Rising pop-rock icon OK Go, cutting-edge eclectic foursome Neon Trees and Rhode Island-based BRU favorite Fairhaven opened the WBRU Dunkin’ Donuts Holiday BRU-haha at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel on Friday.
The atmosphere was suspenseful — the merchandise desk was aggressively handing out 3D glasses in preparation for OK Go, whose performances are known to be (sometimes absurdly) experimental — as the opening act took the stage. Fairhaven demonstrated a standard indie rock aesthetic, broken up by a percussion-heavy interlude. At times, the self-described melodic alt rock band sounds slightly like a boy band, but subtly enough to be taken seriously. Lead singer Alan Connell’s voice has hints of Incubus’ Brandon Boyd in some numbers, such as the particularly infectious single “Worth it All.” The members are also gracious, taking time after the show to chat with fans before heading off with OK Go. Fairhaven’s potential has proven high enough catapult them out of their Cumberland, RI hometown.
Neon Trees: the name begs the question, naturally mutated or genetically engineered?
Genetically engineered. Neon trees is a product of its time. The crowd’s first impression of lead singer Tyler Glenn came from the way he greeted the camera phones elevated above the crowd as he strutted onstage: by taking snapshots of the audience with his own camera. Okay, so he’s into the whole postmodernism thing, blurring the boundaries between spectacle and spectator, breaking the fourth wall, etc. And you know what? It works.
Neon Trees’ engaging act riled up the audience with loud electric chords as Glenn owned the stage, shuffling and skidding with abandon. He seduced the crowd with the contagiously hypersexual “Animal,” demanding, “I want to see the animal inside of you.” Fans’ feet thudded on the floor as their hands made claw configurations.
It occasionally seemed Glenn was trying to occupy the niche of Lady Gaga. He dedicated a danceable performance of “Sins of My Youth,” for example, to “the weirdos and the misunderstood freaks like me.” The band’s look accentuates this image, between Glenn’s Mohawk and loud red jacket and the rest of the band’s hairstyles and outfits.
Neon Trees has been compared to (and has opened for) The Killers, which makes sense in light of the band’s intentionally freakish, edgy image, electric guitar-heavy sound. Glenn also sounds a bit like Brandon Flowers on recordings. But live, his voice is pleasantly screechy, the way a less hardcore version of Coheed and Cambria might sound. Neon Trees also distinguishes itself with blues undertones.
The energy Neon Trees brought to the stage and the crowd only heightened the anticipation for the night’s headliner. A screen of paisley patterns appeared in the background, inspiring audience members to fiddle with their 3D glasses to no avail. At long last, after a torturously long introduction by students from BRU, a huge stream of confetti fell from the stage, framing the band’s bright monochromatic suits. “So you were born in an electrical storm,” Ok Go lead singer Damian Kulash ’98 hissed the first line of “Do What You Want” — a perfect opening song, with its purely fun tone and lyrical content. Next came a similarly confetti-filled “Don’t Ask Me,” a rant about an ex-lover sung with delightfully petty indignation, which started a mosh pit and a series of disruptive crowd-surfers.
The 80s-influenced indie rock group alternated between catchy classics like “Invincible” and “A Million Ways” and hits from its latest album, incorporating more dance beats and synthesizing, such as “This Too Shall Pass” and “Skyscrapers.”
Kulash announced that, during the band’s early days, an epic mistake taught them not to play a hit more than once during a concert. But, he said, it’s time to break that rule. Before playing “White Knuckles,” a new release with apparent disco and funk influences, Kulash informed the crowd what the 3D glasses were for. Later on, a 3D version of the music video — in which the band dances with canine accompaniments, deeming the film painfully adorable — would be screened. He warned everyone that if they put the glasses on the wrong way, their brains would “freak the f*ck out.”
Kulash was paying tribute to his former town of residence, whose inhabitants he described as “dirty.” To wash them of their sins, the whole band graced Lupo’s with a rendition of the melodic ballad “Return” entirely on bells, “the instrument God himself invented … invented … invented,” Kulash said in an echoed movie trailer voice-over tone.
Ok Go comes off as exceptionally loyal to fans — ironically, a strategic move, but nevertheless probably genuine. Kulash waxed sentimental, saying he would love to share his microphone with all the attendees, just as he wishes the world could share a bottle of Coca Cola so everyone would get “a few molecules.” The band’s fan base is such that using the word “molecules” is endearing rather than alienating.
How could anyone, male or female, gay or straight — asexual for that matter — not fall in love with Damian Kulash? It must be the charisma, the sultry voice, the nerdy flair, and the fact that he looks good even in a strange bright blue one-piece suit. Case in point: His entrance into the crowd, which he called “hippie time,” provoked frenzied grasps and hormonal screams from pretty much every demographic.
Afterward, the “White Knuckles” video caught everyone’s attention when a puppy seemed to leap out of the screen, followed by the number that even non-fans could sing along to, “Here it Goes Again,” known for its Grammy-winning video.
Supremely adrenaline-pumping were “Get Over it,” the heaviest head-banger, and “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time,” whose pauses childhood friends Kulash and bassist Tim Nordwind prolonged by exchanging playful glances, eliciting rowdy shouts.
Along with delivering the hummable guitar riffs and quirky vocals evident on its albums, OK Go did not let Lupo’s down with its spectacle. The band lived up to its reputation for using novel devices in live shows and videos. “We have the technology to be f*cking magical!” Kulash exclaimed gleefully like a child in a toy store. During the encore, the band came out in black jackets with one letter of “OK Go” in lights on each back, so that before the lights reappeared, one could only see the floating band name. Then, of course, the guitars came into play, beaming red and green through the crowd, whose fingers fruitlessly tried to snatch the light rays and take them home. But they didn’t need them; the night was too memorable for souvenirs to do it justice. Besides, confetti already dangled from guests’ hair and clothing as they trekked back up Washington Street.