Silversun Pickups growing with time

Christian Martinez,

There’s nothing quite like being in the crowd at a concert and seeing one of your favorite musicians take the stage for the first time. When the artist starts the first song, the excitement of the crowd is an experience unlike any other.

It feels like that when I watch Silversun Pickups, an alternative band from Southern California and owners of New Machine Recordings record label. Formed in 2003, the band has been touring internationally in the US and Canada recently in support of their newest album Better Nature which released in September 2015.

At their recent shows at the Greek Theatre at UC Berkeley and at the Fox Theater in Oakland, it was easy to see how the band has changed since I first saw them back in 2013.

Silversun Pickups, or SSPU for short, were originally formed by lead singer Brian Aubert and Nikki Monninger after their previous band, A Couples of Couples, split. After some lineup changes over the next year, Silversun Pickups are now comprised of Aubert on guitar and vocals with Monninger on bass and occasional vocals. Joe Lester plays keyboards and Christopher Guanlao plays the drums.

Aubert’s voice is a weird mix of raspy singing mixed with shouting that is balanced out by Monninger’s softer voice. There are a couple parts of certain songs where all four members are singing but for the most part it’s just Aubert and Monninger.

SSPU released their debut EP “Pikul” in 2005 and released their first full length album in 2006 named “Carnavas.” Their third studio album titled “Swoon” was released in 2009 and was met with with positive reviews.

It was a year after their 2012 album release of “Neck of the Woods” that I first watched Silversun Pickups perform live for the first time. In 2013, I saw them perform at Live 105’s BFD at the Shoreline Amphitheater and they definitely put on a show.

When performing, Silversun Pickups have a really basic setup of having Guanlao on the drums set in the middle of the stage with Lester on his right side and Monninger on the left side when facing the crowd. Aubert is center stage with a stationary microphone.

They start their performance by jumping right into a song and the song they choose changes each time they play a show. After transitioning from the intro song into the next, Aubert introduces the band and  thanks the crowd for showing up and then getting right back into another song. Aubert follows this pattern of playing a few songs then addressing the crowd with a little bit of banter.

Depending on the song, the lights that illuminate the stage change colors to match the tone of the song while it’s playing. The band likes to stick with different shades of blue and red and also throw in purple and orange to add to the effects of the colors. During guitar solos or when songs reach a fast pace, they incorporate white flashing lights to emphasise the sound of the guitar rapidly hitting all the notes.

Silversun Pickups performed at Live105’s Not So Silent Night in 2015 at the Oracle Arena. This was the same year they formed their own record label and released the full length albumBetter Nature.” At the time I enjoyed their sound as much as I did because I felt like nobody else in the alternative music realm at the time could emulate the raspy singing and screaming that I knew that SSPU had. Silversun Pickups performed at BFD 2016 where I saw them again only a couple months after their previous show in the Bay Area.

The band’s constant touring over the years makes every performance better than previous ones with better audience interaction and a change in sound from full-on rocking out to more serious tones. Overall, their growth as a band is evident when you experience the change in their now more interactive performance. The presence they have on stage has evolved from what used to be standing around with a head shake here and there — to fully jamming and losing control on stage.