This was one of those concerts that make me love my job.
Silversun Pickups played at DAR Constitution Hall last Wednesday night. They delivered an exuberant display of musical joy that put a big ol’ smile on my face that lasted the entire show. Silversun Pickups are a band with a great sound and a growing fan-base, and yet every time I see them perform they seem completely amazed that people like their music. It’s this “they like us, they really, really like us!” attitude and their genuine appreciation for their fans, that keeps this huge-sounding band grounded and endears them to the listener. When watching Silversun Pickups perform you find yourself rooting for them to succeed while they proceed to melt your face off with their massive, alt-rock attack.
Wednesday’s concert was the best of the three times I have seen Silversun Pickups perform, mainly because it was the first time I have seen them as headliners. The headliner spot gave them time to stretch their legs musically which really added another level to their performance on just about every song they played. Add to this the fact that the longer set gave them the opportunity to throw some slower songs into the mix and Silversun Pickups were able to create an atmosphere that was all their own and not merely shared space with other, larger acts. Silversun Pickups were the main event on Wednesday night and they used their moment in the spotlight to truly shine.
Silversun Pickups are the Smashing Pumpkins of the new millennium. They occupy a sonic space that exists in that last minute or so of Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Cherub Rock‘. A space that Billy Corgan and crew crafted so expertly on “Gish” and “Siamese Dream” but then seemed to abandon somewhat with their successive efforts. This grunge meets shoegazer, sonic hell-storm is where Silversun Pickups have set-up camp to produce three terrific albums during the last five years. I am so glad that someone in mainstream music has embraced this sound because it is one that has been sorely lacking on the radio for years.
I first saw Silversun Pickups at Coachella in 2007. They performed in the afternoon on the main stage to a modest-sized crowd and delivered a highlight set of the festival. Their set was a giant, barn-burner full of guitar energy, pounding drums, and deep danceable bass lines. I walked away from their set determined to learn more about them, but also impressed with their infectious happiness at being on stage in front of such a large crowd. I got the impression Silversun Pickups were a band that had been working at it a long time, and were now finally about to have their well-deserved moment. I saw Silversun Pickups again earlier this year when they opened for Muse at the Patriot Center. Their set was very good, but I must admit, a little lost in the immensity that is the anticipation of a Muse concert. Of note during this set were the tunes from Silversun’s latest album, “Swoon“.
I find “Swoon” to be a crazy follow-up album. Technically it is Silversun Pickup’s third album, but really “Swoon” is more like a sophomore effort because it is the follow-up to their break-out album, “Carnavas“. As follow-ups go, “Swoon” is a daring, noisy mess that abandons a lot of the structure that made “Carnavas” a hit. I think it is a bold move on the band’s part, but after hearing the “Swoon” songs before Muse and then again on Wednesday night, I have to say that based on their quality-live and the crowd’s reactions to them, the new songs really work.
Wednesday night’s concert was a real joy to attend. The sound and lighting in DAR Hall was once again on point.* Each element of the band was crystal clear and distinct in the mix; this really heightened the enjoyment of Silversun’s noisier sections by letting the listener hear each and every note that went into them. As I said earlier, Silversun Pickups create quite a racket and I was expecting a feedback squall-fest on Wednesday night. I was pleasantly surprised that the production of the show gave each instrument its due in the mix. I was very impressed by how much of the band’s noise is actually generated by the keyboardist, Joe Lester. Silversun’s drummer and bassist were also a major presence in the mix this time. There were times when the Nikki Monninger’s bass was a flat-out, funky force to be reckoned with; particularly during ‘It’s Nice To Know You Work Alone’, ‘Panic Switch’ and ‘Catch and Release’. Throughout the show Christopher Guanlao’s drums were a highlight, particularly during an encore drum solo that was an awesome spectacle.** Perhaps the most impressive element of the band on Wednesday night was Brian Aubert’s vocals.
Aubert has a very unique singing voice that I am sure has more than its fair share of fans in radio land. His singing on Wednesday night was a real treat. There were a few times early in the set when I felt his guitar was mixed too low in deference to his singing. This began as a disappointment for me, but my impression quickly adjusted as Aubert delivered one amazing vocal performance after another. ‘There’s No Secrets This Year’ and ‘Kissing Families’ were particular vocal high points in an evening full of them. That is not to say Aubert’s guitar did not eventually get its chance to truly annihilate that big concert hall. The whole night the guitar sounded good such as on ‘The Royal We’, but it was on the two song main-set closing stretch of ‘Panic Switch’ and ‘Lazy Eye’ that Aubert truly unleashed the fury. The second half of ‘Panic Switch’ featured a jaw-dropping wall of guitar noise that continued into a sick couple of minutes of pure shoegazer indulgence as transition before launching into a guitar-glorious version of Silversun Pickup’s opus ‘Lazy Eye’.
Wednesday’s concert featured a lot of stage banter between Aubert, Monninger, and the crowd. Once again, both seemed awe-struck that so many people had paid to watch them perform on stage. Aubert delivered an extended thank you to the crowd between ‘Catch and Release’ and ‘Panic Switch’. With most other performers, these kinds of speeches can come across as disingenuous but coming from Aubert and supported by Monninger their thanks seemed to truly come from the heart. Aubert also gave a shout out to the 9:30 Club as one of their “favorite clubs in this country” when he dedicated their first encore song, ‘Substitution’, to the people who work there.
Personal highlights of the show were hearing ‘The Royal We’, ‘Kissing Families’, and the extended noise jam that Aubert and Lester closed the show out with. Aubert and Lester dived into the sonics after a great version of ‘Common Reactor’ to close the show. They created some unholy noise that drove half of the floor out of the room before the band had even left the stage. I got a real kick out of watching them embrace the noise at the end of their fantastic set. It felt like we were catching a glimpse under the hood at Silversun Pickups’ sound engine. While Aubert and Lester hacked away at their pedals and keyboards, Monniger and Guanlao high-five’d and shook hands with a small army of adoring fans who rushed to the stage as the rest of the crowd began their exodus from noise.
* I still don’t get what people are complaining about with DAR Hall. In the last month I have sat in three very different sections and each one had great sound and a great view.
** Silversun Pickups’ drummer Christopher Guanlao has the tallest cymbal I have ever seen on a drum kit.