A Smooch for Anberlin at House of Blues Sunset Strip: Concert Review

Originally published at LP33.tv

“Humility” is stamped across our hands tonight at the House of Blues Sunset Strip. It’s not a word we see used often around the LA music scene, but tonight seems different. The word was definitely appropriate for Anberlin’s fantastic show.

Opening for Anberlin were Civil Twilight and Crash Kings. Civil Twilight has a clear aspiration for Bono-esque vocals and sound. The vocalist has a fabulously high range and level of accuracy, but the music feels a bit lifeless for a live show- particularly if aiming at inspiring energy in a crowd for Anberlin. Civil Twilight would, however, make an excellent driving or reflecting soundtrack.

Crash Kings, on the other hand, brought the crowd to life. With another higher-range vocalist, Crash Kings consists of only three gents. Though one might doubt their rockingness at first sight due to the perceived age of the salt-and-pepper drummer and the other members’ awkward baseball-playoff-type beards, the talent all three possess is evident at the opening riff. Music-wise, there’s a little bit of Jamiroquai in there, and they good-naturedly played a great set even with a broken sustain pedal on the piano. While I generally find myself annoyed by bands that ask the audience to “make some f*ckin’ noise” and so on, Crash Kings were able to somehow create enthusiasm with these requests and actually bring us into the show. Their set took the audience with on a ride that built toward the end, culminating in a fantastic yet unexpected cover of Sabbath’s “War Pigs”, during which the audience was very audible indeed. I suppose this experience proves the old adage that you can’t judge a rock band by its bad facial hair. Or something.

And then there’s Anberlin. Ever since I can remember, Anberlin’s live shows have been great. Tonight, they constantly addressed the crowd, thanking us for attending and for supporting both them and the other bands (Humility, reads my hand). Vocalist Stephen Christian also took time to thank members of other bands present at the show: Taking Back Sunday and Yellowcard, among others. Anberlin’s sound was album-perfect, with one complaint directed toward the house itself: for those who didn’t know the lyrics, Christian’s superb voice was unintelligible. Here is Anberlin’s secret to creating album-perfect sound: they keep 40 musicians on stage. Alright, that’s an exaggeration, but honestly- all publicity photos, Wikipedia articles, and propaganda show five members of Anberlin. On this tour, eight- yes, EIGHT- gentlemen grace the stage. One is ostensibly supposed to go unnoticed, as he’s stationed in the back, clad in all black, almost behind the drum kit, avoiding all stage lights. His job, you ask? He’s playing two toms and a cymbal on the exact same beats as Anberlin drummer Nathan Young. Sure, an auxiliary percussionist is perfectly acceptable, but a hidden extra playing half a drum kit in unison with the drummer? It seems better drum mics would be much more appropriate. Regardless, all 59,000 members of Anberlin contributed to a tight and impeccable sound. The set list took a momentum break in the middle, with some slower and softer ballads (the only time Christian’s voice was balanced enough for the audience to understand). Toward the end of the show, the harder music re-emerged, and the crowd’s energy came along.

A final notable and awkward moment: during one song, Taking Back Sunday vocalist Adam Lazzara took over the vocals for Anberlin. At the end, thanking Christian, Lazzara kissed him on the mouth. Is this appropriate for a former Tooth & Nail (a Christian label) band? Possibly not, but I’m sure Stephen Christian will accept criticism with a high dose of the humility demonstrated at the show.