SHOW RECAP: A Euphoric Night of Music and Sisterly Love with Aly & AJ at the Ryman Auditorium
With a career as lengthy and far-reaching as Aly & AJ's has been, it’s no small thing to still be captivating audiences in new and exciting ways almost twenty years after your band’s conception. For the Michalka sisters, making a connection with their crowds seems to be second nature – they’re fans of open communication and of making sure everyone who bought tickets has the experience that they paid for, and then some. The house lights were all the way up quite frequently throughout their set, creating a two-way mirror of sorts; they were observing and gaining from us the same way we were from them.
With an almost two-hour set laid out for us, which included the entirety of their new album, With Love From, with songs from 2021’s a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun (isn’t that a mouthful) and some nostalgic tunes sprinkled throughout, we were all in for a night of celebrating the one thing we all concretely had in common: music.
Their opener, Miya Folick, was genuinely a perfect fit for this tour – her sound is just different enough from Aly & AJ’s to keep the audience on their toes, without putting them off from her music entirely. If Aly & AJ are mixing folk with pop music, Folick is doing the same with grunge and pop. She has incredible stage presence – and a massive voice to boot. Between songs about feeling small but un-put-down-able – “Cockroach,” during which she sings “I’m a fucking cockroach and you can’t kill me” with the most insane vibrato I have ever heard – and losing yourself in a relationship – “Nothing to See” – Folick tells us about her relationship with her parents, exclaiming They made me! I am their flesh!, and how she lost her father a few years ago, and the ways in which living in Los Angeles make her feel close to him. As someone who also lost their father recently, this makes me feel close to her, and to her music.
Miya Folick is insanely talented. It’s an honor to have seen her play at such a small scale, because it’s evident she’s going to be a superstar, and playing for crowds as dedicated and loving as Aly & AJ’s are will absolutely expose her to whole leagues of music fans who might never have listened to her before. Her newest record, Roach, is out the 26th of May!
I’ve been listening to Aly & AJ pretty much since their inception. At nine years old, I was given a copy of their album “Into the Rush,” which I credit as one of the many reasons I love music so much – alongside the Jonas Brothers’ first album, “It’s About Time.” To be seeing them for the first time at 26 years old, covering them for the music magazine that I started, feels like a full circle moment for me.
They’ve grown as much as I have in the twenty years since they began making music – more than I have, I’d say. They’ve been at this for so long but they’re still finding themselves, and their sound still feels fresh. I would say that with this last album, they’ve truly hit their stride making absolutely captivating pop music.
Their set opened with Aly on keys and AJ at the front on an acoustic guitar, playing “Open to Something and That Something Is You,” which also opens their new album With Love From. Immediately their energy was infectious. Next up was “With Love From,” then into “Pretty Places,” which is one of my favorite songs of theirs. It was at this point that they mentioned they had played the Ryman Auditorium only once before – in 2006, at the very start of their career. AJ then asked if anyone in the audience had seen them at that first show. A few people cheered, and you could tell then that there was truly love between them.
We were teased when Aly mentioned that the next song was a break-up song – the crowd erupted into applause before she clarified that it wasn’t the break-up song we were all thinking of. That would come later, but this song was called “Baby Lay Your Head Down,” and it was about knowing the other person in a past relationship will only ever see you in their dreams from now on.
Then they finally did play the song we all came to see. “Potential Breakup Song” in 2023 sounds a lot different than it did in 2007; firstly, they’re allowed to swear now, which makes the opening verse hit a lot harder than it once did. The rendition of their most famous song that they played for us at the Ryman on Monday night can honestly only be described as vibey. They breathed new life into a song we’d all been listening to since we were children, and putting it right in the middle of their set was the perfect way to keep the energy up.
Both Aly and AJ spoke a lot about how nostalgic it was for them to be playing these old songs now that they’ve both grown up – AJ mentioned that it was like a “trip down memory lane” for them, and that when they sit down each night to play them, it reminds them both about how and why they started making music together in the first place. “We would write a song, and then rush downstairs to play it for our parents – or any random person, really, that wanted to hear,” Aly said, sitting next to her sister at the keyboard. “Some of those songs were not great, but they got us here, and … I couldn’t do this without my little sister.”
Taking the time away from music that they did prior to the release of their 2021 album had nothing to do with their relationship with one another or with the music, but it needed to be done for them to both be able to come back to it with a renewed sense of self and of where they wanted their careers to go.
Towards the end of their set, Aly approached the microphone on her own to address a subject they feel very passionate about: gun violence. In the spring of last year, their tour bus was caught in the middle of a shooting in Sacramento, California, so they are understandably, and admirably, very outspoken about the issue of gun violence in our country today. She went on to speak about the shooting that took place at Covenant School in Nashville a little over two weeks ago, and asked us to take a moment to check out the band’s initiative with Northwell Health, called Pledge to Ask.
The band then brought out Nashville’s own Joy Oladokun to play both “Way of Nature Way of Grace,” which she wrote with them and is featured on, and “Rush,” which brought me right back to being that nine year old girl. This show was such a thrilling mix of songs I’ve been listening to all my life and songs I know I’ll be listening to for the rest of it.
After the show, I hustled back to my car – I always park at the library garage a block away for shows at the Ryman; it was only $10 to park for four hours, hot tip – and immediately tweeted, and I quote, “aly & aj fucking kick ass,” which is the only way I knew how to describe how I was feeling in that moment. I had gone into the show with what I believe to be average expectations; I knew it was going to be good, but I wasn’t prepared for just how good it was going to be. If you’ve only heard of or seen Aly & AJ because of Disney Channel, take this as your sign to check out their new music, especially their latest album. They’re only about halfway into this tour, so if they’re making a stop in your neck of the woods, I would highly recommend catching this show!
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