Silversun Pickups w/ Against Me!
Aragon Ballroom – Chicago, IL
July 3, 2010
Days after the Against Me! / Silversun Pickups show at the Aragon Ballroom on July 3, I’m still a bit confused about what happened in that venue for the first hour of the set. With the fairly established punk outfit Against Me! opening for Silversun Pickups-still fairly newbies in the progressive rock scene-not only was the billing confusing, but the apathy of the crowd throughout Against Me!’s entire rocking set and for long periods in Silversun Pickups’s impressive live show was downright mindboggling.
Though I wandered into Against Me!’s opening set a few minutes late, I noticed right away the new presence of Franz Nicolay on stage, just a few months after announcing he was leaving The Hold Steady. Nicolay is known mostly for his accordion skills but joined Against Me! on tour for the summer on keyboards, with lead singer Tom Gabel, James Bowman on guitar, Andrew Seward on bass, and George Rebelo on drums. If the crowd had any idea who Nicolay-or the rest of the group, for that matter-was, they sure didn’t show it. Though Against Me! has quite a few more years of touring under their belts than Silversun Pickups and a healthy fanbase, the Against Me! fans weren’t visible in the mass of standing bodies at first.
Eventually after pounding out a few songs from their recently released album White Crosses, the group rolled into fan favorites like “I Was a Teenage Anarchist,” “Thrash Unreal,” and “Stop!” The mosh pits finally began to spin, albeit very muted ones, and small pockets of crowdgoers could be seen thrash-dancing and linking arm-to-arm for some of the more anthem-heavy songs. But though bits of the crowd livened up halfway into the set, the mass was still just not all that interested in anything to do with Against Me!
Gabel was as animated and hardcore as ever on stage, filling the auditorium with his punching rebel yells and stellar vocals. The group rolled from one song into the next, wasting no time for chit-chat in between and desperately trying to hold onto whatever energy they could muster from the crowd. But no matter how hard Gabel tried to fire them up at the mic, it was a wasted effort. They were there to see Silversun Pickups, and Against Me! was practically an after-effect of the $30 admission to fans. (And, as a sidenote, we spotted Gabel up in the balcony after the set. He still seemed excited to be there and happy with the set, as were we.)
When Silversun Pickups took the stage, the reaction from the previously mum crowd came out of nowhere. Though still relatively motionless throughout most of the first half, the crowd was more than pleased with the opening number “Growing Old is Getting Old,” a track from Silversun’s second album, Swoon. Lead vocalist and guitarist Brian Aubert was in fine form, going heavy on the reverb and frantic circling and pacing of the stage. Props have to go to bassist Nikki Monninger, donning some heels and a blue dress; her thick bass lines carry a few of the group’s best tunes, and the crowd seems to always explode when she takes to the mic in a few select songs. Drummer Christopher Guanlao, to put it simply, is an absolute animal on his kit, which is also interesting in and of itself (the hi-hat is elevated a good 3 feet above Guanlao’s head). His ornate stretching routine in between songs is entertaining, to say the least, and when he gets going on a particularly repetitive and strenuous beat, his precision seems completely subhuman. And on keyboards? Joe Lester was tucked away to Aubert’s right, overlooked and probably underappreciated. During a particular jam session in the middle of the show, it was apparent how in tune the members all are with each other when Aubert stood off the edge of the stage facing the crowd, hitting spaced-out chords with sweeping “orchestra-directing” movements as Lester followed along, never once having to look up.
The rest of the set was filled with backlighting on stage that probably triggered a few epileptic seizures, some teasing between Aubert and Monninger with a prolonged guitar interlude, and some seemingly genuine love from the band to Chicago. Aubert stopped between songs a few times to grin, cover his face, and wave off the growing applause in a playful manner-think: “Aw, shucks!”-and tell the crowd, “We have a massive crush on your city. It’s not what you think; it’s pretty sexual,” which only egged them on more.
Last here in March opening for Muse at the United Center, Silversun seems to have gained a serious following in Chicago, where Aubert said the band has always loved visiting, giving special shoutouts to venues the band has played before, like Schuba’s and Empty Bottle. The biggest hit from Swoon, “Panic Switch,” is on continuous play on Q101 these days, and the crowd finally hit their stride when that infectious opening riff from the song came out from Aubert’s guitar.
Including a several-song encore, the band covered most of their best tracks from both their first album, Carnavas, and Swoon, though some of the more low-key tracks like “Draining” and “Catch and Release” might have been better spaced out to keep up the energy of the lackluster crowd. All in all, Silversun Pickups absolutely prove their worth during their live shows, exhibiting some impressive technical magic together that you don’t always see from a band with only two records-albeit fantastic records-under their belt. Against Me! may have gotten the shaft in terms of billing and engagement from the crowd, but Silversun Pickups definitely showed the stamina necessary to be a headlining band.