Monthly Archives: March 2016
Spring Fling: Cage the Elephant/Silversun Pickups/Foals/Bear Hands @ Save Mart Center, Fresno CA 03/11/16
MAJOR props to the promoters and KFRR New Rock 104.1 for bringing the Spring Fling to the Central Valley, and for an amazingly reasonable price too. We enjoyed excellent reserved seats for around 40 bucks each. The Fresno Save Mart Center is the newer arena in the city. Most people are familiar with Selland Arena downtown. Save Mart Center is the more modern facility situated near the Fresno State University campus, home of the Bulldogs. It’s a 10,000 seater but the upper deck was curtained off for this show, and it seems to be the trend for most rock artists that roll through there. I’m estimating that left the ticket pool to around 6,000. From my perspective, the floor and lower level were mostly full by the time the headliner took the stage. Consequentially, curtained off area made the arena appear a bit cavernous. Some have called Save Mart Center an odd choice of venue (many feel that it’s more appropriate for pop and country acts), but I think it’s the only venue that can accommodate such a large floor GA crowd while offering reserved seating too. I personally prefer this arena to Selland, however, Selland offers a bit more leg room in the seated areas. This was an alternative rock quadruple bill. While this package featured 4 alt-rock artists, an impressive amount of variety could be found with each group. The first opener was Bear Hands from Brooklyn, NY. This group is one those new beacons of light in the genre. They have a wealth of critical and fan support online, with many bloggers and columnists hailing them as one of the new heroes of Indie Rock. Dylan Rau’s voice and the group’s quirkily accessible songs have given Bear Hands a unique identity in the Alt-Rock world. Personally, my only exposure to this group up to this point were the singles “Agora,” “2am” and the breakout “Giants.” Ted Feldman’s guitar part was the first thing that grabbed me about “Giants,” the group’s first single off the Distraction album. It was a quirky but catchy tune – it was like the group put a bunch of (seemingly) unrelated musical ingredients into a blender and out popped this tasty indie flavored brew. There was the rhythmic electronic intro, choppy, staccato-like vocals, an ODB name check, a funky bass hook, spacey keys, and a guitar riff that took me somewhere…where, I’m still not sure, but damn it was cool. Live, it was even more enthralling. I wasn’t the biggest fan of “2am” when it was first released but it translated well in a live setting, that throbbing bass groove was so cool, something to chill out to, smoke out to, etc. The group played a very convincing set, setting the bar pretty high as openers. The group’s set was a brief 30 minutes but they were talented and entertaining. I wished I’d caught a headlining show at Strummers a year or so ago. This set was a great appetizer.
Next up was Foals from the UK. The group rocked it, their atmospheric yet hard hitting music struck a deep chord with the audience. I keep seeing Facebook posts from attendees saying “Foals killed it,” “bring back Foals,” “Foals were awesome, we had no idea who they were,” etc. etc. While Bear Hands provided more traditional indie stylings, Foals offered a more sophisticated and musically proficient set (with a bit of bounce). Of all the groups performing this night, Foals boasted trickier arrangements, dramatic stops/starts, changing dynamics, catchy keyboard hooks, celestial guitar sounds, longer song lengths, a passionate singer, and one hell of a drummer…while incorporating sick bass grooves and dance rhythms (just check out “My Number” and try NOT to move to it.) It was like hearing the best of new wave, alternative and progressive rock. Their singer, the Greek born Yannis Philippakis, had one of the most compelling voices: gentle and melodic at times, low and brooding on other occasions, and then that scream that comes out of nowhere. Damn. Back to their drummer, which I love, it’s refreshing to see a talented drummer who can play tightly while also being able to groove. Technically proficient drummers have the bad habit of sounding boring. More isn’t always a good thing. Not Jack Bevan, who can lay down challenging parts while keeping a heart pounding and memorable groove, “Snake Oil” and “Inhaler” for example. Best snare sound of the night also goes to Jack Bevan, high pitched and full sounding without that metallic tinny quality. The entire kit sounded so focused with great attack, it had to be a Tama Starclassic Birch set, very hi-fi sounding. And that snare, wow. It had cut as well as tone. Regarding their set, “My Number” had won us over, but the center piece of the set, and pretty much the moment that FLOORED Erica and myself, was the mesmerizing “Spanish Sahara.” It was more like a music piece, rather than a song in the traditional sense. The alt-rock epic was like a slow burning flame, growing ever brighter and more intense. The song was also very cinematic, the sounds took you to a place, mentally. And the slow building tension rose up like a wave while Yannis delivered his plaintive, sorrowful vocals. When I think of “Spanish Sahara” I also think of songs like U2’s “Bad,” King Crimson’s “Starless” and Radiohead’s “Exit Music.” Slow building, sentimental and dramatic. It grabs you and it’s hard not to pay attention and become enveloped by the sound. The entire set was impressive, with other standouts being the key track “Mountain At My Gates,” as well as “Providence,” “What Went Down” and the emotional “Give It All.” At the close of their 30 minute set, much of the crowd chanted “WE WANT MORE, WE WANT MORE!” as the techs hurriedly tore down the band’s equipment. There was little chance the band would come back out given the tight time schedule, but I hope the chanting brought smiles to the guys in the band. We would love to see these guys again. I can see how they make festival crowds go nuts.
