silversun pickups, bad books @ the wellmont theater

by jared silva
05.08.13

When you go to a rock show on a special holiday, you never know what to expect from the crowd. When that special holiday is Cinco de Mayo, you really don’t know what to expect from the crowd. An uneasiness settled in when I first arrived at The Wellmont Theater, located in the heart of Montclair, New Jersey, for that very reason. Were attendants there to support the bands and have a good time or get drunk out of their minds? I was in no mood to deal with a shitty crowd. Luckily, when I got inside I realized I was in good company. And the night only got better from there.

silversun pickups // ”the pit” 

bad books // ”the after party” 

The bands playing that night were Silverlake alt-rock quartet Silversun Pickups and Atlanta / Brooklyn indie alt-rock group Bad Books. The latter is a collaborative effort consisting of Andy Hull and his already well-established rock band Manchester Orchestra along with indie singer-songwriter Kevin Devine. You’d think the two front men and co-lyricists were band mates for years and years based on how comfortable they were together on-stage. Their chemistry was crisp and pure, much like their music, from the beginning, kicking off with their first two tracks from their latest LP II, The After Party” and “No Reward.”

Many of the songs in their catalog and those that they played that night at its lyrical core are very somber, lonely and heart-wrenching. What’s great about a band like Bad Books, though, is the way they bring their own intensity and confidence to their instrumentals while tossing some catchy pop motifs into the mix, making their introspective, serious music more bright and witty. In II's lead single, “Forest Whitaker,” the pessimistic chorus of “I know you hate me too / You always say you do” is backed by a simple guitar riff, a steady drum beat and rosy whistling from the whole band. The message translated perfectly into the live setting; the band was clearly having a good time, at times collectively headbanging along with their music and manically strumming away during huge breaks, creating the loudest wall of relentless noise possible.

Bad Books were especially enjoyable during breaks between songs. In one instance, Kevin Devine was telling the crowd a personal story about how he worked the merch table for Counting Crows when The Wellmont Theater re-opened as a live music venue back in 2008, only to have Andy Hull follow it up by mocking Devine with his own hilarious best/worst Adam Duritz impression singing “JeeeEEEEEEsus.” The crowd interaction was great, and their on-stage antics only made them more likable as the show went on. Andy Hull, at his driest, introduced one of their last songs, “Baby Shoes,” from their first self-titled album, as “a story about a baby that becomes possessed by the devil and I try to kill it and she lands me in prison and her out on the loose. You know, that old story.”

About 15 minutes after Bad Books left the stage and the crowd started filling in, the lights went out, save for a dark blue foggy haze and ominous natural sounds of breezing winds and crumpled up leaves coming through with heavy bass. As the Silversun Pickups walked onto stage in silhouette form, the first breakneck sounds began in the form of a fierce modulating bass synth slowly pulsating and filling the room up into every possible crevice of the theater, like the equivalent of a horror movie jump scare. The lights kick in hard, blindingly in fact, and the band starts their set off with “Skin Graph,” the opening track from their most recent LP Neck of the Woods

The one noticeable difference in the band was the omission of bassist Nikki Monninger. Filling in for her was Sarah Negahdari, the bassist for L.A. band The Happy Hollows. Monninger was away on maternity leave after having twins back in late 2012, but Negahdari definitely filled in her shoes, keeping her technically intense bass lines and graceful backing harmonies intact.

Since the tour was in support of Neck of the Woods, most of the songs they played were from that album (9 of the 11 tracks to be exact were performed that night). The album is loosely based off of the early horror films and slashers of the 70s and 80s, and so much of the atmosphere and presence of the show reflected that. The ambiance, from the lighting to the fogginess, exhibited a very eerie vibe. Certain songs, such as “Here We Are (Chancer),” especially benefited from this mood setting; subtle keyboard soundscapes, minimal electronic drum beat, neon-green spotlights and slowly strummed guitar chords were topped off with Brian Aubert’s grooving footwork across the stage while his hands were quietly tucked away in his jean jacket pockets. If their plan was put the audience in a trance of a madman, they surely succeeded.

When they weren't keeping the creepy vibes going, they went hard and brought the house down. Classic Silversun tracks like “Little Lover’s So Polite” and “Lazy Eye” brought the best out of the shoegaze-esque heavy distortion guitar effects, rabid drum patterns and sharp bass lines. The lighting effects were specifically amazing, especially when they performed “Panic Switch,” in which solid colors of light would frantically swap with every guitar strum, much like the music video for the song. By the time the obvious encore came around, the crowd was still into it, wanting nothing more than to hear the last remaining songs they had planned. The encore consisted of two tracks from Neck of the Woods – “Busy Bees” and “Out of Breath” — followed by an interesting combination of a solo performed intro of ”Kissing Families” (a crowd favorite, gauging from the loudness of applause), segueing directly into the ever popular “Well Thought Out Twinkles.”

The night ended, oddly enough, with a man in the crowd throwing up two springy bee antennae headbands onto the stage. The perplexed but intrigued Aubert picked his up and wore it like a pro. As the last one to leave, he walked into the backstage area, fog still churning, lights now dim, springy bee antennae headband springing like it does. Still couldn't be cooler.

Original post from All Things Go.