by Jane Roser
Jammin’ Java is one of my favorite venues in the DC area to hear live music. Noted by Paste Magazine as one of the top 40 music clubs in America, the venue brings in local and independent bands, has great food, an intimate atmosphere and best of all, it’s a five minute drive from my apartment. Playing a sold out show this past Wednesday on their very first run through Virginia, the weather may have been dreary, but Run River North were on fire.
Opening for them was local band The Cowards Choir and the audience warmed up to them quickly, showing a lot of love early on. Singer Andy Zipf was enjoying himself immensely and had the crowd clapping along to songs from their new EP, Reunion, and Zipf’s 2009 EP, The Cowards Choir. The harmonies between Zipf and guitarist Ryan Walker were lovely and I quite enjoyed the haunting finale of “Maybe I” as Zipf walked to the edge of the stage and sang the last verse a cappella.
The interaction with the audience throughout both sets was adorably hilarious. At one point, Zipf looks down at a fan whose name I found out early on was Luke and asked him how he was doing. “We should hit the road,” comments Zipf. “I could fit you in my Honda Civic.” Luke replied, “on the roof.” Zipf chuckled, “on the roof? In a seat, man! Look at this guy, he’s selfless.” Finishing out their set with “This Will Be Our Reunion”, the band really pumped up their energy and jammed it out til the end. High five, guys.
Run River North hit the stage to whoops and hollers of fans who braved the rain, the crappy DC traffic and probably a heavy burrito from the Chipotle next door. Lead singer/guitarist Alex Hwang is incredibly gracious saying, “we’ve never been here and we’ve sold it out, so thank you guys for coming.”
The band played every song off their self-titled debut album, starting off with ‘In The Water’. The energy in the room was dynamic and it was especially hard to take your eyes off drummer John Chong, who I bet could do a kick ass version of John Bonham’s “Moby Dick”. Chong has a lot of passion for his craft; headbanging, twirling his drumsticks and basically dancing in his seat-all at the same time, without missing a beat or falling off his chair. It was epic.
The title track (and the band’s original name), “Monsters Calling Home”, was played next with the audience singing along to all of the “oh-ohs’. Keyboardist Sally Kang switched to a melodica, which you rarely see in a live show (it’s basically a small keyboard that has a mouthpiece you blow into) and guitarist Daniel Chae swung his guitar around to pick up a violin and rock the heck out of that song.
“Beetle” followed, which featured two violinists, Chae and Jennifer Rim. Bassist Joseph Chun and the rest of the band were having a blast with this tune and kicked out the jams at the end. “Thank you for following us through the name change,” mentions Hwang, “there were just too many ‘monsters’ around.”
Hwang explains that he wrote “Run River Run” for the young daughter of a friend whose sister was ill and he wanted to encourage the older daughter, River, while her parents were struggling through this, “but she’s okay now and we have a song to sing.” “Lying Beast”is a classic prodigal son story based on a melody from an ancient Korean folk song about unrequited love. Hwang takes a moment to tell the crowd that they’ve been touring with The Goo Goo Dolls, but that they normally “get around in a big 15 seat van. It does need Febreeze sometimes, but in order to gas it up and eat more than PB & Js we have some nice merch. They’re pretty nice. I would wear them…if I wasn’t…in the band.”
Before launching into fan favorite “Growing Up”, Hwang takes a moment to tell a guy in the audience, “nice shirt, by the way. It kind of threw me on the third song.” I asked Hwang after the show what was on the shirt, he laughed and said, “oh, it was a minion from Despicable Me, I had to do a double take when I saw it.”
“Growing Up” is a hauntingly gorgeous song about kids and their parents. The lyrics are sheer poetry and hit you right in the gut because I think everyone has felt this way at one point, when we realize how fleeting our mortality is: “There’s a fight to be won for the love you find at home, work to be done before you rest your weary bones. I’m finding peace don’t come to everyone I know, so I will love in this life til I finally have to go.” The song’s finale was sung a cappella with the audience singing along: “so I will fight in the light til I give my final breath.” It was, in two words, damn cool.
“Do you mind if we do a cover?” asks Hwang. A cheeky fan shouts out “Freebird”, of course, and Hwang performs The Killers’
“Mr. Brightside”, joined half way through the song by the rest of the band, “sorry Freebird.” Hwang then asked for the houselights to be turned on so he could take a photo of the audience, “we just want to say that the tomato bisque across the street is amazing. That’s the cool thing about going on tour is you get to go to all these different places and eat your asses off.”
“Foxbeard” was played next and then Hwang asked if there was a “Laura Frasier in the audience? You have a friend named Tyler who’s been texting the heck out of me and emailing every one of our team from our booking agent to our old booking agent, probably my dad, too, and he has something to say to Laura.” At this point, I think we were all expecting a marriage proposal, but Tyler just wanted to ask Laura to the prom, which was very John Hughes-esque of him to do at a concert. “Tyler, you’re awesome and thank you for your determination.”
“Excuses” is Hwang’s passive-aggressive response to people who you invite to a party or an event and then don’t show up, making up an excuse that is probably bullshit. “Fight To Keep”, the song that went viral after the band recorded it in their Hondas was their finale. The powers that be at Honda noticed the video on YouTube and invited the band to play at their office, which turned out to really be a surprise appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Roller coaster ride is putting it mildly, but this band deserves all the accolades because they are awesome. “This is our last song,” says Hwang, “thank you for making our first show in Virginia amazing.”
Run River North start most of their live performances of “Fight To Keep” with a folky a cappella intro before going into my favorite song with the audience clapping and singing along: “I left my heart on the top of a window sill, fell apart when the winds pulled it down, on the ground where the sun drove the colors deep, in the summer heat the colors seem to drown.”
The crowd was shouting for an encore, so the band trickled back on stage (after making a bad Oreo-eating decision) and performed “Banner”, a song they wrote about “people who go around with banners who love to hate and hate to love and this is just my response to that.” It’s a beautiful tune that starts off with just Hwang and Chae, with the rest of the band joining in near the end to amp it up a notch. Chong’s percussion was so amazingly intense, he almost hit his head on the drum kit. “Put the banner down, take off your petty crowns, there’s enough love lost that needs help to be found.” Suck on that Westboro.
“Goodnight Moon”, the last encore performed, is a lovely tune Hwang wrote for his family: “Goodnight Moon, Morning Sun, Evening Stars and Little Ones. Learn to hope, sleep to dream, find love in everything. Cause in my mom and my dad and my brother, too. I love for them and I sing for you.” It was the prefect song to end the evening on.
Run River North will be in Philly at Ortlieb’s on May 2 and you don’t want to miss it. Would I see this band again? The answer to that is somewhere between hell yes and absoeffinglutely.