Confession time: I walked into this concert knowing exactly one (1) song by the headlining band, Silversun Pickups, a Los Angeles alt-rock band with shoegaze influences. Am I a fake fan? Maybe. However, that didn’t stop me from having a blast at their performance at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville on 7/21 with alt-pop duo, I Don’t Know How But They Found Me (iDKHOW). I attended the concert on a whim—I was already a fan of IDKHOW, a duo composed of vocalist/bassist Dallon Weekes (formerly a member of Panic! At The Disco) and drummer/backup vocalist Ryan Seaman (formerly a member of the metalcore group, Falling in Reverse) but significantly less familiar with the headliners. For that reason, I got a real laugh out of the playfully self-deprecating song IDKHOW opened their set with: “Nobody Likes the Opening Band.” Weekes, whose star-spangled button-down and theatrical mannerisms gave him big Uncle Sam meets vaudeville star vibes, implored the audience to, “Take pity on the opening bands /'Cause no one came to see them /Except their mom and dad.” The grand irony of the whole thing is that a significant chunk of the audience (myself included) was there primarily to see the opening band. While waiting in line in the parking lot outside of the venue, I spotted plenty of concert-goers sporting iDKHOW merch. An audience member went so far as to shout out, “But I came to see you guys!” after another one of Weekes’ tongue-in-cheek quips about the audience probably thought the band was just “some Twenty One Pilots rip-off.” The set lasted about a half-hour, featuring fan-favorite songs from their EP, 1981 Extended Play, including “Choke,” where Weekes manages to deliver deliciously dark lyrics with a smile as well as infectiously groovy “Do It All the Time.” The duo also performed a few covers, such as a rendition of the Hot IQ’s “Iggy Pop” that had the crowd clapping along. Seaman shined on the drums, punctuating the beat with expressive head-bangs. Overall, Weekes and Seaman brought great energy and really built a strong rapport with the crowd. It’s hard not to make comparisons between IDKHOW and the other bands Weekes and Seaman have been a part of, but the two have carved out something for themselves with their dismal lyrics paired with cheerful 80s synth grooves.
About a half-hour after IDKHOW exited the stage, the antsy crowd was rewarded for their patience as the screen obscuring the stage rolled up to reveal Silversun Pickups. Even though the screen had been used to project advertisements during the wait between sets, there was still something symbolic about it being raised to signal the start of an act and lowered to signal the end; it functions as a sort of red curtain for the Starland Ballroom. The curtain rose. Joe Lester was settled on the left on the keyboard, Nikki Monninger was stationed on right on the bass, vocalist Brian Aubert was dead center, and drummer Chris Guanlao resided on a raised platform towards the back of the stage. The band opened with, “Neon Wound,” a song with a suspense-driven intro off of their new album Widow’s Weeds. They followed with infectious “It Doesn’t Matter Why” and had the crowd singing along with them. Monninger’s vocals stood out on “Freakazoid” (probably my favorite track) where her hypnotic chanting gave the song another dimension. The band switched gears, playing “The Royal We,” a song featuring biting guitar riffs paired with equally biting lyrics from the album, Swoon (2009). Later, they played crowd-pleaser “Kissing Families” (this was the sole song I knew going in) off of their inaugural album, Pikul (2005). After “Growing Old is Getting Old,” another song from Swoon, they exited the stage, but returned after a few minutes to thrill the crowd with an encore featuring “Straw Man,” “Well Thought Out Twinkles” and “Lazy Eye.” Like IDKHOW, the band endeared themselves to the crowd with modesty. However, they did so in a less self-conscious manner than IDKHOW; Aubert took a moment to speak about how grateful the band is that they get to come out and perform and did not stray into blatantly self-deprecating territory.
Returning to Widow’s Weeds, the songs the band performed from the album had a rawness and an intensity that we miss a little bit on the studio versions. In her review of the album, Zoe Camp, a Pitchfork contributor criticizes the group for playing it safe. She compares the songs on the album to “the plastic-packed fruit one finds at the grocery store,” lamenting the absence of rawness and punk rock realness in the studio tracks. If the studio tracks are pristine but lifeless packaged fruit, the songs played live were the equivalent of the reddest, juiciest, vine-ripened Jersey tomato you’ve ever seen.
Something that surprised me was the range of ages in the audience; the youngest person I saw could have been 7 and the oldest could have been 65. I do not know if this is a reflection of the fan bases of IDKHOW and Silversun Pickups or more of a reflection of the folks who frequent the venue. A raised platform with tables and chairs for the 21+ members of the audience surrounded a square-shaped dance floor that was accessible to all ages. It was a little strange to be seeing a concert in a space where I easily could’ve been attending a wedding reception or bar mitzvah (I half-expected a DJ to announce the “Cha-Cha Slide”) but it did the job. I usually have to factor in a train ride to Philly or New York if I’m going to a show so it was nice to be able to drive less than an hour to a venue and be able to drive home right after. Overall, seeing IDKHOW and Silversun Pickups at the Starland Ballroom was a really great experience and I would love to see both bands again in the future.