Friday, July 13, 2012

Neon Trees, Penguin Prison, & JJAMZ: Live At The 9:30 Club

The moment it was announced that Neon Trees would be headlining a summer tour, I knew it was necessary that I attend this show.  When the band's sophomore album, Picture Show, came out in April, it became a staple in my daily playlist.  The record took everything that their debut had and built upon it, confirming that they are indeed a band to take notice of.

On July 11, the band checked into Washington DC's very own 9:30 Club as part of the summer tour sponsored by Nylon and Starbucks, which was evident by the banners draped across the venue's interior.  The tour runs from July 9 to August 22 and reaches a total of 22 dates.  For the first half of the tour, including the sold out DC date, Penguin Prison and JJAMZ will be taking the stage as the opening acts.  All of this makes for one extraordinary night.

There was a unexpected jolt of excitement before the door time of 7:00 even arrived, as all three bands were outside of the venue gathering gear and prepping for the concert.  A long line of anxious fans, including myself, snapped pictures and said a passing hello before heading inside.  Hey, a moment like that can't be missed.

The first opening band was JJAMZ, that's pronounced "Juh-Jamz".  They're something of a supergroup, as each member comes from another act.  The lineup consists of James Valentine of Maroon 5, Jason Boesel of Rilo Kiley, Alex Greenwald of Phantom Planet, solo musician Michael Runion, and Z Berg of The Like.  Arrange the first letters of their names, in that order, and you have JJAMZ.  They play extremely catchy pop music, but it's their stage presence that really adds to the package.  They couldn't look any happier as Z Berg danced around the stage, while the band shot playful gestures towards each other.  You should definitely check out their new album, Suicide Pact, which just came out this week.

After JJAMZ' short set, Penguin Prison approached the stage.  Chris Glover is the man behind the name.  His music is an 80's throwback dance party, and you may have already heard "Don't Fuck With My Money" or one of his many remixes.  It was evident from the start of the set that Penguin Prison was there to make people move.  Immediately, Glover jumped off the stage and went straight for the crowd.  This high energy was a common theme throughout the night.  Penguin Prison played the majority of his debut album along with a few non-album tracks, one of them being his RAC collaboration, "Hollywood".

With two stellar performances by JJAMZ and Penguin Prison already complete, the lights went down for Neon Trees.  The room was completely dark, except for a single microphone stand that gave off a purple glow.  A short instrumental intro, which was reminiscent of something Michael Jackson would do, transitioned into the opening notes of "Moving In The Dark".  With Chris Allen on guitar, Branden Campbell on bass, and Tyler Glenn on vocals and keyboard, the venue exploded.  The band is currently touring with a session drummer due to their regular drummer and backup vocalist, Elaine Bradley, being on a pregnancy leave.  Upon first sight, one might think they were witnessing a classic glam rock concert.  It's as if the band's wardrobe is the result of a neon rave colliding with a punk concert. There were platform shoes, pinstripe leggings, spiked leather jackets, and tri-colored suits.

One thing is certain, Neon Trees give everything they have when they perform.  Tyler Glenn is spinning across the stage one minute and swinging the microphone around his neck the next.  He's also the only person I've ever seen play the keyboard with their face.  To do that every single night takes some dedication, which is exactly what this frontman has.

The band balanced the setlist between both of their albums, switching between crowd favorites such as "1983" and "Lessons In Love (All Day, All Night)".  When the time came for "Mad Love", the only full out duet they've recorded,  the band introduced a pre-chosen fan to sing Elaine's verse.  Halfway through the show, Chris and Branden left the stage as Tyler sang a solo piano version of "Your Surrender".  This was the most intimate moment, as the audience screamed along.  Other highlights included powerhouse performances of "Love And Affection" and "Trust".

The two songs that generated the biggest reaction were none other than "Animal" and "Everybody Talks", the latter of which is currently plastered on the radio.  "Animal" served as a turning point of some kind.  Everything went up yet another notch, from loud to louder.  Yes, towards the end of their set, there was a stage dive and Tyler surfed the screaming crowd.  The evening concluded with a final encore performance of "Everybody Talks".  It was the full package, complete with those signature dance moves from the music video.

If you ever have the opportunity to see Neon Trees live, do it!  The same goes for JJAMZ and Penguin Prison.  It was an incredible night that I won't soon forget.  Neon Trees control the room with a performance that's simply amazing.  They put on a rock-dance hybrid show that will most definitely have everybody talking.

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