The Fierce, Insistent, Driving Heart of Rock and Roll
The feelings of familiarity that night were uncommon, even for a reunion show. When J Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph shared a stage again for their first set as Dinosaur Jr. in over 15 years, they offered up a lot more than mere nostalgia. Shaking off all the years between their post-hardcore origins and a less-shapely middle-aged resurgence, the band tore through the show in sweaty relentlessness. This was clearly no cash-and-carry job like the stone-cold Pixies had been deadpanning their way through in sold-out auditoriums. This was a statement on what once was and what is now so sorely lacking. In all its amplified excess, the emotive core of the material tore through the hearts and ears of all in attendance. The exposed essence of adolescent spark residing in every passion was there, apparent on naked display. No affectation or any irony was necessary or welcome. There was just the pumping blood and heart pounding to the very verge of collapse.
Six months later that same small club was overwhelmed again by that seething sense of intensity. This time, though, it wasn’t just some history lesson. Right on that very stage where indie legends loomed large over an enraptured crowd earlier in the year, an emerging band was injecting all that volatility with renewed vitality.
Silversun Pickups had been establishing themselves around the hipster hovels of Echo Park and Silver Lake for a few years, and with their first official release they took on a residency at the esteemed and intimate Club Spaceland. Over those August nights, the band ascended from local heroes to pertinent artists rapidly approaching prominence. Repeat attendees in the audience became common, and the shows began to sell out.
Inside the club, electricity sparked across the crowd. Uncommon amongst the angular haircut set of Los Angeles, movement made its way through the audience. Fits of dancing and leaping pogo pits broke out amidst a following that all-too-commonly prides itself on being above such uncontrolled enjoyment of anything. Silversun Pickups pierced through that pretense and into the same aching center bands like Dinosaur Jr. once dredged. Emotional earnestness and all its inherently unhinged urgency swelled up with every strum and let loose in every scream.
Frontman Bran Aubert kept his feet in motion over a daisy chain of effects pedals, eliciting an array of tones from buzzing bee fuzz to sheeting sugar downpours. Accenting these shifts in shades and texture, keyboardist Joe Lester conjured up an assortment of melodic and atonal surges. Drummer Christopher Guanlao kept it loose before coming in loud on the cathartic crests. Holding it all down was bassist Nikki Monninger, blessed by both button-cute charm and a knack for the kind of slow-rolling lines that Kim Deal laid down for the Pixies. Occasionally joined by cellist Tonya Haden, the players pulled of the impossible every time they took the stage. They moved a jaded L.A. audience and brought them back for each successive sold-out night of their residency.
The five-night stand at Spaceland was arranged to promote the release of Silversun Pickups’ debut EP, Pikul. An amalgamation of assorted recording sessions with different producers, the songs still manage to maintain some level of cohesion. None of them strike out for unexplored territory, but nearly all of them hit upon something very vital. These songs shed pretension and revel in raucous splendor. This is rock for right now, not an ironic rehash of earlier eras or some bold vision for the future. They blend ‘60s swirl, ‘70s swagger, ‘80s hues, ‘90s angst, and millennial distress into a sound that is both familiar and refreshing.
Tellingly, the band takes up one track from Pikul in tribute to fellow local artists the Movies by covering one of their songs. The contemplative “Creation Lake” stands out not only as both a respite from the assault of urgency elsewhere and a setting for Monninger to move beyond just cute and approach enchanting, but as a symbol for the kind of collaborative community taking hold off the overly-trod path of the Sunset Strip. Along with Silversun Pickups, other L.A. bands like Earlimart, Irving, and Sea Wolf are eschewing competition in favor of a cooperative collective known as the Ship, resulting in an incredibly affable and fertile scene.
Following the success of their debut and residency, Silversun Pickups have gone on to tour select cities across the nation, garnering increasing interest and attention. With flattering write-ups from Spin, The Los Angels Times, and NPR, the band seems poised to break as big as they already sound. With their first full-length album slated for release this summer, they continue to tour with increasing regularity. Reclaiming rock from irony and putting the teeth back in the beast, they bring with them an inspiring antidote to an indie scene entirely too fey, contrived, and restrained. Resonating with an elated rejection of despair and outright joy for what they do, Silversun Pickups are ascending artists as necessary as they are engaging.