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Judah and the Lion perform on the first night of their two-night sold out visit to the Georgia Theatre on February 28th, 2018. Athens, Ga. Photo/Shubham Kadam

Returning to Athens for two back to back sold out shows, Judah & the Lion brought love and high energy to the Georgia Theatre and the town the band calls a second home on Wednesday night.

Tall Heights started the night to an already packed venue – nearly everyone seemed to have arrived before the show started, so they were in time to catch both openers. The use of cello and the band’s overall smoothness and airiness was a beautiful way to begin the night. The group closed with “Spirit Cold” which encompassed the band’s mellow sound filled with beautiful harmonies.

The first song on the interlude playlist between Tall Heights and the following opening act, Colony House, was “Human” by The Killers – a hint of the cover to come during Judah & the Lion’s set.

Colony House opened with “Silhouettes” followed by “Cannot Do This Alone” – the band’s red sign onstage glowed like a beacon throughout the set. Floppy haired vocalist Caleb Chapman’s energy pressed through his microphone and into the crowd as they sang along. Chapman then asked the crowd to get wild:

“This is our first time in this town, but we heard you guys are crazy. Prove it to me,” Chapman said.

Other banter Chapman integrated was teasing his brother, the drummer, Will Chapman saying “He’s not as mean as he looks,” before adding the caveat “most of the time.” Caleb Chapman also mentioned the “legend of Athens” – saying that Judah Akers, vocalist of Judah & the Lion, specifically told him Athens was one of his favorite places to play.

Staying in tune with the theme of the Going to Mars Tour and the song “Going to Mars,” leading up to Judah & the Lion’s entrance onto the stage, clips of astronauts appeared on the screen at the back of the stage.

Purple lights flooded over the crowd as speech clips echoed through the room— crackling like an old radio broadcast. A clip of JFK’s Moon speech from the Rice Stadium (1962) was featured — most notably the line, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

A snippet of acclaimed basketball coach Jim Valvano also played. It was a quotation by Reverend Bob Richards which Valvano included in one of his speeches: “Ordinary people accomplish extraordinary things.” These audio clips with their hum and static transported the audience not just to a different place in time, but encouraged a mindset achieving what may seem impossible.

A spaceship take off countdown began: “3-2-1-0 Lift Off,” and then the band began to play a cover of “Booty Wurk” by T-Pain, first with the band (accepting the touring drummer and keyboardist) off stage, and they entered as the chorus began – setting the tone for a wild night that would constantly break expectations.

Of its original songs, Judah & the Lion led with “Twenty-Somethings.” This song resonated through the mostly “twenty something” aged college students in the crowd.

Two thoughts that Judah Akers kept returning to throughout the night were that Athens is like the band’s second home, and that there is “only us” – no distinction between crowd and band, and that at this show – whatever conflict may be outside –the crowd is a community too.

There was no scarcity of unity in the crowd when Akers started erratically waving his arms back and forth during “Hold On” because without his asking the crowd mimicked his unpredictable movements.

“This city, there’s just an energy here that’s unlike like any place we’ve been to in the world,” Akers later said.

For the song “Reputation,” Akers divided the crowd into two sections: Team Beard (banjo player Nate Zuercher’s side) and Team Five O’ Clock Shadow (mandolin player Brian Macdonald’s side). Competing for the loudest “Na”s in the song, Akers moved side to side on the stage instructing one side to sing then the other – Team Five O’Clock Shadow won the game. The teams would reappear later for chanting the chorus to “Green Eyes.”

Retrospectively, The Killers music playing between sets foreshadowed the “Mr. Brightside” cover Judah & the Lion would play with Colony House. Akers even got in the pit with the crowd during the song. Paul Wright (cello/vocals of Tall Heights) joined Judah & the Lion for “Back’s Against the Wall” and Tim Harrington (guitar/vocals of Tall Heights) joined his bandmate and Judah & the Lion for “Our Love.”

Returning to just Judah & the Lion onstage, the screen onstage read “are you ready?” The crowd, energetic throughout the night, was beyond ready for the popular song “Suit and Jacket.” The screen sparkled with stars, and the predominantly blue lights pulled the audience into the outer space driven concept. The visual of accelerating through space as stars seemed to streak past was transporting and magical.

However, more moving was Akers taking over five minutes to pause, absorb the moment, and thank the Athens crowd for its love.

“Thank you for letting us breathe this moment in a little bit because Athens is uh, Athens musically seriously is like home to us. Every single show that we’ve ever played here has felt like home, and felt like family. Um, trying not to get choked up up here,” Akers said.

Akers said you quickly find out what cities you connect with, and that for he and his bandmates, Athens is one of them. Akers even said he found himself rooting for the University of Georgia in sports after playing the 40 Watt Club even though he had supported the University of Tennessee in high school.

“That’s my family too, that’s my people!” Akers said of UGA and Athens in this.

Akers ended his talk saying that despite your insecurities and fears, you can do anything you want with your life, and that nothing can stop you.

“Athens, you’ve been a place that made me believe in myself a lot more, and I hope after this concert this is a place where you believe in yourself a lot more too,” Akers said.

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Judah and the Lion perform on the first night of their two-night sold out visit to the Georgia Theatre on February 28th, 2018. Athens, Ga. Photo/Shubham Kadam

Judah & the Lion ended its main set with the hit “Take It All Back.” The energy of the song swallowed every member of the crowd, and when Akers announced there would be a two minute dance party at the end, the audience pushed even a little bit harder.

The members of Tall Heights and Colony House later joined Judah & the Lion on stage for a rendition of “Lean On Me” during the encore. It epitomized the loving community spirit Akers brought up earlier in the night. As the three bands stood together on stage, arms wrapped around each other the best they could while playing their instruments, the crowd swayed and sang along like a group of old friends.

After Tall Heights and Colony House exited the stage, Akers then announced it was their tour manager Adam’s birthday, and that they were going to sing happy birthday to him the only way they knew how. And so with the lights aggressively flashing rapidly on and off, Akers led a metal rendition of happy birthday to Adam.

Before playing the last song, Akers left the crowd with three rules: 1) Eat more chocolate, 2) Be kind to people, and 3) Please listen to more Judah & the Lion.

Judah & the Lion closed with “Water,” a song the crowd devotedly sang along to, and which became more chaotic as it progressed – Akers and Mcdonald playing a drum together and eventually tossing it back and forth.

Erin Beiner, a psychology and sociology double major at UGA, said she’s been listening to Judah & the Lion for a few years, but had never seen the band live before.

“I loved watching the guy playing the accordion,” Beiner said, expressing how it was cool to see an instrument onstage that one doesn’t usually see.

Beiner also called the show “awesome.”

“Gotta love a band that loves Athens,” Beiner said.

Sam Hertzig, a recent UGA graduate in consumer journalism, said that she was impressed by how good they sounded live, that they actually sounded like musicians while some other artists fall short.

“They held their own,” Hertzig said.

Hertzig also said the show was really fun, and that she doesn’t want to leave Athens now that she’s graduated – the Georgia Theatre is a reason to stay.

Both women said they would definitely see Judah & the Lion live again, and that they loved the band’s energy and how it interacted with the crowd.

This positive spirit radiated in all the heartfelt words Akers shared about his time in Athens, and best sums up with this statement he made during his speech:

“I just love you Athens,” Akers said.

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