At one point late in the Silversun Pickups set at The Fox Oakland, lead singer Brian Aubert started listing off all of the Bay Area venues they had played: Rickshaw Stop, The Fillmore, Bimbo’s, Cafe Du Nord, Bottom of the Hill (this one got the biggest applause), BFD, Outside Lands. They’ve been here a lot. Because of this, it’s a bit of a surprise that it took them nearly 18 months after the release of their last album, Swoon, to finally play a headlining show in the Bay Area. So, was it worth the wait?
Before them, we were welcomed by the straight ahead rock n’ roll of The Henry Clay People. (You can read my interview with them here.) Lead singer Joey Siano announced that the band was so happy to be back in their home state of California that they were drinking an entire bottle of whiskey. That bottle made appearances throughout the show, and surely its consumption contributed to the style of this set, because it was a bit wacky. The band flopped and flew around the stage as they fit an hour’s worth of energy into a half-hour set. We were treated to a brief, lyrics-challenged cover of Supertramp’s “The Logical Song.” The only thing missing was really some smashing of guitars, but it’s not like there’s another guitar waiting backstage for them if one gets busted, so I’ll forgive them.
Florida punk-turned-pop-punk band Against Me! was up next. And they came out wearing mostly black in front of bright lights, and threw tons of energy out at the crowd. Well, this was definitely a Silversun Pickups crowd, because no pit started, hardly anyone jumped up and down, and I felt a little disappointed for the band. These guys were trying hard! The bass player was doing one of my favorite moves, singing the verses even though he’s not singing them into the microphone, to show how into the music he is. That’s fun! Singer Tom Gabel sounded tremendous, and I wanted there to be more love for them than there was. This bands needs a fully engaged small crowd to become transcendent. This was probably not their audience.
The Silversun Pickups took the stage, and immediately started into “Growing Old Is Getting Old.” Right away, all the hallmarks of a SSP performance were apparent. Bassist Nikki Monninger plays tasty bass lines while nodding her head quietly on the side. Keyboardist Joe Lester wears a fedora while crouched seriously behind his keyboards. Drummer Chris Guanloa throws his arms around in the shadows like a modern-day Animal. And holding it altogether is singer/guitarist Brian Aubert, who’s dynamic vocals often surprise, and frankly, are super-fun to imitate.
If you’re only familiar with the studio work of Silversun Pickups, you won’t be completely prepared for what they sound like live. While the tempos are all very steady and in the pocket on their records, as a live band they’re like a sloppy runaway freight train. They all tend to play at a different inner clock at times, with drummer Guanloa playing ahead of the beat, sometimes forcing them all to go a little faster, and it creates a breathless intensity during the faster songs. When the songs all come to their conclusion, and they finish together, tight as a drum, it could strike some as a bit surprising. I’ve seen this lack of rhythmic discipline used as a criticism of the band, and I’m sure there are nights it turns into a train wreck, but tonight it was thrilling.
The show wasn’t perfect, I’ll admit. The keyboards were too high in the mix at times, sounding almost shrill. The encore was a fairly low energy affair after the twin closers of “Panic Switch” and “Lazy Eye.” And ending the show with 5 minutes of ear-piercing feedback is probably unnecessary. These are my quibbles with the evening, and they are surely just that.
When walking out, I overheard some guys talking about how the band needs new material, and that they hope the band doesn’t do anything too weird on their third album. Aubert himself told us that their next album would be “a greatest hits album, then a Pikul/Carnavas remaster package, then Use Your Illusion 3 and 4,” but whatever it is the Silversun Pickups do next, I’ll be listening. Sometimes riding a runaway train is exactly what I need.
Thanks to Emily Anderson for the photos. Enjoy a full gallery of shots from the show below.