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Monday, December 15, 2014

Live Review: Not So Silent Night Leads a Radio Rock Marathon at Oracle Arena

Posted By on Mon, Dec 15, 2014 at 8:11 AM

click to enlarge Spoon - TONY ALBERT
  • Tony Albert
  • Spoon
LIVE 105's Not So Silent Night 2014
Saturday, December 13 (Night 2)
Oracle Arena
Better than:
Not saying "Merry Christmas" for religious reasons.

LIVE 105's holiday party unwrapped at home court this weekend, showcasing, as usual, the local radio station's commitment to providing its listeners with variety and quality in the "alternative" genre. The six-hour concert brought big name bands whose hit songs frequently broadcast over the airwaves in the Bay Area, with the station's DJs and personalities organized and emceed the night at Oracle Arena, keeping the audience entertained between sets with music and lowbrow comedy. The mostly family-friendly event catered to a diverse crowd of under-supervised teenagers, cool parents, and at least two grandparents, and a late influx of drunk Santas.

Vance Joy kicked off the night around 5:30 p.m., serenading the cavernous hall and the assembling legions of impressionable young people, many of whom stared wide-eyed at the Australian singer-songwriter. His instrumental arrangements followed a similar pattern, starting off with only Vance and his acoustic guitar, slowing building to a crescendo with bass, drums and some keyboarding filling out the wall of sound behind him. His minimalist style allows the singer's wide range to shine through brilliantly, with lyrics about love, moving on, and trying the best that you can sliding up and down the vocal register through a neatly-chiseled jawline.

He donned a ukulele for the up-beat "Riptide," a song that's infectiously catchy, easy to sing along to, and includes a reference to Michelle Pfeiffer — whose peak of fame occurred before half the audience was even born. Vance's cozy crooning warmed the room like an open fire, roasting chestnuts and caramelizing eardrums until tender.

click to enlarge TONY ALBERT
  • Tony Albert
Savvy indie rock dignitaries Spoon strutted on stage second to some atmosphere-setting low rumbling of feedback noise. Led by Britt Daniel, the veteran group charged into the choppy and distorted "Rent I Pay" from the band's new release They Want My Soul. Their relatively short set reaped material sown across a prolific 18-year music career, and longtime fans responded enthusiastically the opening notes of more well-known songs. Spoon are no strangers to big festivals in the Bay, coming off a stand-out performance at this past summer's Outside Lands.

Deserving of at least an hour all to themselves, they made do with the time constraints and punched through a set that exemplified Daniel's genre-blending of funk, post-punk and American art rock. The airy "Inside Out," also from their most recent album, provided the most dynamic departure of the set; fuzzy guitars were omitted for ethereal and reverb-laced keyboard arrangements as Daniel moved back and forth across the stage singing "Time goes inside out / I don't make time for holy rollers." Spoon made time for us, and showed why their methods of making and performing music are tried and true.

The alt-rock pride of Bowling Green, KY, Cage the Elephant pontificated more than they played, per se, adding a sermon of exalted joy to the holiday jubilee. Matt Shultz vaulted about the stage like man possessed by unholy spirits, jumping onto his band mates and into the audience three times during the feverish performance. Sweating profusely, he lurched through engaging music that highlighted the band's Southern tinge.

Most of their songs induced headbanging, or the at the very least an enthusiastic foot stomping characteristic of delta blues-influenced rock. The clearest examples of this from the set were the rousing "In One Ear" and "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked," where in the former Shultz repudiates naysayers between squealing blasts of guitar shredding and crashing drums: "It goes in one ear and right out the other / People talking shit but they can kiss the back of my hand." It's easy to say that Cage the Elephant is walking a well-trodden musical path, but the intensity of their live show sets them apart from other acts in the genre. Guitarist Brad Shultz broke a string on his acoustic guitar during the quixotic "Cigarette Daydreams," causing him to throw the fragile instrument across the stage in visible frustration after the song. Apparently not all elephants can be caged.
click to enlarge Interpol - TONY ALBERT
  • Tony Albert
  • Interpol

An integral part of the alternative rock resurgence during the early 2000s, Interpol took the stage next under dim lighting and an empty backdrop. In his typical morose presentation, Paul Banks skulked through a robust catalog of music in a baritone jowl. Briefly touching on material from their newest album, El Pintor, the band's performance leaned mostly on their first two timeless studio releases, bookended by the vigorous "Say Hello to the Angels" and the dexterous "Slow Hands." 

The well-dressed New Yorkers seemed aloof at times, keeping banter terse between songs and avoiding eye-contact with the audience. Guitarist Daniel Kessler made a bit of an effort to get people involved, wandering toward the front of stage-right and gesturing to the crowd as he plucked staccato eighth notes on his Gibson semi-hollow body ax. The slow-burning "NYC" and "Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down" were painted onto a museum-like canvas, where the art of music was to be appreciated from a distance; Interpol didn't give anybody a chance to get too close.

Alt-J was riding the most hype into NSSN, having secured a Grammy nomination for their latest album This Is All Yours. Additional lighting rigs brought on before their set were indicative to the band's visual style, and the four Brits all took up a position at the front of the stage in a line facing the audience. Performing a tribal electronica laced with sharp guitar plucking and a switchboard drum kit, the components of the band fused like a self-aware computer designed to make happy music. Confronted by precise but drifting phrases and a hypnotic back screen, the room bobbled along with the driving rhythm. Joe Newman's high pitched vocals wrap the instruments like tinsel, notably on "Something Good."

The band was the most talkative of the night, as keyboardist and audience liaison Gus Unger-Hamilton thanked the crowd numerous times. Happy to be back at NSSN for the second year in a row, he mused on the sequential date (12/13/14), gave a shout out to the Warriors, and announced several songs.
click to enlarge Alt-J - TONY ALBERT
  • Tony Albert
  • Alt-J
Before Imagine Dragons took the stage to close out the show with a lighted furor, the DJs and radio personalities of Live 105 came out one last time to thank the audience. Aaron Axelsen and co. have plenty to be proud of for making their terrestrial radio station relevant, especially in the current state of music consumption — although it was curious that the organizers didn't include a band from the Bay Area in their winter festival.

The headliners dove into a well-planned set of orchestral stadium rock that peaked with shimmering intensity and fell to somber but reassuring musical cuddling. Uplifting and motivational, their music begged the crowd to shout the lyrics. Lead singer Dan Reynolds pointed the mic toward the audience during the self-affirming refrain of "It's Time," coming off the stage and into the arms of his adoring fans in the front row. Well-polished and neatly trimmed at the edges, the performance unfolded with bureaucratic luster, illuminating faces in the room. As the night's festivities drew to a close, people trickled out, heading for a not so silent seat on the busy train home. 
click to enlarge TONY ALBERT
  • Tony Albert

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