Twenty One Pilots and Deep Sea Diver thrilled the KeyArena crowd at 107.7 The End’s annual holiday party, but Alabama Shakes and Death Cab for Cutie — both nominated for 2016 Grammy Awards — were stale.
While introducing Alabama Shakes at Deck the Hall Ball on Tuesday night, DJ Pepper told the crowd that the band had fetched an armload of Grammy nominations the day before and was one of the “coolest” acts ever booked for 107.7 The End’s annual holiday party.
But that cred and its six nods for the album “Sound & Color” did not translate into a winning performance.
Frontwoman Brittany Howard did her best, treating the crowd at KeyArena to her special brand of vocal and facial histrionics — her eyebrows covered more ground than her bassist’s feet. But her backing musicians sucked the oxygen off of the stage. The band’s deficiency was accentuated by the fact that its set was tucked into the middle of a night full of bands who played like their lives depended on it.
And, in a way, they do.
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Live shows are more important than they’ve ever been. In an era when listeners jump from track to track, from YouTube to Spotify, live shows are some of the only chances artists have to make a full-throated case for themselves. These kinds of radio shows, in particular, are set up so bands can play to larger crowds than normal — and cozy up with FM programmers.
The night started with a strong showing from Seattle’s Deep Sea Diver, whose set was punctuated by a rafter-reaching solo performance of “O Holy Night” by frontwoman Jessica Dobson. After X Ambassadors’ more or less forgettable set, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats revealed themselves to be a foot-stomping rhythm-and-blues dance band. (If only they’d backed up Howard.) Walk the Moon couldn’t have been more excited to be in the room, and neither could the crowd, which obligingly sang along on songs like “Shut Up and Dance.”
Twenty One Pilots’ oddball mix of electro-backed rhymes and acoustic jams was reminiscent of vintage alt-rock radio — The Prodigy, Cake, early Beck — and the relentlessly high-energy set was the high point of the evening.
Cage the Elephant’s performance was delightfully raucous, but its pleasantly messy, hard-edged blues was lost as it reverberated throughout the room.
Seattle’s Death Cab for Cutie closed out the night with a predictable, perfunctory set, but the audience — many just preschoolers when the band churned out indie classics like “New Year” — didn’t seem to mind. After eight hours of music, they contently shuffled out of the room as the band played, off to finish their homework and cram for the exams they’d been tweeting about putting off all night.