Neon Trees at First Avenue, 6/23/14

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Tony Nelson

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.

Photo by Tony Nelson

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.

Photo by Tony Nelson

"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."

Location Info


First Avenue

701 1st Ave. N., Minneapolis, MN

Category: Music

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