State Radio, a Boston-based alt-rock trio led by Chad Stokes Urmston of Dispatch, brought head-banging political jams and activism to the Majestic Theatre this weekend.
Following the light acoustic tunes of opener Sarah Jaffe, State Radio took the stage and fired up the crowd with heavier rock jams. Opening with “Take Cover,” a song off its new album, Rabbit Inn Rebellion, and the old favorite “Mr. Larkin,” the group smoothly transitioned from mellow into full-on rock.
The college-aged crowd, clad in flannel and sporting Novembeards, packed in close to the stage, nodding their heads and singing along with Urmston. While Urmston and the band didn’t stop to address the crowd directly until well into the show, they managed to command the emotion of their fans.
The trio, accompanied by guitarist Matt Embree of RX Bandits, took a seemingly new approach to this show as compared to those of previous tours. The band was looser, louder and drifted into long grooving jams several times, most notably during “Gang of Thieves,” about midway through their set.
Throughout the show, Mike “Maddog” Najarian banged out beats on the drums and brought the energy. Bassist Chuck Fay, dressed smartly in a fedora, two-stepped and smiled at fans, clearly enjoying himself. Embree filled out the sound with strong guitar riffs, and Urmston, whipping around his mop of curls, loudly proclaimed State Radio’s activist message with crisp vocals.
The audience could sense the natural chemistry on stage. As State Radio delved further into its set, the crowd went from toe tapping and head nodding to outright moshing.
The set hardly promoted the band’s new album, featuring only its “Freckled Mary” and “Big Man” after the opening track, both of which the crowd enjoyed. However, the seasoned fans in the crowd undoubtedly preferred the old classics, and State Radio didn’t mess around with this loyal fan-base — it focused on revitalizing old favorites.
The crowd loved the reggae rock “Good Graces,” a song about a man looking back at the corruption of the Catholic Church during his childhood in Boston. Urmston often turned it over to the fans, and they sang along, “Remember how we tried / just to stay in your good graces / while you were washing all our faces. / Whoa, remember how we lied / just to stay in your good graces.”
Another highlight was “Fall of the American Empire,” which transitioned into a State Radio version of Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend.”
Other old songs included “People to People,” “Arsenic and Clover,” “Doctor Ron the Actor,” “Knights of Bostonia” and a great performance of the reggae-heavy “Waitress.”
Urmston brought out his famous Castrol oil can guitar near the end of the show for “Calling All Crows.” The guitar, made entirely of recycled materials, was reportedly given to him by a friend who bought it in South Africa.
Urmston stopped to give a shout-out to the members of Habitat for Humanity in the crowd for their work building homes earlier that day with Calling All Crows, an activist group founded by State Radio.
The band finished the set with the ska-infused “CIA.” Again, Urmston connected with the audience through the lyrics, often letting fans sing along and fill them in. State Radio then left stage, provoking loud cheers and stomps from the audience for an encore.
The quartet returned moments later for the spirited “Olli Olli.” In true State Radio form, Urmston also took a moment to explain the stage backdrop — a huge number 1,138 printed starkly in black and white. According to Urmston, this number represents the number of rights gained through marriage, rights that are currently being denied to gay couples in states across the country. In conjunction with the State Radio tour, Calling All Crows has been working to inform fans and citizens across the country about these basic human rights.
After Urmston’s explanation, the crowd cheered with support and approval as the band played its final song, the poignant “Camilo.”
“Doorbells are ringing with boxes of bones,” Urmston sang out. “From another land’s war torn corners / to a prison cell in my own. / Punish me for not taking your orders, / but don’t lock me up for not leavin’ my home.”
With those last words, State Radio fans spilled back onto the streets of Madison, alt-rock tunes and political messages swirling in their heads.