What a week(end)

The last five days has been, by far, the best music-centered five days that I’ve had in the last year.

Friday, I got to see Silversun Pickups at Slowdown. If you recall, the LA foursome kicked out one of my five favorite sets at Lollapalooza over a month ago. I was pretty pumped to see them coming back.

Saturday, I witnessed Bon Iver in all its glory. I also saw them at Lolla. While it was cool, I was about 150 yards away and I could barely see the stage. Saturday, I was on the floor at Slowdown and could have hit Justin Vernon in the eye with my cell phone if I felt like throwing it. Much better show.

Took the day off Sunday, but got to check out Phoenix at Slowdown on Monday night. Holy crap. One of the top shows (if not the best) I’ve seen all year.

Let’s break it down:

Silversun Pickups

Like I said, I was excited to see this band again. Walking into Sokol Underground, it was hot. Not as hot as a Faint show, but holy soaked t-shirt was it nasty. Turns out the show sold out.

I showed up late and missed the openers (in fact, I inadvertently showed up late every one of these nights and missed the opener at each show… I need to have a better concept of time, I guess).

After “No Secrets This Year” and “Royal We,” frontman Brian Aubert acknowledged the heat, saying “It’s hot as fuck in here, man,” before remarking that “This is a beautiful place.” I don’t know if Sokol is beautiful, but it’s certainly a weird venue.

The band kept things up-tempo and loud, but didn’t drown themselves out. The floor folks were bouncing the whole show.

Fun moments were when bassist Nikki Bonninger took some vocal parts in songs that she usually only does backup for. And drummer Christopher Guanlao is a spitfire. He easily has the highest-mounted cymbal on a drum kit that I’ve ever seen and the kid can certainly play.

I don’t have much to say about keyboardist/synth guy Joe Lester. But, then again, his parts are kind of designed to fit into the background and fill out the sound of Aubert’s fuzzy guitar parts and the drums.

It’s quite amazing to me that Aubert is able to play his guitar that way and sing at the same time. Most of the songs are riff-based melodies, meaning that it’s not verse-chorus-verse-chorus. Aubert’s parts sound similar verse to verse, but they’re always changing in subtle ways.

Anyway, they blew the roof off the joint with “Panic Switch.” (Watch the YouTube video. Audio quality ain’t great, but it will do.) Then they did it again with “Lazy Eye.” It was incredible to see them rile up the crowd and practically tear down the walls with one song before amping it up to another level on the next one.

Sadly, most of the crowd hear the two songs they came for and left before the encore. For me, it meant a closer spot, but folks could have stuck around to hear “Substitution” (the group’s new single) and a few more songs.

Bon Iver

The OWH’s Dane Stickney and I wandered down to Slowdown to see Bon Iver on Saturday. We weren’t sure what to expect. I saw the group at Lolla, but like I said, I could barely hear it and certainly couldn’t see.

I mean, Bon Iver’s album has 9 songs on it. What were they going to fill the rest of the time with? And most of the songs on the record are Justin Vernon with an acoustic guitar (there’s more than that, I know, but them’s the basics). What could they possibly do?

Well, they got loud, for one. Vernon actually strapped on a Les Paul for most of the show. It wasn’t Metallica, blow-your-ears-out loud, but the volume was quite a bit higher than expected (in a good way… it was pretty cool to hear some of these songs with a little more oomph behind them).

The band was also augmented with a full three drum sets, which were all utilized during the live rendition of “Skinny Love.” Vernon actually took a seat on a stool and strummed his acoustic while he sang, but the drums came crashing in on the chorus. (Watch below… drums were louder in person, but still cool in the video.)

That was probably my favorite moment, but they also did a cover of “Your Love” by the Outfield that was amazing. “I hope it’s not too ironic,” Vernon said before starting the song. It could have been, if they did it the wrong way, but it ended up being quite excellent with the slow, moving melody that they accompanied it with. (Here’s a link.)

They closed things out by playing “Worried Mind” with opener Megafaun (whose few weird-ass songs I saw, I didn’t like very much), a slow folk tune. (Another link.) Everyone went home happy.

Phoenix

Not joking, maybe the best show I’ve seen in 2009. It was outstanding, from the lights to Thomas Mars’ vocals to the crowd dancing up a storm.

They got the night going kicking things off with “Lisztomania,” up-tempo enough to get the crowd going and representative enough to give a taste of what was to come, but not so much to blow their whole wad at the opening. (See below…)

The group’s drummer was on fire. His drumming wasn’t Neil-Peart-like intrusive, but it was in your face enough to be the backbone of the whole band. Everyone played off of him.

The set was heavy on “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” the group’s latest album but considering the amount of times that I’ve listened to that disc lately, I certainly didn’t mind. I honestly didn’t know the band’s older songs as well, but they fit in the set wonderfully.

In my mind, the group was so good because they took a set of songs that were (by themselves) amazing and then went ahead and performed them. They didn’t get onstage and pick through their parts. They threw themselves into it and really put on a show. Just looking at the band, it was apparent in their movements and in their eyes.

Frontman Mars was easily the most grateful person I’ve ever seen onstage, bowing and thanking the crowd in both English and French.

But Mr. Mars, we should have been thanking you.

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