with Against Me!, The Henry Clay People
Hard Rock Live, Orlando, Fl • June 15, 2010
Silversun Pickups and Against Me! may not complement one another musically-speaking, but individually, they have the power to transform a room full of distracted strangers into a pack of charged-up raving fans. So why the opening night of their summertime jaunt at Orlando’s Hard Rock Live left much in the way of breathing room was a mystery.
For those not enjoying the musty, humid air out on the smoking porch, The Henry Clay People entertained the early birds. For as hard as this California group with the strange name (a reference to an American senator from the 1800s) worked, they didn’t come off as more than a third (fourth? fifth?) generation Pavement. Their music was enough to inspire the occasional foot stomp, but that was about it. Attempted covers of classic songs (“Tiny Dancer” by Elton John and “Knowledge” by Operation Ivy) only served to reinforce the not-quite-up-to-par state of their songwriting.
From the moment punk rock-turned-rock ‘n’ roll band Against Me! stepped out in their forever-all-black uniform (Though new drummer George Rebelo was rebelliously wearing blue jeans. Did he not show up to his wardrobe briefing?), the audience was split three ways. There was the pogo-ing, fist-pumping faction who treated the band like it was their night to headline. There were the pissed off, I liked them when they were punk folks who tossed drinks and pathetic heckles at the band when they played anything off of either one of their major label albums. And then, there were the uninterested chatterboxes who ignored the group altogether, even if their irresistible melodies did manage to get their bodies swaying unconsciously.
The haters, I’ll never quite get. So the formerly militant D.I.Y. band signed with a major. So fucking what!?! Their music has only gotten better since that fateful moment of selling their souls, and they tour relentlessly – never failing to end a show drenched to the bone in hard-earned sweat. The only difference is that they scored a sugar daddy to make their jobs a little bit easier. And, let’s face it folks, record labels aren’t exactly chartering private jets or sending their artists care packages of cocaine and hookers these days. At most, the band is probably just getting their recording bill paid for and a swank tour bus.
To the tossed liquids and accusations of “Fuck you!” the band charismatically reacted with grace and comedy. “I love you, too,” smiled guitarist/vocalist Tom Gabel. “We’ve got nothing but love up here… and you’ve got ugly facial hair.”
Joining the band on keyboards, at least for this tour, was Franz Nicolay – better known as the dude with the handlebar mustache from the Hold Steady. Adding keyboards to the live show was one thing, but perhaps the most punk rock thing the band did was to defiantly play their new song “I Was a Teenage Anarchist.” Gabel spit the lyrics, about a former anarchist who realizes that the “scene” is too rigid and full of rules and so outgrows this phase as he matures, right into the haters’ faces with equal parts venom and amusement.
Before the lights were set to fall one final time for the night, the bustling bodies – which at this point made a decent showing for filling up the vast venue’s dance floor – were making a beeline for the bars for one more overpriced bottle of “make-it-sound-better.” Not that Silversun Pickups’ fantastic blend of grunge-era distortion with Corgan-esque vocals and dreamy beat-driven pop music needed the assistance.
On a minimalist stage with virtually no personal touch or set design, beyond a mood-altering light show, the four-piece from L.A. eased into this opening night with a fast-paced setlist comprised of their two full lengths and the EP that preceded them. Clocking in at just over an hour, the night was over almost before you could say “play ‘Lazy Eye’!”
The somewhat short set could have been a frustration, had it not been packed to the gills with grade-A music brought to life by the possessed-by-his-guitar method of shredding by singer Brian Aubert and the spellbinding blur that was drummer Christopher Guanlao, who positions his high hat so high, he has to practically project his little butt off of his stool to reach it. Balancing out the pair’s positions at center stage was keyboardist Joe Lester, who tucked himself into the corner and hid behind his big synthesizer sounds, and bassist Nikki Monninger who, like Kim Deal in Pixies, or Meg White in the White Stripes, elicited screams of joy whenever she shyly stepped to the mic for some backing vocals. Perhaps every band of boys should have a little estrogen element to keep the scales in check; history proves that the fans love the ladies.
Fresh off a supporting stint with Muse, the little band with the big sound wooed the masses with every song they sang – be it the mainstream ones like “Panic Switch” and “Future Foe Scenarios,” or the deeper cuts like “Common Reactor.” The Orlando fans lapped it all up and then cried for more. “This is the first night of our tour, and you’re the best fuckin’ crowd we’ve had all tour!” Aubert joked.