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Silversun Pickups / Against Me! / Metric: live in Philadelphialive in Philadelphia (2010)
Reviewer Rating: 3.5
Contributed by: JeloneJelone
(others by this writer | submit your own)
Oh radio events, will you ever get better? Philly alternative rock station Radio 104.5--this decade’s Y100--recently hosted the Silversun Pickups/Against Me!/Henry Clay People tour at the Grand Plaza in Penn’s Landing, with dance fiends Metric as an extra act. It started out shaky; the tiered steps facing the stage didn't really make for a good setup and the crowd was lame ‘n’ tame. But Silversun Pickups--or Silver Spun Pick-Ups as the Plaza listed them--rocked it hard, so the night was worth it.
Metric couldn’t get the audience to dance, and Against Me! couldn't get it to mosh. I blame the seating arrangement--the Great Plaza is basically a giant staircase next to a stage. Throw some overpriced Miller Light into the mix, and folks were having trouble standing up straight, let alone moving their limbs about in some sort of rhythmic fashion. Still, AM! got a strong reaction in terms of applauding and singing along. They deserve it, too; White Crosses sounds better live. I could actually hear guitarist/vocalist James Bowman. Touring member Franz Nicolay looked so cool on the accordion, and his piano gave the band a sort of Blasters-style rock sound. And in a live setting, I can’t quite make out frontman Tom Gabel’s shitty lyrics like “Street kids collect spare change in a conch shell on the sidewalk / Their teeth are yellow / Their hair is tangled / Their minds are vapid and they laugh wild in their depravity.” So that’s a plus.
Still, though, watching the band felt like the end of an era for me and, seemingly, me alone. I’m not going to deny that the crowd had fun. “Thrash Unreal” got a bigger response than “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong,” which I think says it all: This show was not meant for old fans. Against Me! has moved on and I am part of their detritus, which sucks. The set drew heavily from White Crosses yet avoided that album’s best song (“Because of the Shame”) and its worst (“Ache with Me”… “chickuh-ah motherfucker” indeed). But while older fans may have been disappointed by the lack of old material (anybody else feel like interrupting the new songs to play “Sink, Florida, Sink” only to end the set was a cruel tease?), the kids in attendance loved it. Good for them. I’m done, though, if at least for a little while.
While I don’t begrudge Against Me! for writing a mainstream record, I do blame them for breaking the sound system. Tech issues delayed Silversun Pickups’ set by about an hour, but once they hit the stage, the night went from adequate to awesome. Based on Brian’s review of the Brooklyn show, it looks like Philadelphia didn't lose too many songs.
Every so often, I come across an essay that talks about how there are no rock stars left, how only a few so-called legends like Mötley Crüe and Marilyn Manson are keeping r ‘n’ r alive by being “dangerous” by doing insane amounts of drugs and wrecking hotel rooms and participating in other extravagant, indulgent activities. Fuck that. Silversun Pickups are my idea of rock stars: Good stage presence, good light show, great tunes and the sense that they really were excited to be here. As tight and professional as the band got, there were moments that revealed a group still blown away by its success. It was in the way bassist Nikki Monninger projected child-like glee every time she approached the fans. Or that time keyboardist Joe Lester kept an eye on crowd safety, prompting frontman/guitarist Brian Aubert to say, “I love dancing at shows but no douchebaggery is allowed.” Oddly enough, Against Me! couldn't get a pit for “Rapid Decompression,” but the Pickups scored one for the quietest part of “Lazy Eye.” Apparently drunk idiots can’t handle any sort of ambiance; it has to be all chest-beating all the time.
It was still a good set, though. Aubert was constantly showing off guitar tricks and building up shoegaze-y textures while revealing a voice that can ratchet from a whisper to a scream and back on a whim. The band drew from Carnavas and Swoon almost evenly, and “Kissing Families” from the Pikul EP even showed up. Silversun Pickups were gracious throughout, and even humorous, like when Aubert supplemented a lengthy passage of feedback--always a perilous step away from self-indulgence--by wearing a big ol’ flower in his hair that a fan had tossed on stage. Moments such as these made songs like “There’s No Secrets This Year,” “Future Foe Scenarios” or the epically jammed out “Lazy Eye” even better. That’s what I want from rock stars: a little bit of joy.
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