Neon Trees at First Avenue, 6/23/14


Neon Trees
with Smallpools and Nightmare and the Cat
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Monday, June 23, 2014

Neon Trees assembled behind a massive white sheet placed across the front of the stage as the opening notes of the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" plunked out on a keyboard, but it turned out to be just a tease. When the band began their set it was with "Lessons in Love (All Day, All Night)" from 2012's Picture Show. It was as perfect a song as they could have chosen to start, as it showcases exactly what Neon Trees is: a boy band for the 2010s.

A "boy band," that is, in which the lead singer is vaguely androgynous and openly gay and also has a female drummer. They seem vaguely edgy but not enough to worry most parents, given lead singer Tyler Glenn's propensity to espouse his love of God on stage and his near-constant between-song imploring of the crowd to be better people, which was a bit grating by the end of the 85-minute set.


They continued with "Love in the 21st Century," making a good case for them as the new Killers. It was slick and catchy, but about half as dangerous as a band that already seems fairly squeaky clean to begin with. The crowd was full of many parents with underage kids (it was an all-ages gig) and I was clearly both out of my element and not the target demographic for what Neon Trees is trying to accomplish -- whatever it may be.

The sugary, shiny songs whizzed by at breakneck speed and with astonishing efficiency, but there was little else behind them. There would be a line or two that stuck, but overall the lyrics were as surface-level and insight-free as you could get. I'd like to write it up to their ages, but while the band is young, they aren't brand new.

And yet, with very few exceptions, the insipid "Text Me in the Morning" from this year's Pop Psychology being one, it was incredibly hard to hate what was happening onstage. The crowd was fully engaged and a look around the room revealed most of the sold-out crowd singing along to nearly every word of every song -- there weren't many casual fans in attendance.


"Voices in the Halls" began the night's early end (the all-ages show was a wrap by 9:45), which was followed by one of the band's darker offerings in "Trust." The latter song sounds awfully forced and sticks out like a sore thumb among the hazy sugar-pop offered throughout most of the set, but the crowd loved it. They ended with the pseudo-sex anthem "Sleeping with a Friend," with its far-too-careful lyrics against a phenomenal hook, and then managed to throw an actual major league-worthy curveball.

The encore started with an inflatable brain on the pedestal in the middle of the stage where Glenn had started the show and returned several times to dance and offer some Jagger-esque preening. They quickly launched into a pretty good version of the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" which fully confused much of the crowd, the majority of whom stopped dancing as they had been and just shrugged at each other -- most of them didn't know the song. They wrapped it up with the high-energy "Everybody Talks" and "First Things First."


Even if you aren't really sure who Neon Trees are, "Everybody Talks" -- with its semi-maddening earworm "it started with whisper" line that nearly everyone, everywhere knows -- is easily the band's best-known song. It's far from their actual best, but that line is one that's never going to die, for better or worse.

So in the end, you couldn't fault the show itself a great deal: It was a bright, shiny, banana split with an extra scoop of everything and was genuinely fun to watch, but the lyrics and unimaginative subject matter of the songs (mostly broken hearts, lost love, and confused sexuality) drag on the band and its possible impact immeasurably. Neon Trees are impossible to hate, but they make themselves pretty difficult to love, as well.

Critic's Bias: I don't cover/attend a lot of shows outside of my comfort zone and this show was a deliberate attempt to do that. It wasn't the worst thing I've ever seen by a long shot, but, admittedly, I likely would have loved Monday's Deafheaven show at the Triple Rock much, much more. Though I don't regret my decision.

The Crowd: I could easily have been (and probably was) mistaken for a parent.

Overheard in the Crowd: Guy: "Timmy, I love you, bro." Timmy: "I can't socialize right now." Guy #1: "Bro, Timmy, just listen: I love you because I love you." Timmy then stumbled on his own feet and ran off.

Random Notebook Dump: Is this show really bright in an attempt to blind people to these terrible lyrics?

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