By Ryan Mac
Maybe Live 105 should think about renaming its annual December shindig. Ear drum exploding night? Death by sound at dark? “I-regret-not-getting-plugs-at-the-entrance” evening?
Whatever you want to call it, Not So Silent Night seems like a dangerous yuletide understatement. For those expecting a slight upgrade from church choirs and carolers, this was anything but. NSSN 2010 at HP Pavilion in San Jose was a sonic punch to the side of the head. Featuring a lineup that ranged from newly Grammy-nominated indie supercollab, Broken Bells, to the aural encapsulation of teenage angst, My Chemical Romance, the annual Bay Area mini rock festival was an eclectic mix of some of the loudest acts heard in a while.
Amid confusion about set times, Broken Bells – the collaboration effort of the Shins’ vocalist James Mercer and Brian Burton, better known as Danger Mouse – took the stage to warm up a growing general admissions crowd for the night’s festivities. The show was nothing short of spectacular, but with a lackluster crowd that was mostly composed of punk-goth children waiting for My Chemical Romance, the energy in the arena was kept low. During the set, Broken Bells released not-so-new material, “Meyrin Fields,” eventually climaxing with “High Road,” the crowd favorite.
The Black Keys, made their intro with “Brothers” opener, “Everlasting Light.” With the crowd coming to life, the duo, backed by a touring bassist and keyboardist, hardly stopped their relentless performance to breathe. During the performance, guitarist and vocalist Dan Auerbach often strummed his guitar with a maraca, before setting it down for the many, howling guitar solos. Notable highlights in their performance included “Your Touch,” “Howlin’ For You” and Grammy-nominated “Tighten Up.” To finish off the last two songs of their set, Auerbach wanted to “end it the way they started,” without a bassist and keyboard player, still gifting the crowd with a musical tour de force.
Phoenix were next up, and they broke the ice with their radio hit “Lisztomania.” Overall their act was a bit lower key than usual, mostly due to the arena setting and time constraints. Plus, as frontman Thomas Mars pointed out, this was one of their last shows on a long, long tour. Even after all this time, the favorites from “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” were still exciting. The shorter stage time meant Phoenix unfortunately had to cut “Love Like a Sunset,” “If I Ever Feel Better” and the never-ending sing-along in “1901″ from their normal set list, but the San Jose audience did still get the classic lesson from Mars on the French method of syncopated clapping for concerts.
Not So Silent Night is probably the only place in the world where a band like Phoenix would play right before a band like My Chemical Romance. Nearly the entire front section of the audience changed as plaid and bright colors flooded away from the stage and black-clad, teenage angst swarmed forward in anticipation for the next band. Probably best known for “Welcome to the Black Parade” and “Helena,” the New Jersey band still has the ability to connect with teenagers, and they know it. Lead singer and comic book writer Gerard Way announced “San Jose, if you wanna mosh, mosh!” just after My Chemical Romance opened with their annoyingly infectious new hit “Na Na Na.” The set was more loud than musical, but even that effect was ruined when they closed their set with a quiet song bidding the crowd farewell.
Despite Gerard Way’s notably bright-red hair, the most anticipated hairstyle of the event was Billy Corgan’s distinctly bald head. It all makes sense why Billy Corgan has had a shaved head since The Smashing Pumpkin‘s performance on Saturday Night Live in 1995. On top of adding to his intrigue, it also makes it impossible to tell Corgan has aged at all. In fact, it’s impossible to tell how old anyone is in the band, since Corgan has replaced all other members. The big question was, would they try and advertise their new music or return to the old favorites?
Their set list was fascinating. They opened with “The Fellowship” off their second release toward the megaproject “Teargarden by Kaleidyscope,” but quickly settled into the classics, starting with “Today.” “Ava Adore” and “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” were unquestionable highlights from the entire night as well. Corgan’s voice showed a bit of deterioration during the acoustic cover of “Landslide,” but if anything, it just made it more croaky and unique. In fact, Corgan’s weirdness made the entire set entertaining, and his smiling made it obvious he was enjoying every minute. Even if the significance of The Smashing Pumpkins was lost on some of the younger My Chemical Romance fans, it’s hard to imagine anyone not recognizing the 1996 single “Tonight, Tonight,” which ended a fantastic night of music.
A version of this review appeared at Treeswingers.com on Sunday, Dec. 12.