On Modern Baseball’s most recent record, Jacob Ewald talks a lot about hiding.
“Holt’s above my hideout,” he sings on “Note to Self.” As the song builds, he croons, “Wake up and we find new hiding places.”
On the next track, Ewald returns to the theme: “You need to hide, it’s in your framework.”
The final song of his half of the album is even titled “Hiding.” But at the College on Tuesday, Nov. 15, Ewald and Brendan Lukens did anything but.
Just one day after finishing a month-long tour with Brand New and The Front Bottoms, the duo bared all during an acoustic CUB Alt show that nearly pushed the Library Auditorium past its fire code limit.
“The Brand New tour was really weird because they’re a really big band, and when they play their show, it’s like a performance,” Lukens said. “But when Modern Baseball is playing the show, they’re trying not to trip over stuff.”
There was no chance of tripping on this night. Lukens and Ewald sat side-by-side and announced they would open with an extensive block from “Holy Ghost,” released in May.
“These first two songs go together,” Ewald said of the album’s namesake track and “Wedding Singer.” “They’re a combination of thinking about my grandpa dying, and also falling in love.”
His confession prompted Lukens to launch into the opening guitar riff to “Slide” by The Goo Goo Dolls — the first of many spontaneous renditions of song intros that evening, including Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and “Possum Kingdom” by the Toadies. The audience ate it up every time.
During moments like these, Modern Baseball seemed more like a campy, two-man improv comedy troupe than a band famous for songs that tackle topics such as mental illness, romantic betrayal and death.
Their audience appreciated the comic relief, though, like when Lukens prepared them for “Your Graduation.” The track is usually reserved for encores, but instead, after a minutes-long sentimental story of what the song is about, he made up a new one on the spot.
“Your graduation is today,” Lukens sang over the crowd’s wailing laughter. “I wish I could be there with you, but it’s also my birthday, so I’m not coming.”
Ewald caught on quick. He plucked away a harmony on his guitar, his gentle “ooos” floating in the background. Lukens lost his composure before he made it to the second verse, but managed to include lyrics about resisting bedtime and his mom baking him a cake.
At the flip of a dime, though, the mood would fall somber.
“I was a super destructive person for a long period of my life,” Lukens said. “I used to drink a lot and I used to cut a lot and I used to behave very poorly to myself.
“My BFF” — he pointed to Ewald — “called my mom one day and let her know that I was under some stress, and that it had led to me almost committing suicide.”
Lukens talks about his struggles with mental illness in “Tripping in the Dark,” a 17-minute long documentary released in April that details Modern Baseball’s journey from playing basement shows in Philadelphia to headlining massive venues around the world.
“I really hunkered down on being the best person I can be and not letting my mental illness, which is bipolar disorder, contribute to me just being a shitty guy,” he said.
Lukens ended the emotional interlude by asking for song requests, which fired at the pair from all directions. After a few moments, Ewald put his hands up.
“Woah, woah, woah,” he said. “Who asked what you wanted to hear?”
They were back in comedy mode.
They settled on “Broken Cash Machine” off their second studio album, “You’re Gonna Miss It All.” Ewald said the track was originally named “Broken Couch Machine.”
“That week, I went to an ATM and my debit card got stuck in it, and I couldn’t have it back. So I changed the name to ‘Broken Cash Machine,’” Ewald said. “It makes more sense than ‘Broken Couch Machine.’ I was just trying to be edgy.”
Ewald said he wanted to slow the song down, and smiled ear-to-ear as he began strumming his guitar at half-speed.
Lukens spoke the first few lyrics in a deep voice, fitting for the severely sluggish version, and then keeled over laughing.
“What if they all, like, weren’t having fun at all?” Ewald asked Lukens as he gestured to the audience.
Judging by the smiles on everyone’s faces, though, he didn’t have anything to worry about.
This story originally appeared in The Signal.