MUSIC: Concert Review: Velour's 4-Year Anniversary Celebration (Night 1)

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

Neon Trees

There’s been some griping recently (including some by folks at this publication) about the amount of indie-folk bands that permeate the local scene. Well, for those of you who hold that opinion, Friday night’s four-year anniversary show at Velour Live Music Gallery was tailor-made for you — not a folkie with a microphone in the house.

The show opened with a solid set from local up-and-comers and recent Velour Battle of the Bands finalists Gypsy Cab. If you’re into classic rock — and particularly Southern classic rock — and frequently find yourself wondering what happened to the “good ol’ days” of rock and roll, this is the band for you. Gypsy Cab are what Lynyrd Skynyrd would have sounded like had they grown up in the post-grunge, post-punk new millennium. A bit punchier than the likes of “Sweet Home Alabama,” et al., the group’s songs exude energy like you can’t believe — a feeling that was certainly helped along by a full-volume sound set-up on Friday evening.

While Gypsy Cab’s genre isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, they are certainly a talented group of musicians and it shows in their live performance. While I don’t think I would ever sit down and listen to one of their album’s for kicks, I love to watch them play. Lead guitarist and part-time vocalist Pat Boyer is undoubtedly one of the local scene’s most skilled axe-men and — I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again — his solos make me feel like the Nazi bad guy at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s a testament to the band’s live appeal that a slightly xenophobic song like set closer and fan favorite “Living in America,” which basically represents everything I personally find reprehensible about our national attitude of superiority, is still enjoyable and fun enough for Gypsy Cab to come off smelling like a rose.

Dance-rock locals Location Location took the stage second and fought through some sound problems to produce a solid set of danceable tunes. While it would have been easy for the band to succumb to the issues at hand and mail in Friday night’s performance after putting on such a big show the previous night in Park City (where they opened for national touring act The Bravery), they thankfully took the higher road and made it work.

Lead vocalist Marcus Bently turned in a great performance, his Springsteen-esque baritone-via-distortion-pedal providing a unique counter to his bandmates’ pulsing synths and pounding digital beats. While his voice isn’t one you’d expect to be fronting a dance-rock band (I’d normally expect a higher, reedier, more Ben Gibbard-y voice), Bently’s works because its different and, in a world where “new” electronica acts do nothing but shamelessly ape the genre’s proven pioneers (Owl City anyone?), that’s refreshing.

I’ll be honest — I don’t quite understand Seve Vs. Evan on an analytical basis. I listen to their recorded music and it shouldn’t work — it’s just straight-up, two-part dance-pop (nothing special) and lead singer Severin Bozung’s voice is mediocre at best. I tried so very hard to understand their appeal — how they became such local legends and why they have such an ardently die-hard fan base — and I couldn’t… until I saw them live at Cowboys and Indies in November.

While Seve Vs. Evan are probably not for everyone and they certainly don’t make the world’s “best” music, they are fun and this comes through best in their live performance. From their goofy stage banter and ridiculous antics to their legion of fans’ coordinated dance moves and exuberant energy, a Seve Vs. Evan show is some of the best fun you can have in Provo, period. Friday’s show was no different and, even though illness caused Seve’s voice to be even more “frog-like” (his words, not mine) than usual, the crowd’s energy was high and the band’s beats and keyboard licks slick, creating a magically good time for anyone willing to abandon their inhibitions and let loose.

Headliners Neon Trees are an interesting band and one I am inherently conflicted over. I’d never really given the band a proper listen or seen them live before Friday’s show, so I was essentially going in blind — I knew they were signed to a major label and I’d heard rave reviews from many a trusted friend, but that was about it. So it was with cautiously optimistic anxiousness that I prepared for Neon Trees to take the stage at Velour. Then they did — and I was horribly disappointed, at least for awhile.

Neon Trees are undoubtedly a supremely talented band. Vocalist Tyler Glenn has an elastic voice with unbelievable range that few in the business today could even dream of matching. (Adam Lambert comes readily to mind.) However, despite his obvious vocal talent, Glenn proves to be a polarizing frontman. His stage performance is very abrasive and even brash, causing a reasonable person to immediately either a) love him or b) loathe him. I initially took the latter course of action. While I recognized the talent, I couldn’t get over his ridiculous haircut and overblown outfit, not to mention the “rock star” swagger he was laying on so thick. I didn’t know who this guy thought he was, but I didn’t like him.

It didn’t help that the Trees’ first five songs seemed pretty mediocre as well. While they make an intensely marketable hybrid of (early era) Killers-esque dance-rock and standard emo post-punk, the band’s opening songs leaned heavily on the latter. More concerned with “rocking out” than crafting an aesthetically pleasing musical composition, the songs seemed to focus more on Glenn’s vocal pyrotechnics than any discernible hook or melody. The set’s first 25 minutes just felt like one long, eardrum-shattering slog — which is unfortunate, considering what happened next.

The band started to get better. Melodies started to emerge. Glenn became a little more loose and self-effacing and, thus, more likable. The poppy side of Neon Trees, apparently shackled in somebody’s basement for the set’s first half-hour, emerged victorious — and the result was a much better band and show altogether. Addictive sing-along pop anthems like “Animal” and “1983″ burrowed their way into my brain as Glenn used his otherworldly voice to greater thematic effect and created beautiful harmonies with drummer Elaine Bradley. I was being sucked in — my previous biases were beginning to melt away. The band’s four song encore continued apace with more excellent dance-pop jams. This was it. This was the band I had been expecting. I actually kind of liked this band. I left the show semi-stunned at the evolution that had transpired before my eyes.

So why did Neon Trees and I get off on the wrong foot? Well, I felt like Glenn and company initially (whether purposefully or not) put rock star bravado and pretentiousness ahead of what (I would subsequently discover) they do best — making great, enjoyable pop music, which is all they need to do. I have no doubt the band will find a mass audience and their debut album Habits (due out March 23rd on Mercury Records) will be wildly successful if they stick to their bubble gum-laden guns. Neon Trees don’t have to be “serious artists;” in fact, they’re ten times better when they’re not. “Animal” has continued to run through my head all morning long and I’m still not sure how I definitively feel about their Friday night set, but I do know one thing — Neon Trees have what it takes. They just need to stop themselves, as hard as it is, from reaching too far.

Velour’s 4-Year Anniversary Celebration continues tonight with a great folk-based lineup, featuring Isaac Russell, Moses, Desert Noises and the Archer’s Apple. Doors open at 8:00 p.m. Be there.

Steve Pierce is editor and co-founder of Rhombus.

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