Silversun Pickups @ Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, Providence, RI 10/17/09

Silversun Pickups at Lupo's, Providence, RI 10/17/09

Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel in downtown Providence is a venerable, mid-sized club that often finds itself overshadowed by concert venues in nearby Boston, only 55 miles to the northeast. Yet for years, this gem of the Ocean State has been consistently bringing big name talent to its 1200-capacity hall, and usually at a fraction of the cost seen at clubs just an hour away. For those who were lucky enough to catch the Silversun Pickups’ blistering 90 minute set there last evening, it was especially gratifying to know that even critically acclaimed bands who have broken through on a mainstream level continue to seek it out as a performance space.

Billed as a 40th birthday bash for local rock station WBRU, the celebration turned out to be an indie rock trifecta, with An Horse and Cage the Elephant taking the stage first in support of SSPU’s headlining set. As a result, the sellout crowd – a surprisingly diverse cross section of three different age brackets – was treated to a mélange of earnest indie pop, frenetic punk, and a barrage of fuzzed out psychedelic alt-rock.

An Horse (Brisbane, Australia’s Damon Cox and Kate Cooper) got the crowd warmed up with a confident set of tunes that included fan favorites such as “Post Cards” and “Camp Out” (off of 2008’s Rearrange Beds). The temperature in the room swelled immediately though after Kentucky’s Cage the Elephant began its set. If last year’s self-titled debut could be characterized as freewheeling or raucous, then the performance unleashed on the unsuspecting Lupo’s crowd was nothing short of unhinged anarchy. They may have been billed as support, but the band dominated the stage like the evening’s main attraction. Singer Matt Shultz was in non-stop seizure mode, po-going off of his band mates and knocking over amplifiers when he wasn’t throwing himself into the sweaty audience’s welcoming embrace. Hits like “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” and “Back Against the Wall” had a fair amount of exuberance on record, but on stage, they took on a decidedly gritty punk vibe, not unlike the defiant noise rock of Japandroids or No Age.

After an ill-timed transition in which two of WBRU’s DJ’s introduced Silversun Pickups to the tune of Portishead’s “Machine Gun” blaring from the PA system, the evening’s biggest draw eased into their set with a slowly percolating version of “Growing Old Is Getting Old” from this year’s Swoon. Brian Aubert’s vocals were buried deep in the mix underneath his own guitar fuzz and Joe Lester’s ethereal keyboard harmonies, but it seemed a moot point since a majority of the audience knew all the words by heart. After tearing through sprightly renditions of “Well Thought Out Twinkles” (off of 2006’s Carnavas) and “Sort Of,” it was clear that the band had found its comfort zone. Aubert’s serpentine presence at the mic and Chris Guanlao’s theatrical work on the skins – often a flurry of hair and appendages that recalled The Muppet Show’s drummer, Animal – added a fair amount of physical intensity to a set that was often juxtaposed by the reserved dispositions of Lester and bassist Nikki Monninger.

The poorly mixed sound that made the intro of “There’s No Secrets This Year” practically indiscernible didn’t seem to phase the band in the slightest, with Aubert eventually leaving his post behind the mic stand to prance around the monitors and soak up some love from the first few rows of adoring fans. By the time the call-to-arms lyrics of “The Royal We” were sung (“We are ready for the siege / and we are armed to the teeth”) the audience – particularly those enjoying some harmless crowd surfing on the floor – seemed ready to go wherever the band would lead them. Dressed in his trademark flannel shirt and dark jeans, Aubert’s first exchange with the crowd was fairly candid: “You guys are pretty fuckin’ awesome. Thank you very fuckin’ much.”

Balancing the night between their only two LP’s, SSPU’s first set came to a close nearly an hour later with two songs – “Panic Switch and “Lazy Eye” – that seemed as if they were written to close out shows. Truly impressive was the gargantuan wall of sound that Aubert was able to coax from his semi-hollow body guitar during both tunes. With its wistful lyrics and hook-laden melodies, “Lazy Eye” instantly stood out as the Pickups’ most recognizable single – an epic jam that would work just as well in a football stadium as it does in a club setting.

After going for broke with their two biggest songs, the band’s encore seemed a bit more like an afterthought, with only “Common Reactor” hinting at the energy that had run throughout the band’s first set. Though anti-climactic in some ways, it was a pleasure to hear Monninger take over lead vocal duties on the infrequently performed “Creation Lake” (off of 2005’s Pikul EP).

Silversun Pickups’ sound may translate much better in an outdoor venue (their Lollapalooza set this past August was one of the weekend’s best), but neither the muddied audio mix inside Lupo’s nor the unimaginative lighting – the band spent most of the night bathed in shades of blue and red – could take away from a set that championed the band’s unquestionable ardor and musicianship.