Los Angeles-based alternative rock outfit Silversun Pickups are back with their fourth studio album. And ahead of their upcoming festival appearances, including Indio, California’s dual-weekend Coachella festival next month alongside Foals, Chvrches and Guns N’ Roses amongst others, they’re road-testing Better Nature with a run of European shows including tonight’s stop at London’s Islington Academy, upgraded from the 500-capacity Dingwalls venue due to demand.
The Brian Aubert-led four-piece kicked off proceedings with new album opener Cradle (Better Nature) before tearing straight into early hit, and my personal favourite Pickups tune, Well Thought Out Twinkles from 2006 record Carnavas, Chris Guanlao’s epic drumming something I always down-tools to air-drum along to whatever I’m in the middle of doing! Aubert took every opportunity he could to step away from behind his microphone to move about the north London stage and get close to his audience, the energy across the two floors of the Academy venue rife.
The hits continued with Swoon single The Royal We before more Better Nature material was aired, raucous first single Nightlight featuring a cheer-along callout chorus, the 39-year-old frontman yelling “We only want it with the lights out!” to fist pumps and yells of “we want it!” from the Islington crowd.
During a brief lull in proceedings, a loud voice from the crowd yelled “where have you been?!” to which Aubert responded by addressing the crowd for the first time: “First of all, we’re Silversun Pickups from Los Angeles. Secondly, we came all the way here to just say … sorry”, the cheeky grin spread across his face garnering a laugh from the 800-strong crowd. “We just lost track of time, next thing you know it’s been Six. Fucking. Years.”
The frontman then took a backseat to Nikki Monninger for subdued Better Nature track Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance), the bass player taking up lead vocal duties in addition to thrashing her Gibson Thunderbird bass.
Reviving the tempo, The Pit from 2012’s Neck Of The Woods was next up, the crowd audibly singing along to every word before another foray into debut album Carnavas with Little Lover’s So Polite, Aubert’s closing guitar work noticeably missing the mark as he paraded about the darkened stage.
It’s unclear whether or not it was the Islington Academy’s PA system, but Aubert’s usual honey-slick vocals came across very muted from the get-go and became lost in the cacophony of sound around him. Even with his personal monitors, he often strayed significantly and very noticeably out of tune.
“Thank you, this is so fucking fun” the Topanga-native proclaimed ahead of downtempo Better Nature track Friendly Fires, continuing to demonstrate the calibre of the new material with yet another beautifully crafted, delicate rock song featuring more pronounced usage of synths ahead of my personal favourite from the new record, bounce-along tune Latchkey Kids.
Aubert took time out to thank opener Jordan Klassen and proclaim “We are coming back!” to cheers from the crowd ahead of US alt. rock chart-topping hit Panic Switch, the crowd clearing a circle to bounce off each other as the song reached its peak.
While fan-favourite Carnavas hit Lazy Eye had the crowd singing their loudest yet, closing the main set in dramatic style followed by Monninger stretching into the crowd to greet fans, the band’s three-song encore seemed to round the show out with a fizzle rather than a bang, opening with 2005 EP Pikul song Kissing Families and ending with less strong new album track The Wild Kind. A standout closer, such as the much requested Substitution from Swoon would have, no doubt, taken the show to another level.
With their Smashing Pumpkins-esque nuance, but without the Billy Corgan dramatics, theirs is a fresh breath of alternative rock, even a decade and four albums into their career. Aubert and Monninger’s unique vocal stylings are radio-friendly and delightful to listen to, encased in beautiful riff-laden guitars, Joe Lester’s synths being brought to the forefront and those killer drums of course. Not to mention the actual songs, with each of their four studio albums bursting with anthemic tracks dying to be hits. My suggestion: stop what you’re doing right now and go listen to tonight’s setlist, you won’t be disappointed.
Silversun Pickups hit the road in Europe next, with stops in Amsterdam, Paris and Brussels before heading back to the US for their Spring Fling AF tour alongside Cage The Elephant, Foals and Bear Hands later this month.
Live review of Silversun Pickups @ Islington Academy by Kalpesh on 2nd march 2016
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate