REVIEW: Florence and the Machine rules Not So Silent Night in San Jose

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Florence and the Machine, Florence Welch

Florence and the Machine performs at Not So Silent Night at SAP Center in San Jose on Dec. 8, 2018. Photos: Alessio Neri.

SAN JOSE — All music, all the time—the theme was simple at Saturday’s Not So Silent Night, the annual alt-rock holiday concert presented by San Francisco’s Alt 105.3 (formerly Live 105). Headliner Florence and the Machine ruled the evening, but each act had an opportunity to make a statement.

After seven years at Oakland’s Oracle Arena, including an expansion to a two-night event, NSSN made its return to the South Bay for a single night jam-packed with some of the biggest names in alternative pop and rock. NSSN had a rotating stage bring on new acts at a breakneck pace and the wait time between acts ranged from 30 seconds to upward of five minutes. Bands packed their sets tight with as many songs as they could fit into the compact sets, ranging from 20 to 45 minutes,. This made just about the best Spotify shuffle playlist imaginable.

While the sound of all the acts was rooted in alt-rock, everyone pushed the sonic envelope in a different direction by mixing in a variance of styles and influences.

Florence and the Machine, Florence Welch

Florence and the Machine.

Florence and the Machine made her return to the Bay Area following headlining turns at Outside Lands and BottleRock in prior years. Welch was simply magnificent and managed to grab the attention of the collective crowd and not let it go for the duration of her 45 minute-set. She took the stage, doused in a burnt orange hue and commanded the stage opening with the upbeat “Ship to Wreck.” Her natural elegance, an energetic urgency and her expansive vocal range combined for a powerful performance that occupy anywhere from classical and operatic to raw rock and roll. Before “Patricia,” Welch quipped that the show was her first in a long time in which she didn’t perform barefoot, following an injury that cut her foot in a prior performance.

“But this is a rock and roll show, and that’s supposed to happen,” Welch joked.

During “Dog Days Are Over,” Welch politely but firmly asked the capacity SAP Center crowd to put away their phones and “be vulnerable,” leading fans in jumping and letting go of ills in their lives. The result might have registered on the Richter scale, as the entire floor and much of the lower bowl bounced with hands stretched high.

Welch’s band, featuring an opulent cavalcade of modern and traditional instruments, provided an ample backbone for her classical-meets-modern sound. Welch jumped into the crowd to perform a scintillating take on “What Kind of Man.” She spent the majority of the song leaned over the barrier and toward the tightly packed pit. She slid in “Big God” before leading a spirited audience singalong to the hit “Shake It Out.”

Death Cab For Cutie, Ben Gibbard

Death Cab For Cutie.

Washington state indie rockers Death Cab For Cutie took an opposite tact from many of the acts of the night, letting the emotion and passion of their material take the forefront over dramatic lights and staging. Opening with an extended instrumental intro before breaking into the driving “I Will Posses Your Heart,” Death Cab kept up the pace for the majority of its 40-minute set. Frontman Ben Gibbard jumped from the piano to the front of the stage to play guitar on “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive.”

The band’s set spread across its expansive discography, including a transition from “Gold Rush” and “Crooked Teeth” to “Northern Lights” and “Soul Meets Body.” Death Cab’s spacious and breezy guitar interludes resonated throughout the SAP Center. It closed with another passionate, extended instrumental at the end of “Bixby Canyon Bridge,” which included bassist Nick Harmer hurling himself at his amplifier.

Bastille, Dan Smith

Bastille.

Bastille took the stage riding high on the success of its current single, Marshmello collaboration “Happier.” Dan Smith and his bandmates were one of the first of the evening to collectively get the SAP Center crowd to its feet, oftentimes a challenge at shows featuring crowds of so many varied tastes. Bastille’s set featured some of the most elaborate lighting of the night, leaving the stage awash in dramatic shades of blue and red, mixing in the occasional flourish of strobes and smoke.

The U.K. rockers opened with “Good Grief” and “Blame” before moving into “Flaws.” Before the ballad “World Gone Mad,” Smith apologized with tongue-in-cheek for the serious and depressing nature of the song’s subject matter. The band continued with the aforementioned “Happier” before ultimately closing with the crowd-pleasing hit “Pompeii.”

CHVRCHES, Lauren Mayberry

CHVRCHES.

Scottish electro-pop superstars CHVRCHES also turned in one of the strongest performances of the night. The enigmatic Lauren Mayberry may be small in stature but fills the entire arena with stage presence. The band opened with “Get Out” and continued with a mostly upbeat set equally mixing new and old material. Mayberry stormed the entirety of the stage. The set climaxed during the band’s performance of its most recent single, “Miracle.” CHVRCHES rounded out their set with the danceable “Clearest Blue” and “The Mother We Share.”

Young the Giant expertly mixed dramatic and complex instrumentals with danceable indie rock. Vocalist Sameer Gadhia was a smoother operator, in a blue button-up Hawaiian shirt, effortlessly shimmying and shaking his way across the stage while delivering songs like “Oblivion,” “Tightrope” and “My Body.”

Given the tight window for sets, artists kept their crowd banter short, most just taking time to thank fans for attending and the other bands on the bill for playing alongside them.

Mike Shinoda, Linkin Park

Mike Shinoda.

Linkin Park vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Mike Shinoda, a late welcome add to the Not So Silent Night bill, played a set heavy on mashups. Shinoda  seamlessly mixed material from throughout the Linkin Park, Fort Minor and solo catalogs. “About You” and “Over Again” were crossed with an electric take on the Linkin Park classic “Papercut;” “Waiting For the End” with Fort Minor’s “Where’d You Go;” and “Good Goodbye” with “Bleed It Out.” Shinoda paid tribute to Chester Bennington, leading a heartfelt piano singalong of the band’s “In The End” before jumping into the crowd to close with stomping jam “Running From My Shadow.”

The Struts, Luke Spiller

The Struts.

The Struts, another U.K. import, played early in the evening. Their short set (but then again, they just recently headlined the Fillmore) featured the most straight-forward hard-rocking rock songs of the night. Vocalist Luke Spiller was the perfect ingredient to wake up the early arrivers. Donning a glistening silver jacket and pants, Spiller kept the energy up. Featuring a host of classic rock influences, The Struts still found a way to sound modern, opening with “Kiss This,” “Body Talks” and “In Love with a Camera,” before closing with “Could Have Been Me.”

Singer-songwriter Elle King opened Not So Silent Night and may have actually boasted the most eclectic set, mixing outlaw country with classic rock and  a dash of modern alt-pop sheen. King’s voice is strong and her range is impressive, delivering each note with a confident rasp. King performed “Baby Outlaw,” “Shame” and her hit, “Ex’s and Oh’s.”

Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald. Follow photographer Alessio Neri at Instagram.com/windowofcolor and Windowofcolor.com.

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