Show Review: Silversun Pickups @ House of Blues 7.21.16
by Terence Cawley (Biology), published July 26th 2016
photos by Terence Cawley (Biology)
For the past decade, Silversun Pickups have written well-crafted modern rock radio hits with obvious stylistic debts to shoegaze and ‘90s alternative. They don’t seem concerned with their music’s lack of experimentation or innovation, and because of this they will never be hip or critically adored. Which is a shame, because at their best Silversun Pickups can hit listeners in their pleasure centers more consistently than any of their alt-rock peers. Their recent concert at the House of Blues was proof positive of that.
Young Brooklyn band Honduras seemed torn between their desire to play garage-punk and their desire to play their guitars jangly and heavily reverbed. They spent the first half of their set trying to satisfy both impulses within the same song, which had the unfortunate effect of drowning their tunes in sonic murk. When the band chose one style and stuck with it, they fared much better; the straightforward garage-punk numbers, augmented by singer/guitarist Pat Phillips’ Johnny Rotten yowl, provided invigorating energy spurts, while the dreamier songs were quite charming. They haven’t quite found their sound, but Honduras have the potential to become a very interesting band.
Silversun Pickups performed with neither muss nor fuss, sounding almost exactly the same as on their albums. Brian Aubert’s vocals, which always kind of sound whispered no matter their volume, got a little pitchy on the high notes, but besides that the band played with borderline absurd precision. Chris Guanlao’s propulsive drum patterns and Nikki Monninger’s knotty basslines served as the main instrumental hooks, with Aubert’s guitar offering more MBV-style texture than memorable riffs and keyboardist Joe Lester only making his presence felt on songs from the latest album, 2015’s Better Nature. That record sees Silversun Pickups leavening their brooding sensibility with glistening electropop, and the subtle shift in approach seems to have reinvigorated them. Many of the evening’s best songs came from Better Nature, like the urgent “Latchkey Kids” and the wistful “Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance),” on which Monninger traded lead vocals with Aubert and sang well enough to make one wonder why Silversun Pickups utilize her pipes so infrequently.
Four albums in, Silversun Pickups have enough material to play what amounts to a greatest-hits set. This suits them well; while their singles are great, they tend to bury them on albums stuffed with overlong filler, and separating the wheat from the chaff makes for the best possible version of the Silversun Pickups experience. The best Silversun Pickups songs- “Lazy Eye,” “Panic Switch,” “The Royal We” (the latter two coming from their most consistently enjoyable album, 2009’s Swoon)- subtly eschew typical rock song structure by gradually building momentum throughout their runtimes, saving the big payoff not for the chorus, but for an explosive bridge or outro. This formula worked like gangbusters on the HOB crowd, allowing Silversun Pickups to slowly raise anticipation to a boiling point before finally achieving liftoff, at which point everyone pretty much freaked out with excitement. The only misstep on the band’s part was ending their main set with “Lazy Eye,” which made the three-song encore that followed feel anticlimactic. It didn’t help that the first song of the encore, “Kissing Families” from their debut EP Pikul, sounded like a test run for “Lazy Eye,” while final song “The Wild Kind” was maybe the weakest song the band played. Why not close with “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings),” which was weirdly absent from the setlist despite being the closest thing Silversun Pickups has to a lighters-up anthem? Even if the finale was a little underwhelming, this was still an excellent concert from a perennially overlooked band.