitments waiting around the bend; to bring a group of people together for three hours to do nothing more than watch, sing, dance, breathe and live. That’s exactly what the Spring Concert did: create an explosive and immersive memory — a secret, even — shared by the people lucky enough to be in attendance. I am so1 glad that I was one of them.