LA alt-rockers Silversun Pickups Celebrate New Album with Four-Night Stand at Hollywood Forever

The new album seems like Silversun Pickups’ most diverse platter to date and fans were eager to hear how the new songs would translate live.
Silversun Pickups

A graveyard isn’t the type of place one would typically think of for a music venue, but Hollywood Forever is far from a typical cemetery. Founded in 1899, the historic landmark “is the final resting place to more of Hollywood’s founders and stars than anywhere else on Earth.” There’s even a few musicians on site too, like Johnny Ramone who has one of the coolest headstones on the grounds, featuring a statue of the guitarist rocking out near a large moat. The facility has started holding concerts on the grounds in the Masonic Lodge, an intimate room that holds a couple hundred people at most. Tickets for the Silversun Pickups were therefore highly coveted.

The local quartet has grown from a Silverlake bar band into a world-renowned alt-rock force to be reckoned with over the past decade and were celebrating the release of their fourth album, Better Nature with a four-night run at the venue. The band has resisted the temptation to keep churning out albums that sound the same, working to continue expanding their sonic approach. The new album seems like the band’s most diverse platter to date and fans were eager to hear how the new songs would translate live.

The Silversun Pickups delivered by opening with the album’s first two songs, “Cradle (Better Nature)” and “Connection”. The vibe was strong with the band’s big sound filling the small room, although it seemed apparent that the down-sized sound system of such a small room couldn’t quite provide the punch and crystal clarity of the pro sound systems in most music clubs. But when the band launched into “Well Thought Out Twinkles” from 2007’s breakthrough album Carnavas, their sound seemed to expand as fans delighted in the guitar-heavy rocker. A blast of increased psychedelic lighting and strobe effects also had a strong effect.

Compared early in their career with the Smashing Pumpkins, each succeeding album seems to find the Silversun Pickups expanding on a multi-dimensional sound that’s less reliant on Brian Aubert’s grungy guitars while making greater use of sonic space and atmospherics. The new “Nightlight” was a tune along these lines, with Aubert toning down his distortion on the mid-tempo number. “Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance)” featured a duet with bassist Nikki Monninger exchanging verses with Aubert on a sparser groove with a dreamy sound over a steady beat.

“The Pit” from 2012’s Neck of the Woods mixed things up further with a dancey synth groove from keyboardist Joe Lester over a more intricate beat from powerhouse drummer Christopher Guanlao, with the quartet syncing in on a collective groove. The new “Friendly Fires” failed to ignite, perhaps purposely placed to provide a bit of an ambient breather before the band cranked the tempo power back up on “Latchkey Kids”. Aubert’s guitar again took a backseat, but he powered the tune with an urgent vocal over the song’s infectious groove. He faked out the audience about playing another new song before launching into the incendiary fan favorite “Panic Switch”, throwing down a furious guitar assault over Monninger’s aggressive bass line.

The band continued to skillfully mix in new material, returning to the new album for “Ragamuffin”, again based more around a synth vibe with the guitar providing extra sonic layers more than primary melody. The new album is a daring experiment in that regard, with the band stretching their sonic landscape and giving Lester’s synths a bigger role in the picture. How successful that approach will be remains to be seen, but the band certainly can’t be accused of playing it safe. The new songs are also likely to continue to evolve in the live setting as the band continues to experiment with their delivery.The group showed they can still crank their rock power vibe up to 11 though when they closed the set with their breakthrough hit “Lazy Eye”, still one of the top rockers of the 21st century.

The new approach paid huge dividends on the final encore and Better Nature closer “The Wild Kind”, a dynamic tune that soared to a higher level only hinted at on the studio version. Monninger and Guanlao were locked in on the infectious groove from the start, while Aubert’s melodic guitar lines and Lester’s psychedelic synths seemed to dance with each other as the band found again found that collective groove where the music seems to play the band. A charge of electricity seemed to jolt the room as the band’s evolving artistic approach hit sonic gold. This was a strong indicator that the Silversun Pickups will continue to remain a vital band in alt-rock’s ongoing evolution.