It’s only three days since our last visit, so happily Oxford’s foremost live venue, the O2 Academy, has not had time to get round to get bought out and change its name again. After a thrilling show put on by White Denim last Friday, it’s the turn of Los Angeles-based Silversun Pickups to play the upstairs stage. They’re predominantly supported, as they have been throughout this tour in support of second album Swoon, by London band Animal Kingdom, who excitedly tell everyone that their debut single ‘Tin Man’ came out on the day of the gig. We don’t have to wait for them to get round to that particular song to hear some real quality from them though – they turn out to be a very proficient five-piece playing shiny, populist but eminently enjoyable rock. Their lead singer Richard Sauberlich has quite some stage presence, changing smoothly from guitar to keyboard to just vocals, which are usually treated to a large but effective dose of ech0. The songs often have glimmering, memorable choruses, but these are not relied upon exclusively – the band also demonstrate an ability to ratchet up tension, deploying it effectively in their successful campaign to warm this sold-out crowd for the main event.
It isn’t long before Silversun Pickups make their entrance. They waste no time in capitalising on the momentum built up by the support – there’s scarcely any room for slower or quieter moments in this set, which is largely characterised by heavier, slightly stripped-down rendtions of tracks from Swoon. Tracks like ‘It’s Nice to Know You Work Alone’ sound far more powerful here than they do on record; probably one of the biggest differences is drummer Chris Guanlao, who goes from relatively sedate on the album to an absolute powerhouse here. His most impressive trait is his stamina – during one of the last songs of the set, he plays a relatively simple but incredibly tiring-looking pattern for at least five minutes with barely a pause, throwing his arm as high in the air as he can with each hit – it’s transfixing stuff. Keyboardist Joe Lester is innocuous enough but for his reliably swirling atmospherics, but frontman Brian Aubert and bassist Nikki Monninger are quite an interesting pair. Aubert’s a real talker on stage – so much so that he frequently drowns out the rather soft-spoken Monninger. He jokingly vows never to play rival-city Cambridge again, toys with a group of fans who loudly speculate about the next song on the setlist, and is generally good fun. It’s only towards the end of the gig that I can find myself coming to terms with the fact that this voice comes from this man – Aubert’s otherworldly vocals sound natural enough on record, but it’s an enjoyably odd experience to see them coming out of an actual person.
The band return for an encore after a rapturous reception at the end of the main set, and someone shouts that they should play ‘Panic Switch’, despite the fact it’s been played before – Aubert slyly wags a finger before forging on. When all the throbbing drama is over, everyone seems thoroughly satisfied. As the rest of the band give a jovial wave and stroll back to the dressing room, Aubert treats us to literally minutes of ear-splitting amorphous guitar-chainsaw, encouraging some to leave earlier than they probably would have otherwise. It’s an oddly jarring end to what was otherwise an exciting, inclusive performance from a band who are decidedly different in a live setting.
Photos by Stevie Denyer