Aly & AJ Transform Nostalgia at Irving Plaza (Show Review)

Nostalgia sells. It is possibly my favorite trend of late that artists use nostalgia as a means of resurgence; I don’t mean this in a negative way, but an artist like the Jonas Brothers would likely not have had the same reaction to “Sucker” that they did had they not originally been on Disney a decade ago. Because we grew up with them and their music and their name in our households, their reemergence struck us hard, and everyone ran to listen to the new songs and buy tickets to the upcoming tour. And while I was excited for the Jonas Brothers—because I was, don’t get me wrong—I was much more excited for Aly & AJ when they came back in 2017 with Ten Years, an EP that marked a decade since their last record Insomniatic.

I did not grow up going to concerts. When I was younger, I never even went to any Disney concert—not the Jonas Brothers, not Hannah Montana, and not Aly & AJ. When I saw, then, that Aly & AJ were touring Ten Years in 2018, I immediately bought tickets to their Gramercy Theater show. It didn’t disappoint. And somehow, the NYC stop on this 2019 tour—the Sanctuary Tour—was even better than the one last year.

There’s a certain feeling, being in a space where you’re surrounded by people who grew up watching the same television as you did, who listened to the same music. At any other GA show, you’ll find different kinds of people of all different ages: at the front there’s an eight-year-old, their mother next to them because they are too young to be here alone; in the back parents of high schoolers who compromised their night for the well-being of their children. But at Aly & AJ, everyone was, for the most part, between eighteen and twenty-eight: we were kids who grew up on and then outgrew Disney Channel, but we were nostalgic for it, working to let it live on for as long as possible.

The nostalgia was evident in the reaction to songs like “Like Whoa” and “Chemicals React,” which everyone knew the words to. But the biggest anticipatory moment was at the show’s end, when Aly & AJ closed their set with “Potential Breakup Song.” The power that came out of the entire song was remarkable, but the feelings from the audience when the girls sang, “Did you get that? / Let me repeat that: / I want my stuff back” was cutting. The song came out in 2007, but it still hit us as hard because of what it means. And what it means is that men don’t deserve us.

I am, despite the love I have for Aly & AJ classics like “Rush,” a huge fan of present-day Aly & AJ. There is still immense power and love in the way the two women project themselves and in their actual songwriting. The titular track off their new EP leaves the sisters singing, “You deserve all my love / This is my dedication / I’m saying thank you (thank you) / For your sanctuary.” It was the penultimate in their set list, and it was gracious and indicative in the moment of the feelings that Aly & AJ had for the crowd as well as the feelings we had for them.

The other interesting thing about the crowd is that it was full of LGBT+ people. About halfway through the show, the sisters talked about how they paired with The Trevor Project, which provides not only a hotline but also support for crisis intervention to LGBT+ youth. They told us to take our phones out to sign a petition for 50 Bills 50 States, which is the Trevor Project’s campaign to end conversion therapy. Every phone was out, texting the number Aly told us.

And maybe this is all why I’m so taken by Aly & AJ. They are famous in our age group because we grew up with them, but it isn’t just that they make music and act: they use their platforms for something more. This year, their partnership with The Trevor Project focused on LGBT+ youth. Last year, they partnered with Project HEAL and Headcount, which focused on ED recovery and voter registration, respectively. By partnering with organizations like these ones, these women are actively working to get involved and to engage their fans in a bigger conversation that goes beyond music and affects us all.

Aly & AJ are on tour until the end of June. You can find the rest of the dates on their site.


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