Review: Judah & the Lion deliver a performance for everyone

Wilder opens for Judah and the Lion in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union on Dec. 1. Wilder is an alternative rock band based out of Nashville, TN.


Judah & the Lion performed in the Great Hall on Friday night as part of WinterFest, and it might have been one of the best shows I have ever attended.

Judah & the Lion took the stage after a cool recorded introduction. The show instantly took off with an insane level of energy from the band. The only negative thing to say about the show was how that amazing energy was not met by most of the crowd throughout most of the show. 

When the band first walked to their positions, frontman Judah Akers made a point to tell the crowd that their live show was about sharing an experience. He said that everyone needed to be part of it for it to be the best for both them and the audience. 

Even if the audience may have not held up their end nearly as much as Judah & the Lion, the real party was in the back of the room. There, fans were jumping around, dancing, and singing with smiles on their faces.

The band played a wonderful set of original music, but upped the fun with a mix of covers as well. These included songs like “Turn the Beat Around” by Gloria Estefan and “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers, which they played just shortly into the set. The band also came back for an encore, during which they played “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers. The audience sang this song back to them with the most incredible unity. It gave a sense of community and friendship to a room full of strangers.

Judah & the Lion’s stage presence is such that it seems to fill the entire room in a way that puts pressure on the walls and threatens to lift up the ceiling. The band toured with Twenty One Pilots from January through March and these shows were taking place in arenas all across the country on some of the biggest stages. They managed to create enough energy to fill those venues, so when they were placed in a smaller venue, it seemed to concentrate all of the arena-size energy and made it much more powerful.

The band’s performance in the Great Hall was special because in 2014 the played the Maintenance Shop, just below the Great Hall in the Memorial Union, twice. On one of those days, Akers said, they were sitting in the green room and wrote one of their songs. They decided to play that song for their Iowa State audience. It made the show feel even more personal. 

Akers also made a point to tell the audience that the things they might be going through aren’t anything to worry about. He took a moment to speak to the students in the audience before launching into “Going to Mars.”

“If you’re a freshman and you don’t have it figured out yet, don’t worry about it. I’m 27 and I don’t have it figured out,” Akers said. “If you’re a senior and you’re scared to death, welcome to the club … Know that you can do anything you want with your life.”

The last song of the band’s regular set was one of their most popular singles, “Take It All Back.” This song was the one that really got most of the audience moving. For the last half of the song the band mostly abandoned their instruments, except for their voices, and jumped and danced around the stage like they were the ones attending a concert instead of the ones performing.

It left their set on an incredible high. When they walked off stage the audience began stomping and chanting for an encore almost immediately. They band obliged and came out with their cover of “Lean On Me” and closed with their older song “Water.” They even played their own version of “Happy Birthday” to three of the members of the band who have had birthdays within the past couple of weeks. Have you ever heard a metal version of “Happy Birthday” played on a banjo? 

Even the supporting band, Wilder, was a surprisingly incredible addition to the night. A rock band from Nashville, they brought plain-old good music to the crowd. 

Every song they performed was different and intriguing. They varied in pace, tone, and subject in a way that got me wanting them to stay on stage for much longer than they did.

The band themselves seemed to genuinely like their own music, too. While they didn’t jump around as much as Judah & the Lion, they gave off a vibe that they were there to jam and it was exactly what they wanted to be doing on their Friday night.

They performed such a great set that it definitely hit the level of musical quality of Judah & the Lion and may have even impressed me more than the headliner when considering the music itself. There was not a weak link in the band. Every musician and every song added another level to the band. 

Don’t get too excited, though, because Wilder hasn’t recorded any of their music yet. We’ll just have to stay tuned.

Even someone who wasn’t a fan of Judah & the Lion or Wilder would have had an incredible night at this show.