I barely knew about this band a month ago, but when a friend told me about this show and provided me their umpteenth recommendation, I figured it was time to give them a try. At the time of writing, I only have their first album (Carnavas), which I rather enjoy despite some modest flaws.
Artist: Silversun Pickups
Venue: Peabody Opera House
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Date: 12 December 2012
Opening Acts: Cloud Nothings, Grouplove
01. Skin Graph
02. The Royal We
03. Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)
05. Gun-Shy Sunshine
06. Little Lover's So Polite
07. Mean Spirits
08. The Pit
09. Catch and Release
10. Panic Switch
11. Dots and Dashes (Enough Already)
12. Lazy Eye
13. Busy Bees
14. Well Thought Out Twinkles
I only knew in advance of there being one opening act, so I was quite surprised by the presence of the first opening band. Apparently, the Cloud Nothings' first two albums are some sort of indie power pop, but they must have only been playing material from their latest album, which is supposedly a dark, heavy, doom-laden digression in the opposite direction of their past work. I suspect I might enjoy the first two albums. I suspect I would despise the third. To say the least, the performance was awful. They played maybe four songs, two of which were essentially ten-minute guitar jams. The crowning jewel was the second of these extended pieces, in which the bassist played one note until the last 30 seconds. There were no vocals until the presumed bandleader began barking halfway through, followed with repeated, brutally screamed lyrics to the effect of "I am not a part of this". Then why was he on stage?
After the Cloud Nothings' brief set came Grouplove, apparently quite a hit with the teen and college crowd right now. As you can guess, I'd never heard of them. Their current claim to fame is being in an iPod Touch commercial. They are megahipsters playing the bounciest, indiest, most danceable music that really sounds like it wanted to have come out of 1991. This is only encouraged by the surfer-hippie vibe of the guitarists interposed against the confusion of a bassist that looked like someone from Lynyrd Skynyrd, a female vocalist with inhuman energy, and a drummer that looked like a track star but is actually the son of Trevor Rabin. This band had a lot of things going on at once but if you could stop staring at them jumping around stage you might realize that the music wasn't particularly complicated. I liked the stray harmonies they used, but most of their riffs were unsurprising. At least the lead guitarist, while hiding behind his long hair despite jumping around as much as the others, had figured out how to lay some cool effects on his instrument to make his lead parts sound unique. Otherwise, I was bummed by their reliance on backing tracks but impressed by their raw energy. They seemed really young, but not as young as the Cloud Nothings.
When the Silversun Pickups finally came out, it was hard not to notice a change in the line-up: bassist Nikki Monninger was replaced on stage by Sarah Negahdari from the Happy Hollows. Monninger had just given birth to twins and thus is on maternity leave. Negahdari was a little hard to take seriously (she was awfully bouncy and artificial in her movement compared to the rest of the band) but she seems to fill the role just fine.
The setlist focused on the band's newest album, Neck of the Woods, but a few of the favorites from the first two albums still made it out. While I admittedly did not recognize most of the material, I could feel the connection to the work I did know, as well as some level of distinction and growth from their early material. At the risk of being way off the mark, their earliest material seemed directly indebted to bands like the Smashing Pumpkins and My Bloody Valentine, but the newer songs seem to have taken that foundation and really made their sound their own. The influences are still clear, but I think they've become more willing to stand on their own feet.
The band seems to let singer/guitarist Brian Aubert really take center stage, but nonetheless, when I could hear the basslines, they counterpointed the guitarwork superbly, and keyboardist Joe Lester filled out the space beautifully. Aubert did all the talking and was the only one to move around the stage, while Lester and drummer Chris Guanlao hid behind their equipment and seemed to be happy to follow the flow. Negahdari's occasional harmonies also blended well, but I was continually impressed with how big they sounded for only having one guitar. Aubert is clearly skilled with his effects, and Lester may have also playing a role in such sound manipulation, but it made for a powerful overall sound.
Generally speaking, the band rocked. They played for maybe 75 minutes and focused on their more energetic works, even if in some cases the energy was a slow and dramatic build. "Lazy Eye" is the perfect example of a song in that mold; it's a long song with a gradual build, and even though the biggest parts aren't that big, something about the whole feels like it was all so well worth it. It's a great song that is probably far simpler than it seems. I'd expected them to close the show with that song, but they closed their first set with it with the anticipation of an encore still looming.
Of course, they came back out and gave us two more songs, although there were probably more calls for Grouplove to come back out than for the Pickups. The final closer was another song from their first album, "Well Thought Out Twinkles". While not quite as effective as "Lazy Eye", it too has a strong, swirling, gradual build of guitar energy.
This was a fun show, only helped by the fact that the newly reopened venue is spectacular. The Cloud Nothings may have disappointed, but Grouplove was probably better than I would have expected, and Silversun Pickups lived right up to their reputation. They make strong music, even if it doesn't always feel like it's their own. They still do a damn fine job refining their influences and creating something surprisingly fresh.
Cloud Nothings: D
Silversun Pickups: B