Silversun Pickups (SSPU) formed in Los Angeles in 2000 and cut one of the best full length band debut albums of the modern era. Carnavas combined dynamic drumming, whisper/strained vocals, bass, keys and guitar in a refreshing mix that was sensitive and bracing. I always thought of them as a sunnier version of Chicago’s Smashing Pumpkins, maybe if the Pumpkins were raised where it’s not dusk at 3:30 in the winter and serotonin and vitamin D are plentiful.
I remember talking to SSPU after a thrilling show at the old Southgate House on the Carnavas tour. I’d just seen Sonic Youth at Pitchfork performing Day Dream Nation from beginning to end and I commented I’d love to see SSPU do the same with Carnavas someday. Lead singer Brian Aubert said that would be awesome if they were around long enough. Until then, SSPU continue to make new music and tour relentlessly. Their sixth album (Physical Thrills) opens up and expands on the atmospheric soundscapes, electronic loops and beats that have shown up over the years. Some tunes skew more towards Tame Impala than Smashing Pumpkins and it’s a satisfying evolution of their sound.
The new material shines in concert. “Stillness (Way Beyond) “opened with Spanish -sounding guitar picking over a trudging Trent Reznor-esque soundscape. The recurring guitar figure nagged and percolated as the song slid forward, Brian Aubert crooning in his high voice:
“Time it seems is not my friend
No other way this will end
At least it’s gonna feel so good…”
The band transitioned into the spare dominant percussion loops on “Sticks and Stones” and created an almost orchestral swell before launching into the frantic pummel of “Well Thought Out Twinkles.” Sequenced back -to -back with the new tracks, the Carnavas-era song sounded brutal and primal, the martial rat a tat of drums and blitzkrieg guitar reminding the crowd how hard SSPU can rock.
As dynamite as the guitar work is, the rhythm section is the true heart of the band.
Nikki Monninger is a powerful, intuitive bassist. No matter how sunny a song may be, her bass is unsettling, an almost menacing throb pushing the songs along.
Standing up close to feel the full brunt her playing was stunning.
Christopher Guanlao has always been an adept drummer and his creativity, shifting time signatures and force created a beautifully nuanced texture that meshed with Joe Lester’s beautiful keyboard soundscapes.
This version of the Silversun Pickups has been together for over 20 years; hopefully they stick around long enough to play Carnavas in toto in 2026.
Opener Paris Jackson was a complete surprise. Yes, that Paris Jackson (daughter of Michael Jackson, how many other Paris Jacksons in the music business spring to mind?). On her Instagram she calls herself a “mediocre Thom Yorke impersonator”. That’s beautifully self-deprecating but not fair at all. Tall, willowy and blessed with stage presence and star quality, she’s her own artist.
She sings beautifully and plays guitar well enough to hold her own during two solo acoustic guitar numbers. She’s rock royalty, but still humble and self-effacing; at the end of her set she thanked her band, the lighting person and her tour manager. Nice.
As for her set, musically it recalled a mid-90s alt rock sound (she’s 24). In the ‘90s, she would have been great on a bill with Veruca Salt or The Breeders, Garbage, maybe Juliana Hatfield; today it might be Bully or Phoebe Bridgers. Or Garbage (go Shirley Manson!).
Speaking of the ‘90s, the band did a cranked up, rocking version of Blind Melon’s “No Rain” that was a delight and let the band cut loose while Paris sang and danced across the stage with them with pure glee. Mediocre? Hardly. Keep rocking, Paris.