Silversun Pickups Live in Los Angeles: 'It Doesn't Feel Like 15 Years, It Feels New to Us'
On Friday night (Oct. 2), Silversun Pickups played the Honda Stage at the iHeartRadio Theater in Los Angeles to showcase their newest album, Better Nature. It’s been 10 years since their debut EP, Pikul, was released -- but the bandmates proved that they haven’t lost their touch.
Only a select few alternative bands have been able to maintain such relevance for a long period of time. Christopher Guanlao, who acts as drummer for the L.A.-based band (alongside Brian Aubert on lead vocals and guitar, Nikki Monninger on bass and Joe Lester on keyboard and sound manipulation), points to a heartwarming reason behind their success: “We like each other still.” He acknowledges that the band has had its ups and downs, but tells Billboard, “We’ve gotten to the point where we know how to deal with things, we don’t have to deal with the crazy drama ... those days are over and none of us walked out. Because we’re friends and, really, family now first, then we are a band.”
Better Nature is the fourth album from the band, and with its release comes the beginning of a touring cycle. While constant touring and live shows can exhaust some musicians, it’s what drives Silversun Pickups. Guanlao explains, “We’re making a record so that we can go out and tour,” and Lester couldn’t agree more: “Recording is really fun, but it means that we can go play shows.”
For Guanlao, the reason live shows are so enticing is “the immediacy,” which is something their performance at the iHeartRadio Theater didn’t lack.
The band began with "Nightlight," the first single from their newest album, and despite only having had it for a week, the audience was ready to sing along. Monninger smiled as Aubert became a man leading a nation into revolution. When he wasn't behind the mic, he was at the helm of the stage getting the crowd involved in call and response. It was clear from the first song that more than a decade since becoming a band, they are still just as passionate as ever.
Although their sound has grown and developed over the years, the crowd loved the transition to throwback song “Panic Switch” just as much as they loved the new songs. It’s their consistency in sound that Lester thinks has helped them be successful. “When the four of us start writing music together, regardless of whether we’re trying to put ourselves in a comfortable position or go different directions, there is this kernel of the four of us always. The music that we make is always going to sound like us on some level … We’re gonna make a Silversun record, and we’re gonna try and do new things in our way.”
Watching them on stage, it’s clear what Lester and Guanlao mean by the band being family. Each member had their own personality, but all the movements were precise yet natural. Guanlao threw his long hair around the stage like a third drumstick. Lester was the most contained as he sat in front of his instruments tapping his foot and moving his head. Monninger was like a punk fairy as she bounced up and down in the same spot with a delicate fury. Aubert seemed to take up the whole stage as he sauntered around.
When they performed “Lazy Eye,” the whole band exploded at the same exact moment -- but out of instinct and connection more than routine. By the end of the song, Monninger let her bass slide off her body and onto the stage floor in triumph while Guanloa drew out the last few drum strokes with dramatic flair. For a band that performs with such synchronicity, it’s hard to imagine they ever overthink their places. But according to Lester and Guanlao, they can fall victim to nerves, too.
“I tend to space out. If I start thinking too much, I tend to f--- up … I tend to just space out and enjoy the moment,” Lester says.
“I’m very inward thinking, so I’ll have three conversations in my head while we’re playing because I’ll just be so overwhelmed with what’s going on with the adrenaline and the crowd and the lights and everything. Sometimes I’ll be doing the ‘don’t f--- up, don’t f--- up, don’t f--- up’ and I have to stop,” Guanlao chimed in.
Their sense of autopilot works for them. At no point during the night was there a song that took the mood down or mellowed out the crowd because the band members have a unique skill of knowing exactly what level of energy and mood each song needs. Whether it’s a softer song or a call-to-arms one, they play it without losing their magnetism.
It’s a skill that the crowd seemed to love. The audience stood engaged but respectful of the music. They erupted in cheers every break, laughed at Aubert’s comedic transitions and sang the words back at Monninger and Aubert.
In regards to their devoted fans, Guanlao says, “Maybe it’s people who have been following us throughout our careers, and if that’s the case, we’ve got good looking fans.” Lester adds, “It’s always been a pretty wide variance of people. There’s young people who are into it and then there’s been older folks who liked bands that we like too … and we somehow remind them of that. It’s always been a pretty wide cross section.”
As they ended the night on “The Wild Kind,” the last track off of their newest album, they played with childlike determination. Their technical talent was advantaged by their years of experience, which haven't jaded them. They play with the youthful exuberance of a band still performing in a parent’s garage. “Silversun was a live band for five years before we ever recorded anything, so that was where we cut our teeth,” explained Lester.
They walked off the stage stopping to wave to fans and blow them kisses. It was clear they were still in awe of their success and humbled by the love from their fans. As Lester said, “It doesn’t feel like 15 years. It feels new to us.”
Silversun Pickups Set List at iHeartRadio Theater in Los Angeles:
"Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance)"
"The Royal We"
"Cradle (Better Nature)"
"The Wild Kind"
UPDATE: An earlier version of this story had Brian Aubert's name misspelled. It has been updated.