The arrival of Go 96.3 to Twin Cities airwaves earlier this year also brought the debut of Snow Show, the station’s own version of the winter extravaganzas thrown by radio stations in most major markets across the country. Like pretty much every imitator of KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas, the two-night Snow Show ‘15 had little to do with the holidays other than timing. Of course, any excuse to put together a concert headlined by Death Cab for Cutie, Silversun Pickups, Metric and others is reason enough.
The first-ever Snow Show took place Thursday and Friday night at the University of Minnesota’s Northrop Auditorium, which, along with a youthful bill, meant that it was heavily attended by college students. Like an amphitheater, an alternative rock holiday gig (no, KDWB’s Jingle Ball doesn’t count) was something the Twin Cities music scene had been sorely missing in recent years, and Go 96.3 truly delivered in putting Minneapolis on the indie Christmas concert map.
Thursday’s bill was headlined by Silversun Pickups, with Metric, the Wombats, and Melanie Martinez playing earlier in the night. That top billing was an interesting role reversal, in that Silversun Pickups provided support for Metric at competing station 89.3 the Current’s Rock the Garden concert in 2013.
Martinez kicked off the festivities Thursday with a six-song, 30-minute set of her darkly tinted electropop. Fresh off the release of debut LP Cry Baby, the former contestant on The Voice and her two-piece backing band populated the set with album numbers like “Mrs. Potato Head” and “Tag, You’re It.” The 20-year-old was in the unenviable position of performing before most attendees showed up, but had her share of fans standing up and dancing at the beginning of the night.
Next up were U.K. rockers The Wombats, in town for the second time this year to promote their dance-y third album, Glitterbug. After packing the Varsity Theater in May, the Liverpudlian lads made the most of their abbreviated stage time with an energetic nine-song set that included early hits like “Moving to New York” and “Let’s Dance to Joy Division” alongside Glitterbug cuts like “Give Me a Try” and “Greek Tragedy.” Unfortunately absent was album highlight “Your Body is a Weapon,” but singer Matthew Murphy’s endearingly self-effacing lyrics, drummer Dan Haggis’s hip-swinging rhythms, and bassist Tord Øverland Knudsen’s lightning-quick bounds across the stage won the crowd over.
Having supported Imagine Dragons at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center in June, Metric made their way through town for the first time since the release of this fall’s excellent Pagans in Vegas Thursday night. The Canadian four-piece’s 11-song set mostly mixed together songs from their most recent three albums — Pagans, 2012’s Synthetica, and 2009’s Fantasies. This slot included what is possibly the all-time greatest Snow Show moment (easy to make grand statements like that in the first year!), when new song “Cascades” found a giant multi-colored sheet floating above singer Emily Haines as the rest of the band donned Daft Punk-esque headlights, making for a very trippy performance.
Elsewhere, poppy Pagans lead single “The Shade” sparkled brightly and oldie “Combat Baby” (from 2003’s Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?) was a treat to hear. Metric doesn’t currently have a Twin Cities date on their upcoming I Can See the End Tour (curious to name a tour after a lyric on an album you’re not currently promoting), but here’s to hoping the area gets a full headlining set from Metric sometime soon.
Silversun Pickups closed out the first night of Snow Show ‘15, playing songs from recently-released fourth album Better Nature for the first time in Minneapolis. The moody new record dominated the set, with lead singer Brian Aubert and bassist Nikki Monninger’s dual vocals shining on “Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance)” and the six-minute “Ragamuffin” providing one of the best rock-outs of the concert’s two night.
Thursday found Aubert in an especially playful and talkative mood (he dubbed it “rock talk”), as he joked onstage about the local roots of drummer Chris Guanlao’s favorite basketball team, the Los Angeles Lakers, and called Minneapolis “one of the best fucking cities in the world” in a very sincere and non-scripted manner. It’s a shame that Silversun Pickups doesn’t play much of 2006 debut Carnavas in concert, but the fans who came out to see “Lazy Eye” still got their Christmas wish, and it’s always refreshing to see bands who strongly believe in their new material.
After a positive response to the Night 1 lineup of Snow Show ’15, the event was expanded in November to make for a second night. Death Cab for Cutie, Best Coast, and Panic is Perfect made for a wonderful last-minute present Friday, suggesting long-term viability for the concert.
Surprisingly not a Panic! at the Disco cover band, California duo Panic is Perfect made their first Minnesota appearance with five songs of their shimmery pop-rock. “Go Go Go” from this year’s Behind Your Eyelids EP was the highlight here, its Arcade Fire-indebted chorus filling up Northrop early on in the proceedings. Having formed in India, Panic is Perfect made for a very global Snow Show along with Metric and the Wombats.
Fellow California duo Best Coast played in the middle slot Friday, marking their second appearance here this year on the back of third album, California Nights. Bethany Cosentino’s breezy melodies and Bobb Bruno’s surfy guitar lines (not to mention the band’s name and latest release) recall their home state more than the band that played before them. California and debut album Crazy for You received the most attention this time, with second album The Only Place only getting its title track played. Best Coast saved the best cuts for last, as the closing combo of new song “Feeling OK” and breakthrough single “Boyfriend” finished off their set with all the sunshine in Los Angeles.
The only Snow Show artist to have headlined Northrop by themselves, Death Cab for Cutie capped off the event’s first year with a catalog-spanning 15-song set. Death Cab put on an electric performance of hits and rarities at Northrop in May, which was their first local appearance without founding guitarist Chris Walla, who bowed out after recording eighth album, March's Kintsugi.
Friday’s show found the newly configured band even more refined than they were seven months ago, with touring guitarist Dave Depper fitting in better alongside frontman Ben Gibbard, basist Nick Harmer, and drummer Jason McGerr. The Snow Show concert played less like a gig promoting Kintsugi and more like a career retrospective.
“St. Peter’s Cathedral” (from 2011’s Codes and Keys) kicked things off with the signature brand of slow burn Death Cab has perfected over the past two decades, the experimental “Bixby Canyon Bridge” (2008’s Narrow Stairs) closed the main set and only three Kintsugi songs (“The Ghosts of Beverly Drive,” “Black Sun” and “Little Wanderer” were played in between. Meanwhile, a lovely piano rendition of “Your Heart is an Empty Room” (2005’s Plans) was a welcome take on an old classic and “Title and Registration” (2003’s Transatlanticism) had never sounded so poignant.
Given the success of the first-ever Snow Show, somebody at Go 96.3 deserves a raise. Now that the station has brought the Twin Cities a rocking holiday concert, perhaps they can get to work on that amphitheater?