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Concert review: Neon Trees and The Lower Lights

by on April 8, 2012

Provo’s dance-punk crew Neon Trees are on the verge of releasing their second full-length, Picture Show, on April 17, and soon will be embarking on a tour sure to take them to all corners of the globe, just as their platinum-selling 2010 debut Habits did. In the next few weeks, they’ll appear on Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien and the Today show, and anyone who watched five minutes of the NCAA basketball tournament probably has seen their Buick commercial. It’s shaping up to be a hectic year as Neon Trees try to avoid the so-called “sophomore slump” and keep growing as a band.

Before all that, though, the quartet decided to showcase a slew of the new Picture Show tunes at a benefit concert Saturday night at Orem’s Mountain View High School, with the proceeds going to the Giant Steps preschool that specializes in working with autistic kids. Neon Trees bassist Branden Campbell’s son is just finishing two years at the school, and his wife Emilie took the lead in planning the show.

Neon Trees Elaine Bradley and Tyler Glenn Saturday at Mountain View High School

Neon Trees certainly have not lost any of their engaging stage presence since they last played in Utah; they owned the high school’s auditorium stage as they’ve owned every stage they’ve hit for years. Lead singer Tyler Glenn remains a manic dervish, whether he’s prowling the stage or pounding his keyboard front and center. Campbell and guitarist Chris Allen bring a lot of energy to their respective sides of the stage as well, and drummer Elaine Bradley is particularly appealing to watch, bashing away at her kit and singing–a rock ‘n’ roll two-fer that’s always amazed me when it’s done well.

Glenn, sporting a full head of hair for the first time in recent memory, as well as a shimmering shirt-and-tie combo, led the band immediately into some new songs when Neon Trees hit the stage, including the super-catchy “Teenage Sounds,” which he introduced as being a song about “felling a little different sometimes.” “Sins of My Youth” from Habits was a clear crowd-pleaser, with the 1,000 or so on hand taking over the chorus from Glenn. New single “Everybody Talks” clearly has some traction; the audience seemed to know that song pretty well already, and “Mad Love” was another winning new track, with Bradley even taking over lead vocals for a verse along the way.  “In the Next Room” was also a highlight.

I had to bail before Neon Trees finished, due to a dinner reservation at Provo’s amazing Communal (if you’ve never been, you need to try it. Then you’d understand).

Fortunately, I got to the show in time to see openers The Lower Lights, the collective of excellent local musicans that specializes in rootsy gospel and country tunes. There are more than a dozen members of the band, so live appearances are somewhat rare, but always a treat.

The Lower Lights at Mountain View High School

That was certainly the case Saturday, even though The Lower Lights’ sound has little relation to Neon Trees splashy pop-rock–something the Lights’ Ryan Tanner joked about at one point, before noting everyone on hand had the interests of the kids at Giant Steps in mind, and that was certainly enough common ground to make Saturday a memorable show.

Among the highlights of The Lower Lights’ set were a raucous version of “This Little Light of Mine,” a couple of mean Hank Williams tunes in “I Saw the Light” and “House of Gold,” and an opening take on what I believe was old spiritual “God’s Gonna Trouble the Water.”

If you ever get a chance to see The Lower Lights, do it–it’s one of the best music experiences going among Utah musicians these days. Keep an eye out for them, and for the next time Neon Trees come home to Utah for a gig. You won’t be disappointed.

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