As I stuck out my wrist for a stamp guaranteeing entry into Petit Campus on Tuesday, I was expecting tonight’s experience to be pretty much in line with the average night out at Café Campus: Too many strangers moving together with all the synchronicity of two non-matching puzzle pieces, and too many casual encounters that lack any kind of emotional connection. BØRNS’ performance, however, was nothing like that: It was emotionally charged, intimate, and bordering on familial—the show embodied all that’s good about small venue concerts.
My friends and I wandered into Petit Campus at what I like to think of as the ‘sweet spot’ for smaller-scale shows—just enough time to catch the last half of the opening act without having to endure an hour’s worth of songs we don’t particularly know or care about hearing. The venue was about three-quarters full, and all concert goers were leisurely bopping their heads, carrying on their conversations over the melodies of the first act. I was pleasantly surprised with the opening act, Avid Dancer, who I had never heard of but found myself instantly enraptured with. At this point, we had wandered to the 4th pseudo-row (the venue is standing room only), and we had a good vantage point for the rag-tag collection of instrument-wielders, particularly the bassist, who had one of the most passionate ‘bass faces’ I’d ever seen. When prompted by an enthusiastic crowd member who yelled, “nice bass face!” he chuckled and increased his ardour on the next song, which pushed the audience towards more involved and active listening. Interactions like this reflect the unique, reciprocal nature of small-venue concerts, in which the experience feels more like a feedback between audience and performer than a one-sided appreciation for talent.
As Avid Dancer yielded the stage to make room for the main act, BØRNS, conversations resumed once again, and concertgoers meandered around the bar as the sound crew tinkered and rearranged on stage. I struck up conversation with the strangers on either side of me, and everyone around us did mostly the same; the audience was very cozy and welcoming. After an agreeable 30 minute break, the venue was packed much tighter than it had been when we first arrived, and the main act took stage to a full-capacity Petit Campus crowd of around 200 people.
Garrett Borns, who performs under the name BØRNS, resembles some sort of Jesus/Harry Styles/Kurt Cobain hybrid, sporting dark, shoulder-length unruly curls and a flashy-casual outfit. His musical style could be interpreted similarly—a unique mix of the flair of a pop star, and the emotional intensity of a grunge legend, speckled with passionate crescendos that border on spiritual fervor. It shouldn’t have been as surprising to me as it was, then, that most of the audience at Petit Campus seemed familiar with the majority of his setlist: He’s got all the qualities of a cult following in the making. I had blindly—and admittedly somewhat pretentiously—assumed the rest of the concert-goers would be casual fans, perhaps familiar with nothing else besides his biggest hit, “Electric Love.” As he made his way through his short setlist, I realized that my friends and I were only a few of many BØRNS super-fans in attendance. There was an odd but engaging juxtaposition between a lesser-known artist at a smaller venue with the fact that everyone was belting out all the words like preteens at a One Direction concert.
As the crowd sang along to his energetic, layered melodies, BØRNS seemed to feed off of that passion, and the set snowballed into further intensity as the night went on. BØRNS is still in that rewarding stage of relative anonymity for artists where they are still surprised to hear their own words parroted back to them, and his subsequent awe and enthusiasm in turn exacerbated that of the audience. The small venue really intensified the performance, as the crowd felt more connected to both each other as well as the people on stage.
After the raucous encore finale of “Seeing Stars,” the crowd filtered out of the room, spilling onto Rue Prince Arthur; it was barely 10 p.m., hardly a late night. Overall, though, BØRNS’ performance was absolutely stellar—worthy of selling out stadiums, even. But with all due respect, he’s best suited to play in small venues like this one, where his exuberant and exotic personality can be more intimately appreciated.