Anyone who grew up going to big mainstream rock shows at the Salt Palace can probably recall seeing bills that made little sense musically, with bands touring together because they happened to be on the same record label or share management, rather than because of any sonic similarities.
That was the feeling last night at The Rail for the show featuring Silversun Pickups, Against Me! and The Henry Clay People. You could certainly throw all three bands in the idiotic and meaningless “alternative” label, but that is where the similarities end.
First up was The Henry Clay People, playing to a mostly empty room as fans of the other bands filtered in. A curtain splitting the room helped it feel a bit more intimate, but the Los Angeles crew had its work cut out for it trying to connect with a largely disinterested audience. Thankfully, that didn’t affect their performance; songs like “Nobody Taught Us To Quit,” “Slow Burn” and “Keep Your Eyes Closed” sounded great, providing fine examples of the band’s sound that’s clearly influenced by both country-rock and Built to Spill-style indie rock (singing brothers Joey and Andy Siara both sound strikingly similar to Built to Spill’s Doug Martsch).
The room was considerably more crowded by the time Against Me! took the stage, and the Florida-based band took advantage of the increased energy in the room. While the band’s indie days are well behind them, leader Tom Gabel continues lacing his anthemic songs with in-your-face political diatribes, and that’s refreshing in an age when most “rock” bands seem more interested in NOT offending anyone.
The band’s set leaned heavily on songs from its two most recent albums, the new White Crosses and 2007’s New Wave. Gabel proved a charismatic frontman, despite his straightforward approach with little time spent on between-song banter. His passionate delivery of “White Crosses” was undeniable, the one-two salvo of “White People for Peace” and “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” was a winner, and the title track from New Wave was a fine capper of a strong set.
After seeing Silversun Pickups open for other bands a few times, I was excited to see them headline their own gig. Turns out, a opening slot is probably the exact amount of time needed to appreciate the band’s layered, dreamy guitar rock. Their songs started to blend together around the one-hour mark for me.
Still, leader Brian Aubert atmospheric yelp is distinctive and appealing, and I’m certainly one of the million or so male rock fans who love seeing a woman bass player throwing it down, and Nikki Monninger fills that role nicely in Silversun Pickups. Of course, the lineup doesn’t help fend off the band’s detractors who consider them merely Smashing Pumpkins retreads.
“My lord, you’re so fucking loud!” Aubert proclaimed about five songs in. “Every time we come here, you guys are pretty much the craziest crowds ever.”
The audience was certainly more engaged for the headliner than the two openers, and were rewarded with strong takes on “There’s No Secrets This Year,” “Well Thought Out Twinkles,” “ The Royal We” and, of course, “Panic Switch” and “Lazy Eye.”