Author: Erin Phelps
Last Monday, April 9th, The Neighbourhood came to Seattle in support of their self-titled LP The Neighbourhoodthat was just released on March 9th. The night was a lot of firsts for me: it was the first time I had been to the Showbox SoDo, the first time seeing the Neighbourhood, and the first time at a concert that I never felt an ounce of awkwardness because of not knowing a song. Sometimes at shows, there’s a certain degree of tension when waiting through songs that you may not know very well or like as much as others. As said in my preview, I’ve been in catch up mode with The Neighbourhood’s anthology after not listening to them for a few years, so naturally there were a few songs they played that I didn’t know at all. Despite this, I never felt out of place or suddenly unwelcome because I didn’t know a song. Cultivating a constant feeling of bliss and security during a concert should be considered an art form. In this review, I’m going to dive into exactly why The Neighbourhood captivated me the entire show, and the nuances of the band that allow them to do so.
As an avid music lover, and a relatively new Seattleite attempting to be more familiar with the venues in Seattle, I was delighted to be able to finally see a show at the Showbox SoDo. If you’re like me and you’ve been to the Showbox Market downtown multiple times, seeing how physically large the SoDo space is compared to the Market was astounding. The space has to be twice the size of the Market, maybe more. When I arrived, the opening band was a little more than halfway through their set. HEALTH opened for The Neighbourhood, and speaking of firsts, hearing this band was the first time I have ever plugged my ears during a concert. I, unfortunately, was not fond of HEALTH. I thought my eardrums were genuinely going to burst at the pure noise that was emitted from this band. I don’t want to dwell on the negative of the opening act in this review and I don’t mean to sound like I’m shaming anyone’s music taste, but if you do enjoy the band HEALTH, let’s have a conversation later about… why.
Despite my lack of enthusiasm about the opening band, nothing could kill my excitement about seeing the Neighbourhood. My expectations for the show were that it would be a good show, and I would feel like something inside of me was satisfied. My expectations were exceeded, and I left with more than a feeling of a satisfaction, but a yearning to give The Neighbourhood the proper attention I had neglected over the years.
When The Neighbourhood came onto the stage, the crowd erupted like a volcano full of love and this was beginning of the constant flow of lava during the show. This was also the beginning of a strange trance I entered upon seeing the lead singer of the band—Jesse Rutherford. I know what you’re thinking. I was in a trance because Jesse Rutherford is an above average, attractive man with lots of tattoos, and abs from the statue of David. While you wouldn’t be too far off with that description, there’s an intrinsic superstar quality about Jesse Rutherford that was truly at the heart of my captivation.
When speaking of Jesse Rutherford, the first topic has to be his voice. Man, oh man, does that guy have some serious pipes. Sure, listening to the studio versions of The Neighbourhood’s songs show his vocal talent. But when a talented person has the opportunity and the freedom that a live show has, it’s only natural to expand on one’s vocal range, and frankly, show off a little. Rutherford did just that. I never knew how powerful his voice is, but I definitely found out on Monday. On each song he was able to really show his talent through adlibbing, riffing, and changing melodies and harmonies of certain choruses or verses. During the song “Cry Baby,” Rutherford elaborated on the chorus of the song, which in the studio version is relatively understated, and a less pronounced chorus than others. Rutherford played around significantly during “You Get Me So High.” Rutherford projected his voice to match the enthusiasm of the room and made each song something really special.
At the crux of the band’s sound is Rutherford’s vocals, and further, the distortion used on his vocals. The vocal distortion that The Neighbourhood plays with is one of my favorite things about the band. During the show, Rutherford used multiple distortions including autotune, echoing, and reverb to achieve that classic Neighbourhood sound. The switch between these distortions was seamless, and brilliantly used throughout the set.
Jesse’s vocals are part of the reason why me and the rest of the venue could not take our eyes off him. In addition to his vocals, his stage presence was magnificent. He moved around the stage with such grace and was able to somehow connect with even the people sitting in the bar all the way at the back of the venue. I don’t know how else to put into words the sheer star quality that Rutherford possesses, except to say that although this quality is overwhelming, it’s not overpowering. I’d argue that Rutherford’s star quality enhances that of his fellow bandmates, and vice versa.
As part of the classic Neighbourhood sound I spoke about earlier, another crucial part is the backing vocals. In songs like “R.I.P. 2 My Youth” the backing vocals make up a significant part of the song—without them the song loses so much. The backing vocals of this song echo the lyrics “I’m using white lighters to see what’s in front of me,” and without this addition the song loses part of its magic. As well, another prominent example would be the song “Sweater Weather.” There are only a few short stretches in the song where Rutherford’s vocals are isolated. The first 39 seconds of the song are isolated vocals, and a small part of the second verse. That’s all. Otherwise, the backing vocals sing harmonies with Rutherford, and provide an additional melody with various “oh’s” and “ah’s.” Please listen to the last minute of “Sweater Weather” and imagine it with no backing vocals– it would be an entirely different song. I cannot stress enough the importance of this aspect of The Neighbourhood’s distinct sound.
I was really scared that the backing vocals would be less prominent live because they’re probably my favorite part of The Neighbourhood’s songs. Fortunately, every other member of The Neighbourhood participates in backing vocals, and they did so during the show. Their vocals enhanced Rutherford’s performance, and Rutherford’s performance emphasized their vocals. It was a balanced equation.
The last significant aspect of the Neighbourhood’s sound I’ll discuss briefly is their lyrics. The members write their songs and have grown lyrically in a tremendous way since their beginning. The band has a reputation of having very emotional lyrics. This is true. The band also has a stereotype of writing lyrics “for girls.” This is false. I won’t get on a soap box about the sheer stupidity of gendering lyrics, but unfortunately the band has been labelled as such. I personally believe that the transparency and raw nature of The Neighbourhood’s lyrics actually empower those who listen. We could all be more in touch with our emotions, and especially in an age where men are told notto be emotional, and women are told they are tooemotional, it’s time to break down some of those barriers. Seeing the emotion that’s in their songs live was definitely a special feeling.
Lastly, a part of the trance I was in was also due to the lighting of the show. In my preview, I was curious to see how the band would stage their show. Turns out, the main stage prop was a long, horizontal screen that changed colors and sort of twisted throughout the show. The screen projected almost every color I could think of one at a time. It started off with a lot of blue and by the time of the end of the concert the screen has been red, green, orange, pink, purple…you name it. It sounds elementary, I know; however, the screen and the movers (lights above the stage) worked so perfectly together that occasionally all you could see of The Neighbourhood were their silhouettes. This was haunting. Their simple staging was so effective.
I’ve seen a lot of concerts in my short day. The way The Neighbourhood performed was one of the best I’ve ever seen. In every moment I was happy with what was happening, and it took so long for me to come back to reality afterward. The Neighbourhood didn’t shoot fire from the stage, but stayed true to their sound, highlighted their superstar of a lead singer, and created a space that was visually beautiful. Simplicity and talent is how it’s done folks.
Please listen to The Neighbourhood. Check out their Spotify, YouTube, and Apple Music. Follow them on their Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.
ERIN PHELPS| still shook | KXSU Assistant Program Director