review by Michael McCarthy
all photos by Mary Ouellette
In just a short matter of four years Neon Trees has released three superb albums and toured almost constantly, making them one of the hardest working bands in the business by far. Going into their show at the House of Blues in Boston last night, I knew they had more than enough contagious tunes to come up with one hell of a set list, but I also knew that the Pop Psychology tour in promotion of their recent album of the same name, was winding down. To that end, I’ve been to hundreds of concerts over the years and shows during the later stages of an artist’s tour are always interesting because either the band has things down pat and plays perfectly like a well-oiled machine or they’re suffering from burnout and are just going through the motions to fulfill a contract and make some money. Well, I’m pleased to report that Neon Trees were at the top of their game last night, pouring not just energy but copious amounts of passion into their show.
The band began performing “Lessons In Love (All Day, All Night)” while behind a large white sheet that was concealing the stage. When the curtain dropped, the audience nearly fell silent for a second, everyone in awe of the stage. This being a club show, even if a larger club, nobody expected a stage even half as elaborate as what Neon Trees brought to town. Their stage was three levels, complete with stairs in the middle, and each level was crammed full of lights, this along with two towers — also full of lights — and two LED screens. It was the sort of stage you’d expect from a band headlining an arena tour, far exceeding anything anyone could have ever dreamed up for a club show. And the colors it emitted were glorious, almost as bright as the neon outfits the band is known for.
I hadn’t expected the band to do “Lessons In Love (All Day, All Night)” because the album version features dance music producer Kaskade, and I wasn’t sure they could mimic the programming he did on the track live, so it was a pleasant surprise when they opened the show with it. And, yes, they were able to translate the album version into a perfectly fine live version that had the crowd enthusiastically cheering and singing along. If you measured the volume of the crowd on a scale of one to ten, ten being the loudest, it was already a solid 9.
Up next was fan favorite “Your Surrender” from the band’s 2010 debut, Habits, and it was obvious that the massive swarm of fans in attendance were *serious* fans, the sort who know all of the lyrics to every song a band has done and sing along to them all. And, speaking of the fans, it appeared as though the audience was 75% female last night, most of which were probably college age. (The lines for the women’s restrooms must have been huge, but I was too busy watching the show to notice.)
I was excited when the band launched into “Love in the 21st Century” next. It’s the propulsive opening track from the Pop Psychology album and one of my favorite Neon Trees songs to date. It’s got such a lovely up-tempo vibe, not unlike previous hits such as “Animal” and “Everybody Talks,” both of which the band also delivered high energy performances of last night, each member clearly firing on all cylinders. Frontman Tyler Glenn was so intense that I found myself wondering how he can perform at that level night after night and not give himself a stroke.
One thing that really impressed the heck out of me last night was when the band’s drummer, Elaine Bradley, who’s also a very talented singer, joined Glenn at the forefront of the stage to perform two songs they’d done duet style on the band’s albums. The first was a song called “Unavoidable,” a very new wave-ish song with lots of gorgeous synth from the new album. Elaine also dueted with Glenn on the band’s cover of Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me,” which was a deluxe edition bonus track from their second album, Picture Show. Both of these tracks revealed the band’s fondness for the ’80’s and the fans ate them up. And as I was singing along to “Don’t You Want Me,” it occurred to me that most of the audience wasn’t even alive yet back when that song was a hit. That made me feel kind of old, but not as old as I felt when I tried talking to a couple of women last night and they were clearly not interested in chatting with me. Not that I really let that get to me. I was too busy enjoying the tunes!
Another highlight was an ebullient performance of “Sleeping With A Friend,” during which the audience was singing along so loudly that I could barely hear Glenn at one point. It’s not every day that happens to me at shows, given how loud concerts are. But, hey, that just gave me permission to also sing along at the top of my lungs and that was a blast.
The band did a few songs during the encore last night. The first track caught me off guard, as it was a cover of “Where Is My Mind” by the Pixies. I’ve never really been into the Pixies but somehow I knew it was one of their songs when the band started playing it, being that the Pixies have a very distinct sound that’s impossible not to recognize. And, being that the Tree’s version sounded so much like the Pixies, I’m assuming it must have been a faithful rendition. I’ll admit that my interest dwindled slightly during this song, but next up was “Everybody Talks” and I nearly jumped for joy during that one. (In fact, I would have been jumping up and down, over and over again, if I didn’t have a leg that’s weakened by nerve damage.) The volume of the audience was way, way off the charts during this one. But then it was already at a 10 after just a few songs into the set list. Finally, the band closed out the night with “First Things First,” the second to last song from the new album, and I found myself wondering how much Gatorade they were going to have to drink post-show to make up for all of the electrolytes they’d lost during the show. Without a doubt, this was a band at their peak, everyone sweating their asses off and giving it 110%.
TONIGHT: NEON TREES will be performing on Late Night with Seth Meyers. Don’t miss it – tune in at 12:35/11:35c on NBC.
Much, much thanks to Mary Ouellette for the crazy good photos accompanying this review. Visit her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MaryOuellettePhotography