One of the beautiful things about the music scene are the undiscovered jewels that lie buried on the bill: opening acts with talent, originality and songs far more impressive than Top 40 headliners usually churn out. Case in point: Silversun Pickups.
St. Louis got the bonus of a Vintage Vinyl in-store performance a couple hours beforehand. To hear the quieter, abbreviated acoustic concert, followed by the full-on electrified performance at the Pageant was like listening to two different bands—both great.
One of the great things about Silversun Pickups’ sound in both performances is the vocals— a cool, soft rasp that leads many to think a tough girl is fronting the band, especially when you see bass player Nikki Monninger in the pictures. But to see lead singer Brian Aubert and his vocals of ambiguous gender live, and to hear Nikki’s sweetness in backing harmonies, this is old-school alternative coolness like that of the Smashing Pumpkin’s Billy Corgan—stopping short of the whininess.
Other amusing comparisons to the Smashing Pumpkins can also be made: both have a female bass player, both have a member who’s a Pacific Islander, end even both bands have the initials SP. Like the Pumpkins’ Gish-era stuff, Silversun Pickups loves a heavy, layered sound and knows how to make the most of their electronics with a delicious mix of noise, distortion and synthesizer on the big stage. Drummer Christopher Guanlao has the highest hat in the business, and it was a riot to watch him nearly stand every time to reach it while keyboardist Joe Lester took care of filling any remaining sound holes with ambience and coolness.
“Sorry we didn’t come to St. Louis last time, we’re assholes,” singer Brian mock-apologized to the sold-out crowd. On their last song at the Pageant, “Lazy Eye,” they were joined by Dan of OK Go and Pablo from Snow Patrol to close the set much the same way they opened it: with jaw-dropping greatness. If there is a God out there, you’re gonna see this band explode in the next year.
Unlike the Silversun Pickups, OK Go has been through St. Louis countless times now. And while they have a good, strong pop sound, get some good radio play, are one of the most popular bands on YouTube and have an ever-increasing audience of teenage girls—all that doesn’t seem to be quite enough to propel them into the territory of Greatness. Maybe it’s those ugly paisley suits, or the fact that any band relying so heavily on video throughout a show sets them up immediately not to be trusted.
Lead singer Damien Kulash crowd-surfed and dazzled the kids with stage banter—but there seemed to be considerably less energy and charm expended on this huge crowd than we’ve seen from him in smaller venues.
Kulash mentioned a children’s record of covers called “Kidz Bop” that has included the OK Go song, “Here It Goes Again.”
“They’re not trying to be insulting, they’re eight-year-olds,” he said, explaining the freaky feeling of children singing about waking up from a one-nighter with a bad hangover.
OK Go is always famous for their covers, and this April evening was no exception, with ELO’s hit from the 1970s, “Don’t Bring Me Down,” a song any member of that band doubtfully had been alive to hear in the 70s, and most of the crowd showed no visible signs of recognition. It’d be a riot to release covers of Elton John’s “Captain Fantastic,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors” and maybe some Badfinger for kicks—and call it a new sound. Here’s ten bucks saying that few under 21 would know…
But this mainly under 21 crowd was there for headliners, Snow Patrol. Making a grand stage entry with gorgeous, understated lighting and booming sound, Snow Patrol set the stage literally and figuratively to impress. And then, somehow, they didn’t.
With a somewhat lackluster performance, lead singer Gary Lightbody didn’t seem to put the same kind of heart into this show as one hears in their manically over-played albums. Their first time in St. Louis, these Canadians were clearly disappointed, saying several times that there was “a weird fuckin’ atmosphere.” When they pulled a girl up onstage to sing—a few members of the audience booed. [OK, so that wasn’t polite. But hadn’t they shelled out their hard-earned money to hear the band?] This seemed to piss the band off even more.
Still, Snow Patrol cranked through all their hits, and in many quieter moments, such as the mega-hit, “Chasing Cars,” the dominant sound was that of thousands of teenaged girls, crooning and swaying.
All in all, a great night of music—but this bill saved the best for first.
Photo of Silversun Pickups from their website