Music blogs love to hate Silversun Pickups, brushing them off as a low rent Smashing Pumpkins. Besides the sound (the Pickups sound uncannily like the Pumpkins circa their criminally-underrated b-side collection Pisces Iscariot), there are the matching initials, the sweet-voiced female bass players and the lanky frontmen with similarly metallic-sounding voices. But when they rolled into the Phoenix on Wednesday night for a sold-out show, they proved that anyone dismissing them as such is missing out in a huge way.
Opening band Sea Wolf (another one for the Wolf list), were entertaining enough, though not particularly memorable. A muddy sound mix unfortunately made it difficult to hear many of the instruments on stage, particularly the cello. They opened their set with a song that started off with an intriguing accordion-like synth intro but, as would happen later on with a nifty siren sound, they abandoned any promise the quirky beginning had by launching into a fairly straightforward pop-rock tune. Still, the band was hard not to like with their earnestness and props go to the synth player for doing a great job while being hit on constantly by the boys in the first couple of rows.
SSPU, as they call themselves, tore it up from the minute they stepped on stage. Opener “Well Thought Out Twinkles” had a ferocious energy that held for the entire show. Singer-guitarist Brian Aubert ventured out to the very edge of the stage more than once, sending the first few rows into a frenzy each time. Drummer Christopher Guanlao bashed the skins with an impressive intensity, throwing his arm straight up into the air and bringing it crashing down with each snare hit.
The band ripped through songs from their debut full-length, Carnavas, and engaged the audience with a genuine excitement. When Aubert grinned and said, “I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited to be here right now,” it was hard not to believe him. His manic laugh and bassist Nikki Monninger’s shy, delighted smile made it obvious they were actually having fun.
By the time they got to “Little Lover’s So Polite” about halfway through the show, SSPU had proven a couple of other things as well. First, they showed just how possible it is to make a boatload of noise with only one guitar, and second, they demonstrated that they’re a band that has mastered the art of a good melody. The songs were infectious and there was no sign of the typical stoic Toronto audience—fans were jumping and dancing like they had no choice.
SSPU saved the best for last, with catchy standouts “Kissing Families,” “Lazy Eye” and “Common Reactor” rounding out the main part of their set. For a loudly demanded encore, they returned to the stage to play three songs from their excellent 2005 EP Pikul. Monninger sang on the last song of the night, closing out the show with her lovely, crystalline voice. It was an excellent denouement to a set of unexpectedly blistering rawk.
Photo by Carrie Musgrave.