by Chloe Catajan
All was far from calm at Alt 105.3's Not So Silent Night in San Jose last Saturday. The annual holiday concert brought eight solid acts to the SAP Center, with the ethereal and effervescent Florence + the Machine headlining the bill.
The scene alone already resembled fine art. Frontwoman Florence Welch took the stage in a white gown that flowed with her movement. Her band, full rhythm section and harpist included, glowed in the golden light. They broke into the spirited 2015 single, "Ship to Wreck," with Welch bringing out her powerhouse vocals straight away.
On top of the London group's lush baroque-pop sound, Welch lived the part of a goddess. As she sang, she pranced back-and-forth onstage, her long locks and gown cascading behind her. Welch's voice resonated with compelling force, even with all the motion. While all of this met Florence + the Machine's usual standards, longtime fans might have picked up an odd sight about the lead singer: she was in shoes.
In between songs, Welch mentioned that it felt strange to not go barefoot like before. She had cut her foot at a past show and now wears ballet flats while performing. Still, she moved as freely as ever to "Hunger" and "Patricia" off 2018's High As Hope, and then to 2009 hit "Dog Days Are Over." The upbeat Lungs single had the crowd chanting and clapping along to every verse.
Florence + the Machine continued to bring waves of good energy throughout its set. Before performing "Mother," Welch urged everyone to show love to their friends and strangers. Then the songstress leapt on the barricade, put on a fan-made flower crown, and linked hands with crowd members as she sang "What Kind of Man." The band moved onto moody track "Big God," and closed with the moving hymnal single, "Shake It Out," off 2011's Ceremonials.
Death Cab for Cutie performed a set that stepped outside of its beloved melancholy sound. Starting with 2008's "I Will Possess Your Heart," the group spiraled into its notable four-minute intro featuring a pulsing bassline and dissonant piano chords. The broody wall of sound created a sense of hypnosis until lead vocalist-guitarist Ben Gibbard broke the spell with the opening verse.
The Pacific Northwest rockers continued to move up their catalog with upbeat cuts "The Ghosts of Beverly Drive" off 2015's Kintsugi, "Gold Rush" from this year's Thank You For Today and, later, "Northern Lights." Fan favorites included two throwbacks from 2005's Plans, a full-band version of "Crooked Teeth" and the whimsical "Soul Meets Body."
Death Cab for Cutie ultimately hit a soft spot by closing with "Bixby Canyon Bridge." Its somber ambience felt like a salute to the Bay Area, solidified by the lines, "All the way from San Francisco/ As I chased the end of your road/ 'Cause I've still got miles to go."
British indie-rock group Bastille burst onstage with the upbeat "Good Grief" and the electric shocks of "Blame." Its set went on to be a constant blend of hearty melodies and grandiose drum parts, stirring up high spirits all throughout the arena.
For third song "Flaws," the 2013 single about embracing one's qualities (perfect or not), frontman Dan Smith literally met fans eye-to-eye. Smith jumped into the pit and sang among the crowd, even stopping for an occasional selfie along the way. Other set highlights included the feel-good "Happier," Bastille's collaboration track with American DJ Marshmello, as well the band's breakthrough hit, "Pompeii."
Scottish synthpop outfit CHVRCHES also delivered an electrifying performance, both sonically and visually. Headstrong cut "Get Out" from 2018's Love Is Dead came first. Lead vocalist Lauren Mayberry bolted and twirled across stage, as keyboardists Martin Doherty and Iain Cook led the audience into clapping with the beat. The group also performed "Miracle," which combined eighties-inspired synthscapes with EDM-like drops, and later revisited three tracks off 2016's Every Open Eye. CHVRCHES finished equally as strong with old favorite "The Mother We Share" and newer track "Never Say Die."
Riding the high of its latest release, Mirror Master, Young the Giant opened with head-in-the-clouds track "Oblivion." The Southern Californian quintet ultimately alternated between three of its four LPs, playing 2016 single "Something to Believe In" and 2011 hit "Cough Syrup" next. Mixing indie riffs, dreamy melodies, and thoughtful lyrics, the set introduced a range of emotions expressed precisely by frontman Sameer Gadhia's vocal mastery and the band's nuanced instrumentation. The groovy tones of "Tightrope" and "Silvertongue" eventually built up to the energized anthem, "My Body."
Mike Shinoda of Fort Minor and Linkin Park took the stage all smiles, performing a hard-hitting set of songs from all of his projects. He opened with 2005 Fort Minor classic "Remember My Name," its timelessness made evident by the surge of fans singing along. With full support from the applauding crowd, Shinoda jumped into new track "Make It Up As I Go," off his 2018 solo release, Post Traumatic. The rap-rock artist followed with "About You" and "Over Again," which he combined with Linkin Park's "Papercut." Moving to the keyboard, Shinoda played Linkin Park's "In The End," evoking a massive sing-along to the late Chester Bennington's parts. Before Bennington's death, Linkin Park's last Bay Area show was scheduled to be at the SAP Center; so as Shinoda continued to mix old songs and new, the experience was evidently emotional for everyone in the room.
England's The Struts played a short, but fiery set that opened with "Kiss This." Even with the night still young, the quartet's glamorous take on classic rock-and-roll sounds felt like a full-blown performance. Punchy cuts "Body Talks" and "In Love With A Camera" had frontman Luke Spiller, guitarist Adam Slack and bassist Jed Elliott living up to the band's name, striking poses at the front of the stage. The Struts closed with sentimental, yet equally vivacious "Could Have Been Me."
Los Angeles-based Elle King kicked off the fest with songs that blended indie soul, Americana and a dash of sass. "Baby Outlaw" took fans for a ride on the wild side as King channeled her inner Bonnie and Clyde. Her raspy-yet-impassioned vocals against her band's bluesy melodies constantly put a rebellious twist on feel-good music, especially for "Shame" and popular single "Ex's and Oh's." King's set was the personification of "getting down with your bad self," which felt like the most appropriate message to start the night with.
(Photos: Chloe Catajan)