with The Pauses
The Plaza Live; Orlando, FL • January 9, 2016
by Jen Cray
Silversun Pickups are a band well suited for tighter quarters — if you could call The Plaza Live, with it’s bi-level 1,000 capacity space, “tighter quarters.” When compared with the size venues they played when last their star shot across the country, this space is small and that brings with it a certain level of intimacy that can only come from being shoulder to shoulder in a sold-out audience. An intimacy that the band, a mere outstretched arm away from front row fans, can feel and feed off of — and this band did.
Feeding first was local favorites, The Pauses. The last two times I saw The Pauses they did 90’s cover sets playing The Breeders, Smashing Pumpkins, Hum, Bjork and other delicious previously-known-as-alternative tunes that Gen Xers like me lap up like a 7-11 blue slurpee. That should paint a pretty clear picture as to what their sound is — dreamy indie rock that nods to the past, but soars in the present. According to them this will be there last show for a while as they concentrate on working on their second album, a follow up to 2011’s A Cautionary Tale.
SSPU (as their tour t-shirts acronymed them) opened with a new song — the new wave/rock hybrid “Cradle (Better Nature)” — and then slid deep into one of the fuzz filled guitar anthems that made us all fall in love with them in the first place, “Well Thought Out Twinkies” off of their 2006 debut, Carnavas. Admittedly, I lost track of the Los Angeles band over the course of their last couple of releases, and had only listened to their latest (Better Nature) in brief iTunes sampling so these new songs were getting their virgin listens in my ears.
My observations: On a whole, there’s more keyboard presence in the songs and less distortion, but front man Brian Aubert still bends his guitar like the air around him serves to whisper effects on his solos. They remind me less of Smashing Pumpkins these days and, instead, have shades of Circa Survive, Muse, and 30 Seconds to Mars in their sound… but with a generous helping of New Wave playfulness.
Bassist Nikki Monninger brings a sweetness to the band that can’t be overstated and the brother/sister type relationship between her and Aubert is adorable — very Jack & Meg. When she takes the reigns and sings lead, Aubert teases her about her nerves, instructing the audience to stare directly at her. She shyly smiles, but nails the song.
The band is taking chances with their music, “Friendly Fires” — an electro ballad with emotive vocals that stretch Aubert’s range — is an oddity that that instantly connects is the hypnotic confines of the swaying, red lit room. The androgynous vocals and bewitching guitar work of Brian Aubert are the star of the SSPU show and he fills the role of “frontman” with more confidence than ever before.
Perhaps I need to go back and listen to the records I missed, because whatever road this band has traveled to get them where they currently cruise is one worth exploring.