Strobe lights flashed a path to our seats as the beating of drums and the vibrations of an electric guitar fill the air. Purple lights dash across the pitch black room, and the voice of Dylan Rau, Bear Hands’ lead singer, took over a room full of mostly college and high school students (with the occasional old rocker).
On March 22, I went to the Spring Fling Rock AF 2016 concert series at the Richmond Coliseum. Bear Hands, The Foals, Silversun Pickups, and Cage the Elephant are traveling together on a 15-venue series starting in California and ending in Rhode Island, making two stops in Virginia. While the concert was not as energetic as the promotional video, it was by no means a let down.
Having heard only one or two songs by Bear Hands and Silversun Pickups, I was not quite sure what to expect. Clearly I was not the only one. While there were only a few people who were devoted fans of these bands and sang along, most of the audience just enjoyed the lights and music. Bear Hands played first, so there were not many people in the audience, but slowly, throughout their performance, more people filled the colosseum. Bear Hands is a Brooklyn based post-punk indie rock band which has played at major music festivals, including Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Firefly. Their performance lacked the energy of a rock concert and felt dull due to the small number of audience members. However, the stage lights perfectly highlighted their music, creating a captivating performance. Their music sounded very similar live as it does recorded with a strong background electronic sound, the crowd favorites being “Agora” and “Giants.”
As the Foals began their performance, the mosh pit was about halfway full and had some more energy, but The Foals relied mostly on lights to excite the crowd, including spotlights in the audience and flashing lights during instrumental solos. They also had a great backdrop of a nature scene that made the stage feel more full and added ambiance to the music. The Foals is a UK-based band who recently released the album What Went Down, which won ‘Best Act In The World’ at the Q Awards and received four award nominations at the BBC Music Awards and 2016 NME Awards. I had heard many of their songs and was surprised that the majority of their performance was more “scream-y” than the recorded album. However, I greatly appreciated their British accents, which made their introduction and short breaks between songs interesting and gave their songs a distinct sound. Their music made you want to sing and dance along, particularly during “My Number,” a clear crowd favorite.
Next came Silversun Pickups, a Los Angeles-based indie rock band, whose music had a different feel from the other performers’. Their songs had a faster beat, the lead singer Brian Aubert had a very distinctive voice, and it was the only band to have a female vocalist. Aubert made the audience feel as though they knew the band well through a few adorable shout outs to his son, a nine-month old baby who had flown all the way from Los Angeles to hear his first concert. Their other breaks often made it seem as though they were about to play their last song, when in most cases they had quite a few songs left. This made their performance seem to last forever, but their songs were catchy so I did not mind. Their strongest moment was while singing “Nightlight” because they seemed more comfortable on stage and the lines were easy to follow, so much of the audience sang along.
The crowd roared as Cage the Elephant took the stage, a Grammy-nominated American rock band from Kentucky who have performed on The Late Late Show with James Corden and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Not only did everyone know their songs, but also lead singer Matthew Shultz had a strong stage presence, taking every chance he could to dance and move around the stage. This was evident by the energy in the crowd. Cage the Elephant also did not depend on lights as much as the other bands to get the audience engaged. They played the perfect combination of upbeat songs from their old and new albums, including “In One Ear” and “Punchin’ Bag.” The combination brought a variance in sound that captivated the audience, because their new work has a more acoustic sound than their heavy, early music.
As a whole, the concert was impressive, and if I had the chance to go again, I would. The crowd’s energy was contagious, and the music was absorbing. My sister Claire Murphy (‘17) says, “I loved it! They were all great bands to see live. They performed well and each band had their own sound, but it worked together.”