Trees (Dallas, TX)
– Words by Jordan Buford / Photos by James Villa –
The Dallas/Fort Worth area may not be home to any of the huge nationally known festivals like Austin is, but the cities don’t have to be to still be able to reap some of the benefits of them.
Take for instance the show at Trees this night, where, after finishing up their first weekend at Austin City Limits, Silversun Pickups had traveled to Dallas for a show. The show had sold-out way in advance, and the band’s legion of fans in the area packed the venue to capacity, all of whom were clearly eager to rock out to the band and have a fun time in the process.
There was a roar of fanfare from the audience as the quartet took the stage, embarking on their 75-minute long set with the lead track from “Neck of the Woods”, “Skin Graph”. That track, which blends the soupy sounds of Joe Lesters’ keyboards and at times distorted sounds of frontman Brian Auberts’ guitar so well, proved a powerful and mesmerizing opener, capturing the attention of all. Including people like me, who weren’t a real fan of the bands going into this.
They didn’t lag between songs, at least not often, and drummer Christopher Guanlao helped them escalate things into full-blown rock mode, by rolling them right into “Well Thought Out Twinkles”. They had no trouble demonstrating what a powerhouse group they were with that one, Brian tearing it up on his guitar solos, shredding with a fury, while the crowd acted rabid for Nikki Monninger’s bass solo, cheering her on.
A short lull followed, a murky mix of the keys and some feedback swirling them into the next track. “We are ready for the siege.” Brian sang, before beginning to strum his guitar. “We are armed up to the teeth.” he continued, the first few lines of “The Royal We”, which was arguably their best song of the night. Almost instinctively, the fans started applauding right as the final note was played and proceeded to resonate. They were obviously loving every second of it, and I’m sure more than a few people were like me, and in complete awe.
They weren’t ready to break just yet, though, and now that they had covered some stuff from past records, they got back to their current release, doing “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)”, the at times somber tone translating well into the live version.
I had began to think they were going to be one of those bands that’s more comfortable playing rather than talking to the fans, but upon finishing that one, Brian started a conversation with everyone. “…We’ve been coming here for years…” he said, referring to the Deep Ellum part of Dallas, pointing out that while they had seen friends play Trees before, they had never personally graced this stage. He went on to say he was a bit “jealous”, though reminisced about playing the Gypsy Tea Room (which has since changed names). “…I loved it…” he said about that past show, while still appearing giddy about playing Trees.
The banter continued as he pointed out that Nikki had recently giving birth, and saying he knew it was bad before she had them when he called her and she asked Brian if he knew how much her babies would be worth on the black market. “And what did you say?” he asked. Nikki came across as being fairly shy when they weren’t performing, and after a moment, she gave the typical mom answer. “I said they were priceless.” “No, that’s not what you told me.” Brian said, correcting her that she informed him kids were worth up to forty thousand dollars on the black market.
The crowd took that for the joke it was meant as, cracking up at it, before the band started the next section of their set, by slowing things down with “Gun-Shy Sunshine”. It was the only song they did that I didn’t much care for, seeming monotonous at times, though the heavenly sounding outro was quite impressive, and found Brian beating his fist against the body of his guitar, resulting in a very cool effect.
It gave way into a song from 2006’s “Carnavas”, the infectious, “Little Lover’s So Polite”, which was one of the few songs where Nikki showed off her delicate set of pipes. She’s every bit as solid and unique a singer as Brian is, and the fans relished that moment of hearing her. They stretched the end out, much like how the recording of the song is, though instead of closing it out, they eventually came back in for one more round of the chorus, before Christopher let loose a thundering series of beats on his kit, firing up “Mean Spirits”.
The crowd readily followed Brian’s lead as he began clapping closer to the end of the song, some even bouncing about while doing so, and others still were dancing, appearing to be having the time of their life. They then cranked out the fun yet often ominous “The Pit”, before hitting another tranquil spot with “Catch and Release”.
“This is pretty awesome, huh?” Brian said to Joe, smiling the whole time, while Joe nodded his head. Talk now turned to all the people who had their phones out, and Brian made sure to open by saying he didn’t mind that at all, and in fact loved it. He pointed out though (somewhat jokingly) that it often made him somewhat paranoid, and that he always wonders if some huge even is suddenly happening in the world, “…And I’m just up here, like, “Duh…” he said, making various sounds while pretending to strum his ax. “…So, the apocalypse isn’t happening? Or world’s no more messed up than it usually is?” he confirmed, before pointing out that this was their final week of touring, thanking ACL for letting them pickup some shows in between the festival. I believe he also said that when they get back home, they were going to start throwing ideas around for new music, which certainly got the crowd excited.
“Panic Switch” got their final set of songs going, extending the instrumental outro a bit, before Christopher switched the gears for the group, transitioning them into “Dots and Dashes (Enough Already)”. They had hit their stride long ago, but they only kept getting better with each passing minute, and as the night neared the end, I found myself wishing they wouldn’t stop. Sadly, it did have to end, though, and came to a close, rather fittingly I might add, with “Lazy Eye”, which they segued into seamlessly from the previous number, concluding it with a ruckus of beats and notes that put a real finality to things.
So much so in fact, that I wondered if there would even be an encore, especially after Brian shook some of the hands of people who had managed to get right up next to the stage.
There would be an encore if the fans had anything to say, though, and after a minute or so of chanting and anxiously waiting, the members of Silversun Pickups reclaimed the stage.
“Thanks for giving us an encore.” Brian told the audience, before informing them, “Be careful what you wish for. This is where we just get weird.”
I don’t know about weird, but they did pick up precisely where they had just left off with “Busy Bees”, gradually working their way backwards through their catalog. Encores are, after all, about saving the best for last, and one of the singles that was spawned from 2009’s “Swoon”, “Substitution”, was met with pure delight from the audience, and they still had one last offering in this 16-minute extra portion. They brought their show to a close with “Kissing Families”, the oldest song in their repertoire, though you couldn’t tell it, as it still fit well with their current style. Perhaps the fact that it is so old and they’ve been doing it so long is what made it such a standout of the night, or maybe it was the occasional lines that Brian shouted in an enraged tone. Either way, it was stellar and left everyone satisfied, as they again waved goodbye to everyone, Brian shaking a few more hands, before heading upstairs, back to the green room.
I’m all about being honest, so, that said, I have listened to Silversun Pickups music more than a few times over the years, and always found it off-putting to me. I’d say a large part of that was how Brians’ voice sounds on their recordings, which just didn’t appeal to me.
That said, I found out this night that in the live setting, he sounds much different. Yes, he does have a higher pitched voice, but it comes across completely differently live, and it’s one of the more unique and intriguing voices I’ve heard from any singer, and the control he demonstrated over it was rather remarkable.
As for the show, they put on one of the best performances I think I’ve seen a band do, having me and just about everyone else spellbound right from the first note all the way to the last. And they got down, too, Brian slinging his guitar all around, while Joe had a fiery passion in his playing of the keys, and Christopher downright killed it on the drums. As for Nikki, she added a sense of grace to it all, and I don’t mean to undercut her prowess as a bassist by saying that.
I left a convert to the sounds of Silversun Pickups, my head still spinning from the incredible performance, which was only enhanced by the dazzling light show they had.