Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Forest for the Trees

Neon Trees
27 May 2011: House of Blues, Cleveland, Ohio

Tracy emailed me while I was on the road last week about the Neon Trees show at the House of Blues. She usually goes to her "new alternative" shows with her friend Betsy, but Betsy was unavailable and the tickets were only $8, so I offered to go with her. I figured after being out of town for a few days I couldn't beat that price for an evening out with my wife and the chance to hear some new music.

The last few shows we've been to at the House of Blues have been general admission, including the balcony seating. I don't know if that is their policy across the board now, but it's great. We arrived after eight, and the first opening act, Eastern Conference Champions, were already playing. The trio finished out their short set with all three of them drumming like mad when vocalist/keyboardist Josh Ostrander and bassist Melissa Dougherty joined Greg Lyons on his kit for an all-drum finale.

After a short break, the second of the three bands I'd never previously heard took the stage – The Limousines. Just by virtue of being two guys and a synthesizer, they immediately endeared themselves to me. Although they live somewhere between '80s synthpop giants like Erasure and Pet Shop Boys, and new millennia electronica superstars Daft Punk, they are worthy of that mantle by merging it all and spitting it back out as indietronica.

Live, there is a healthy dose of '90s Prodigy energy in the mix as well. While songwriter and vocalist Eric Victorino treads expected but not unwelcome frontman territory, it’s great to see multi-instrumentalist Giovanni Giusti break the stoic Vince Clark/Chris Lowe mold and rock out on stage among his computers and keyboards and iPads and drums! The duo push pop music to its logical next step with catchy-as-hell, incisive tracks like the “Internet Killed the Video Star” and “Very Busy People” singles. Hip-swayingly ironic without being fake, “Internet” announces “The kids are disco dancing; they’re tired of rock and roll. Don’t bother telling them that drum machine ain’t got no soul.” “Very Busy People” is a blissfully self-aware Millennium Generation anthem about ending up “numb from playing video games,” empty pizza boxes, and Donnie Darko. Other highlights of the set were “Dancing at Her Funeral”, “Flaskaboozendancingshoes” (perhaps my favorite of the night), and “Wildfires,” all off their 2010 debut Get Sharp.

Discovering the Limousines made the entire night worthwhile, and inevitably meant I was going to be let down by Neon Trees no matter what they did to try and win me over. While I appreciate Neon Trees’ message and understand why my wife digs them, they just weren’t my cuppa. But it was easy to sit back and enjoy the clearly devoted fanbase’s enthusiasm, including my wife’s need to dance.

One of the nice things about shows at the House of Blues is that more often than not the bands will be out in the lobby after their sets and after the show to meet fans and hang out. It was great to meet Eric and Giovanni from the Limousines and talk with them a little bit about their influences and thank them for a great show. Neon Trees were also out after the show, and Tracy wanted to meet them, so we waited in line for the opportunity to have them sign her ticket. There was a moment while Tracy was meeting the band that really struck me – it seemed to embody the coolness of the Neon Trees’ lead singer, Tyler Glenn. I was just hanging back behind Tracy while she was meeting the band. Not being a fan of the music or having any idea who the members of the band were, I simply didn’t have anything to say to them. But Tyler noticed me and, probably assuming I was a star-struck fan who didn’t know how to break the ice, reached out his hand to shake mine, thanked me for coming and hoped I’d had a good time. Although a bit of mistaken identity, I thought that was a really cool thing for him to do. And if I actually was that tongue-tied fan he assumed I was, his simple gesture would have made my night. Instead, he earned my respect.

On the whole, it was $16 well-spent… I discovered three new bands, one of which really got me excited. I got to chat with the various bands, hang out with my wife, and revel in her enjoyment. I call that a good night.

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