Arts and Entertainment

Not Your Typical Holiday Concert—A Review of Not So Silent Night

AJR, CHVRCHES, Mike Shinoda, Bastille, Foster the People, Death Cab for Cutie, Florence + the Machine, and Muse perform at Barclays Center.

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Not So Silent Night isn’t your typical holiday concert. Instead of nostalgic Christmas melodies and the whimsical jingle of bells, the show, organized by alternative rock radio station 92.3, featured deafeningly distorted guitars, thunderous drums, and aggressive electronic synth beats.

Several prominent alternative artists took over Barclays Center on December 6: AJR, CHVRCHES, Mike Shinoda, Bastille, Foster the People, Death Cab for Cutie, Florence + the Machine, and Muse, in that order. Two things that characterized the night were the shockingly vulnerable moments littered throughout the show and the surprising spirituality of heavy rock music—something that is often seen as macho and violent. Despite the large venue, the show had the intimacy of a small stage; the artists were deeply personal and emotionally open through their artistic expression.

AJR, who simply introduced themselves as “a band from Manhattan,” started the show with one of their most well-known songs, “Weak.” The pop anthem’s explosive energy and catchy chorus “But I’m weak, and what’s wrong with that?” immediately set the stadium on fire. Continuing this streak of popular songs, they then whipped out a ukulele and performed “Sober Up” and smoothly transitioned to “Burn the House Down” with a trumpet riff. Emotions undulated underneath the seemingly shallow party rock anthems. When I was able to make out the words enveloped in loud beats and acoustic strumming, certain phrases stuck out in my mind. I found myself pondering lines like “my favorite color is you” and “should I bite my tongue?”

Mike Shinoda, co-founder of rock band Linkin Park, performed without the formality of the other artists. His gig started with a lighthearted video of him showing off his artistic skills in a tattoo design for a fan. However, the mood changed to a more serious tone with his first song “Make It Up As I Go” from “Post Traumatic,” the debut solo album he released after Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington’s suicide. The song was an eruption of dread and angst; along with clunky synths and echoing chords, Shinoda raps, “Reality was out of focus / I could be hopeless / Instead, I gritted my teeth.” The other songs from the same album showed different nuances of grief; in “Over Again,” Shinoda poured his heart out about individually saying farewell to Bennington’s family and friends at the tribute concert: “Sometimes you don’t say goodbye once / You say goodbye over and over and over again.”

Shinoda directly addressed this heartache in a genuine speech while he played melancholy chords on his keyboard, which he ended on a hopeful note. He said, “I realized it was our opportunity to celebrate Chester…for this song, I’ve always asked everyone to sing his part as loud as they can. And that’s your job tonight. Are you ready?” In this song dedicated to his longtime friend and bandmate, Shinoda and the whole stadium united into one powerful chorus. Bathed in cool blue light, the crowd chanted in a gospel-like harmony, “I tried so hard and got so far / But in the end, it doesn’t even matter.”

Bastille, the well-known British rock band, performed next. Just like the previous artists, they too played their most popular but older songs. “Good Grief” was simple and catchy, despite the lyrics about coping with loss. “World Gone Mad,” followed by lead vocalist Dan Smith’s self-deprecating “Sorry, this next song is really [expletive] depressing,” opened with soft acoustic guitar chords, which was then joined by layers of subtle harmonies and Smith’s distinctive voice. The melancholy swooping melody was accompanied by poignant lyrics: “If half the world's gone mad / The other half just don't care, you see.”

Smith started their breakthrough song “Pompeii” with slow breathy vocals accompanied by a keyboard; and as an anthemic drum beat joined the rhythmic “eh eh oh”s, the entire venue pulsated to grand synths and dazzling strobes that flooded the stage. As this song holds immense emotional significance for me, I immediately became misty-eyed when distant memories tinted the reverberating melody with a streak of nostalgia.

Toward the end of the show, the most anticipated band, Muse, finally made their dramatic appearance on stage. Their strong stage presence was immediately evident. Lead singer Matt Bellamy, who holds a Guinness World Record for smashing the most guitars on a single tour, appeared in a flamboyant neon red suit decorated with LED lights, along with his signature shutter shades. The band started off strong with “Algorithm” from their 2018 album “Simulation Theory,” an album inspired by cyberpunk science fiction and dystopian views of the future. Matt Bellamy’s angsty vocals and hypnotic falsetto echoed against a throbbing beat: “Burn like a slave / Churn like a cog / We are caged in simulations.” The rest of the setlist was a great blend of both nostalgic old songs and their more ambitious creations. The heavy power chords of “Psycho” sent the audience into a storm of aggressive headbanging while “Starlight” brought the swooning crowds back to the 2006 arena-rock era. When “Supermassive Black Hole” came on, I heard a gritty voice behind me shout, “Finally!” One of Muse’s catchiest songs, “Supermassive Black Hole” is stuffed with rapid-fire drumming and epic orchestration evocative of impending doom.

Often described as the “best band to see live,” Muse was in perfect control of the atmosphere in the stadium. Throughout the performance, the band was electrifying in their shocking spontaneity: at one point, Bellamy dramatically kneeled down on the stage and deliberately butchered an improvised guitar solo, plucking random dissonant notes and sliding his pick up and down the strings to create something that sounded like a newbie guitarist trying out his gear at Guitar Center. This seeming effortlessness combined with their visible absorption in their own music characterized the rest of the night.

Not So Silent Night is not a traditional holiday concert by any means, but it had all the sentiments typical of one. The fans felt excitement, anticipation, belonging, and even a sense of unity. Through the rowdy distortion and emphatic beats, artists were able to genuinely express their emotions and relate to the audience, creating a special bond that added a factor of human intimacy to this not so silent night.