The third act onstage was the Grammy nominated Silversun Pickups. Honestly, I was still trying to figure out why so many people have so much love for this group. To me, this group writes underwhelming music. I should like it, I mean they have obvious similarities to 90s alt-rock icons like Smashing Pumpkins, but I still wasn’t convinced. I initially didn’t have high hopes for this Spring Fling gig after a lackluster performance I saw as openers for Muse in 2011. That performance wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t necessarily good either. Sure they were in Muse territory, but the group still appeared listless and uninspired, like they were barely trying. Brian Aubert just stood there and the rest of the group didn’t leave an impression. This time around, the LA based group cranked it up a few notches and delivered an entertaining and spirited performance. Brian Aubert was having a great time. He strolled up and down the stage, interacted with the crowd and laid down his guitar parts with soul and sang with a ton of heart. He was all smiles and delivered a quality performance. The other band members also laid it down. Nikki Monninger on bass was a unique sight to see, her glittering dress acting like a shiny human shaped mirror ball. She provided backing vocals, additional keys and percussion while also trading lead with Brian on the spellbinding “Circadian Rhythm.” Joe Lester on keyboards played it cool, laying down his parts with an elegant and gentle flair. Chris Guanlao on drums was like a one man show onstage. His drum kit was unique, with his main crash positioned super high, well above his head and at a flat 180 degree angle. He also used multiple snares on his setup, with the main snare being lower in pitch with loose tension on the snare wires, making for a more rattley sound that blended well with the other band members. It was cool seeing Guanlao so into the performance, his mop of hair wildly thrashing around while pounding out his drum parts. The band had fun, with Aubert teasing Nikki Monninger before they eased into “Circadian Rhythm,” saying ‘Ok everyone, pay attention to Nikki on this one, you’re going to wanna watch her…ok Nikki, don’t fuck up!’ Silversun’s set was lower key in comparison to the first two groups, however they performed their brand of alternative rock with conviction and passion. They were very well received by the crowd, even filling in on the ‘We want it!’ sections of “Night Light.” They won my respect and I couldn’t help but feel like I witnessed something special this time around. They performed for an hour and stand out performances included “Panic Switch,” “Night Light,” “Latchkey Kids,” Wild Kind,” and “Lazy Eye.” I was looking forward to hearing “Bloody Mary” but it didn’t make the set this night. Great set and a great addition to this quadruple bill. I’ll never bad mouth Silversun Pickups again.
The final group on the bill was Cage the Elephant, also Grammy nominees. The band hit the ground running the moment they jumped onstage, opening with a trio of high energy rockers “Cry Baby,” “In One Ear” and “Spiderhead.” Singer Matthew Schultz constantly grooved and slinked across the stage, barely stopping to rest. I have no idea how the man can move like that and still have good breath control, but he pulled it off and made the audience crazy. It was a very cool surprise to see how commanding the group was and how rabid the fan reaction was, proving themselves more than worthy of the headlining slot. CTE is touring as a 6 piece with additional help on keyboards. Nick Bockrath is playing lead guitar and pulled off his parts with ease and looked very much like a confident, capable lead player. The whole group had great stage presence and were having a great time, especially the Shultz brothers, while bassist Daniel Tichenor enjoyed the show from his position with a laid-back coolness. Jared Champion’s drum performance was very unassuming, very reserved, but those aren’t bad things. He laid down his parts, no frills and bull-sh*t free. With music like theirs, Champion has to keep the train rolling and he did so without a single clam. Hailing from Kentucky, CTE’s style was loose, bluesy, funky, with a grittiness that set them apart from the three previous groups. Theirs was a raw sound with a Southern vibe kind of in keeping with early Kings Of Leon, but with a lot more swagger. You could hear classic rock in the vein of Skynyrd and The James Gang in there too, with a bit of punk and glam. They reminded me of a LOT of different groups, even The New York Dolls and Bowie. This hodge podge of sound made CTE uniquely versatile, in a way much different from say, Foal’s sense of versatility. They used a twin guitar formula, perfect for sweaty romps like “Aberdeen,” “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicket” “Shake Me Down,” Sabretooth Tiger” and “Mess Around.” Even deep into their live set, Matthew still had a super human amount of energy. To say his performance was energetic would be a massive understatement. The group played a massive headlining set, around 20 or 21 songs in length. They were relentless. And while they could pound out rockers and punk inspired numbers, they could also effectively dial things back and perform a gentle piece like my favorite song of theirs, “Cigarette Daydreams.” Matt’s vocals are so soulful on that number, with this sweet vulnerability. You think his voice is about to crack while crooning those sentimental lyrics, but he keeps it together, sweet and honest. This was a surprisingly awesome package tour. I knew it would be good but underestimated how great it could actually be. There’s nothing like being there and the music becomes something else in a live setting. We enjoyed the show and were fortunate enough to catch it that Friday evening. Several fans posted on KFRR 104.1’s Facebook page, applauding the station for helping to get a show like this to our little area. So long as people go and support this kind of thing, hopefully the same acts and similar groups will make a stop in Fresno and the Central Valley.