The final show of my ‘seven shows in eleven days’ odyssey, and what a marvelous evening it was! Silversun Pickups is one band I’ve been enjoying for a little while now and never had the opportunity to see live. Cage The Elephant were a surprising and delightful wallop over the head at last summer’s WBRU Block Party in Providence, so I knew I had to see them again, if at all possible. An Horse I had vaguely heard about, so the three of them together was definitely worth the drive down to Hartford.

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On the venue. It’s the sign of a truly magnificent joining of artists and audience when you can transcend a shitty club. For this place to suddenly seem like an intimate, loving embrace was nothing short of miraculous. All three bands were warm and engaging, and they somehow managed to completely overcome the rather harsh and cold atmosphere of The Webster. It’s the vibe, ya know? But the audience was superb, and my guess is that there just aren’t many “mid-sized” venues like this one in the downtown Hartford area. They do have a smaller downstairs space for smaller shows, though I’ve never been in there.

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An Horse

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Hailing from Brisbane, Australia, An Horse is Kate Cooper on guitar & vocals and Damon Cox on drums and vocal harmonies. Kate has a lovely pixie-esque presence and sweet voice, and they have a surprising full-band sound for just two people.

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During the show, I found I preferred their quieter songs that focused more on her voice and the harmonies, rather than the straight-out rocking ones. I think this was mostly because I could then actually hear the vocals, a problem I often have in big, boomy airplane-hanger-type rock clubs. Listening now to songs like “Camp Out” and “Postcards”, I’m thinking I would really like to see these guys at a smaller club with better acoustics, or possibly a nice theater. I was going to say that the only problem I had with their set is that the songs seemed to have a “sameness” to them, and give the suggestion that they mix them up with some softer ones, but I don’t get that feeling listening to things at home, so it was probably just the not-so-great acoustics.

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One great quieter thing I enjoyed a lot was “Little Lungs”, which has the line, “they told me, they told me I should just concentrate and breathe…”

Have a look at their official video for “Camp Out”:

In January of 2010, they’re doing quite an extensive tour of Canada with Tegan and Sara. See their MySpace for more info.

Cage The Elephant

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To give an idea of what Cage The Elephant is all about for those uninitiated souls out there, the first comment I jotted down was “totally f*cking crazy”. These guys don’t have any warm up period; they hit the stage and they’re FULL ON NUTS. Brad Shultz, guitar; Jaren Champion, drums, Daniel Tichenor, bass; Lincoln Parish, lead guitar; and the mad whirling dervish himself, Matt Shultz on vocals and vibrating, spinning insanity. Their music has a southern-tinged ‘religious revivalist’ vibe with a punk rock attitude and unhinged intensity. Incredibly addictive, especially when seen live, which I highly recommend to everyone out there.

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As for what they played – half their debut album (hard to believe they only have one album out; they play like a long-established band), plus five songs (half the set) of non-album and probably new tracks, including “Indie Kids”, which was introduced with “this is a new song, hope you guys don’t mind”. Needless to say, no one did.

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As he did at a Providence block party back in the summer when I first saw them, Matt made quick work of crossing the proscenium. In fact, he obliterated the proscenium. First taunting the audience at its edges, he then took the plunge and dove in, with Lincoln Parish soon following. At the end of their set, he decided he needed to get up close and personal with everyone just once more; this time he literally launched himself into the crowd. I’m amazed by the guy’s energy, and it seems that no stage, however spacious, can quite contain him. At one point while spinning out of control, he knocked over half the drum kit, which a roadie reassembled as they continued to play.

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They closed their set with “Saber-tooth Tiger” which was great and I’m thinking now that they’re probably starting to write and test out new songs for their follow-up release, hopefully soon. They’re still touring, and will be playing in California, Utah, Colorado, and through the South, plus Texas, Florida and Las Vegas through December.

Cage The Elephant setlist, with Matt's 'signature bunny'

Cage The Elephant setlist, with Matt's 'signature bunny'

After Cage The Elephant’s fire and fury, I expected Silversun Pickups to be far more subdued; gorgeous and wonderful, but subdued. How wrong I was! As much as I liked these guys beforehand, I was really only “very familiar” with a few of their hits (i.e. “Lazy Eye”, “Panic Switch”), and had never seen them perform. While it seemed like a cool idea, I wondered how good a match they’d be with Cage The Elephant. Holy shit… perfect. They were just as ferocious, just as visually and aurally engaging, with a mix of nice indie pop/rock and sonic experiments. Walls of delicious keyboard craziness from Joe Lester and guitar feedback courtesy of Brian Aubert closed out many of their songs in grand, epic fashion. And bassist Nikki Monninger, with her angelic, siren-like voice is a perfect complement to Brian’s lovely lead vocals. So beautiful. Her rendition of “Creation Lake” in the encore made me wish she sang lead on more songs, as she’s quite wonderful.

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They performed most of their newest Swoon CD, plus selections from Carnavas and two from their debut EP Pikul. I realize now and it’s quite cool that they did one from each in their 3-song encore (“Substitution”, “Creation Lake”, and ending with “Common Reactor”). As with the other Silverlake-area bands I’ve had the immense pleasure of seeing in person here on the East Coast recently, their genuine surprise at the audience support and reaction was really heartwarming. Brian’s comment early on in the show, “holy shit! turn on the lights!”, referring to the packed house there to see them seemed pretty funny, since I see them as the most well-known of the Eastside L.A. bands, and songs like “Substitution” and “Panic Switch” get quite a bit of airplay on the alternative rock stations. He went on to say “We haven’t been here before, sorry about that” (I’m guessing after that reception, they’ll most certainly be back).

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Chris Guanlao’s drumming was explosive and powerful, and Joe Lester on keyboards gave the impression of a ‘mad professor’ in his appearance and the sonic results. When Brian started singing “Kissing Families”, he sang the wrong first verse, which got him some good-natured teasing from Nikki, and they started over. While the audience were wildly responsive and clapping/singing along throughout, this one really got everyone going with people literally jumping up and down at one point.

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A spectacular end for the main set, with a very pretty melodic passage between Joe’s keyboards and Brian’s guitar for “Panic Switch”. Which then led into a blistering version of “Lazy Eye” where I have scribbled down “worked into a f*cking frenzy” – and I believe I was referring to both the audience and the band. Other remembrances of mine include “guitar craziness” and “tribal drum intro” which must have been the final song of the evening, “Common Reactor” (from Carnavas).

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A wonderful evening and hopefully SSPU’s next visit to the Northeast will include a Boston date! It most surely will include Hartford again, and for whatever I may say about the venue, as for the audience… WOW.

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[SSPU are currently performing in Europe, England, Scotland and Ireland through mid-December.]

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