I couldn’t tell if I was trembling or if what I was feeling was the vibration of screams that I was engulfed in.
The band that stood before me was one that I had seen at least fifty times and I felt all of my anxiety leave as I leaned into the sweet familiarity of something akin to home. It was different this time, though… different in the best way possible. I had never seen this radiance in their faces or this level of confidence in their every movement. So much had changed between December of 2019 and this day in the middle of June in Bowery Ballroom. Yet, they were the same people who had curated this dedicated fanbase, and — as always — it quickly became obvious why.
Seeing Why Don’t We again after all this time seemed to set me free. It seemed to make everything okay again after so long. I had to wonder if that feeling was the same for them, too. Everything that led up to this moment sunk into the rearview mirror.
In September 2021, the band accused their former manager of mental, emotional, and financial abuse. A lawsuit was filed and their careers were put on hold. In the suit, there were allegations of filming the band naked (including a minor) without knowledge, fraud in the inducement, and more. The band also accused their manager and his company of withholding payment and funds due to them.
Music was put out sparingly and — due to a certain global pandemic — live performances were prohibited. It would take until the June Bowery Ballroom show for the band to make their return to New York City.
Their fans on the East Coast eagerly arrived, lining up earlier than they may care to admit. By the time we arrived, the line sprawled around the block. After being funneled into the small venue, it became apparent that this show would be incredibly different. It was intimate.
Typically, Why Don’t We is playing venues the size of Radio City Music Hall. (In fact, they’ll be playing it again in August.) This show, though, was all about being close to their fans. With a capacity of 575, the space was small and cramped.
When the band came on stage, their energy immediately filled the room and oozed out onto the streets. It couldn’t be contained by the walls. Fans’ excitement rose, the shrieks of boyband fans filling the halls. As for myself, I had feelings of safety and freedom from the shackles of a global pandemic.
It was the look on fans’ faces that stunned me: pure joy, relief, and happiness. I saw these expressions before I even noticed the similar emotions that traced their way into the band’s eyes. Daniel Seavey, Jack Avery, Zach Herron, Jonah Marais, and Corbyn Besson had made it onto this stage despite it all: a last-minute rescheduled tour, personal traumas, the still-pending lawsuit, and the same two and a half years of a crippling pandemic that we had all endured.
It was a sense of confidence and freedom that I watched come back to the band as they found their true selves again on stage.
Why Don’t We always seem the most themselves on stage. At Bowery Ballroom, though, they showed me a side of them that I had never before seen… they seemed genuinely happy and I had never seen them so excited to perform.
The music they were playing was different from what we had heard before. Even the songs that weren’t new to us now had a very different twist. The boyband — who had previously taken on the choreographed classic approach — was now rocking with their own instruments.
It seemed so natural for them to have these in their hands. It magnified their talents.
On stage, their poise and charisma were automatic. They seemed to interact with both each other and their audience effortlessly. Each of the members knew how to use their own unique charm to draw in those cheering and screaming for them… the fans, who knew every lyric to each of their songs and sang along with elated passion.
They closed the night with their latest single — “How Do You Love Somebody”. The tune is the pinnacle and climax of the new sound that is reinventing them. It draws on clear inspiration from classic rock and roll and gives us lyrics full of authentic emotions. It’s a drastic turn from their prior bubble gum pop sound. The single feels more true to who they are than any of the songs that came before it.
Energy burst out of the fanbase. The band fed off of this feeling and tripled it, delivering this right back to the crowd. In the back, we opened up a moshpit, mirroring the punk-y style that was now becoming a part of their brand.
In the pit, it felt like we were all finally leaving our troubles behind and just being with each other. That’s what a Why Don’t We show does to people: it brings us together at least for at least a moment to revel in the beauty of a show.
It sets us free. It sets them free.
I remember the looks on the faces of the fans as they left the venue. Many were wiping away tears and I noticed I was holding my own back. I wondered yet again if the band felt the same.
I hope they felt the same relief we did.