A version of my review originally appeared on the Soundcheck blog at ocregister.com.
Young the Giant fans weren’t the only excited ones at The Wiltern on Saturday night.
The OC band, particularly front man Sameer Gadhia, was obviously thrilled to play its biggest area headlining appearance to date and first of two sold out nights at the historic 2300-capacity venue. That enthusiasm translated into a totally mesmerizing performance.
Over the past year, the quintet did opening stints for Incubus and Neon Trees, appeared at KROQ’s Weenie Roast and Almost Acoustic Christmas, Lollapalooza and Sasquatch festivals and made a buzzworthy turn on the MTV Video Music Awards telecast (which suddenly drew my attention and led to a slot in my year-end top 10 albums list).
Steady road work definitely paid off. Young the Giant notched a pair of top 5 alt-rock radio tracks and the self-titled debut album has moved 134,000 copies to date, according to a Roadrunner Records spokesperson. Next month, the guys are nominated for six OC Music Awards.
In Los Angeles, 14-song, 75-minute set comprised most of the album and a few promising unreleased tracks. It kicked off with the jaunty “I Got,” where Gadhia immersed himself in the song, shook a tambourine and a mostly teenage-to-young adult crowd dutifully sang along loudly.
The stage was adorned with a dozen strategically-placed light boxed that looked like fancily wrapped Christmas gifts and bright lighting. Gadhia constantly switched between standard to bullet style microphones to enhance his wails and falsetto vocals.
“Guns Out” moved from a dreamy to moderately aggressive sound with ease. The chiming guitar buildup of “12 Fingers” came across even more dynamic in concert. Bassist Payam Doostzadeh roamed the stage quite a bit; guitarist/backing vocalist Eric Cannata, even more so.
Young the Giant enhanced selected songs with string players similar to a pair of SRO Galaxy (now Observatory) charity gigs last December. Here, the string quartet joined for current exhilarating hit “Cough Syrup.” Gadhia introduced it by making a passing reference to Whitney Houston’s death earlier in the day. The lyric “life’s too short to even care at all” suddenly became more poignant.
A cover of “Empire Ants” by Gorillaz (also done during the group’s “Unplugged” performance for mtv.com) was equally dramatic, thanks to the string section and an auxiliary drummer.
Elegant new song “Camera” found Gadhia at the organ and drummer/backing vocalist Francois Comtois providing some electronic beats. A sense of mystery surrounded “St. Walker,” thanks to Jacob Tilley’s subtle slide guitar work, until Gadhia bashed away on Comtois’ cymbals. Suddenly, a sax player ran across the stage. That wasn’t the only odd happening: earlier, a gal threw her bra onstage. The slow buildup of main set closer “God Made Man” brought to mind Britpop act James until the band kicked into rocking overdrive, Gadhia grittily wailed and everyone pogoed along.
Come encore time, the fragile, almost meditative “Islands” was intense and finale “My Body, wildly energetic as the musicians pulled out all the stops. All told, Young the Giant proved more than ready for the big leagues.
For those attending tonight’s gig: so far, the group hasn’t been doing identical sets each night. Early arrival is highly recommended.
Walk the Moon did an exuberant, harmony-rich 45-minute warm up set that recalled The Killers and Friendly Fires. The Cincinnati alt-dance/rock foursome - with painted stripes on their faces - excelled on the bubbly “Tightrope” and frantic, synth-heavy “Next in Line,” both off the new RCA Records EP “Anna Sun,” not to mention the giddy “I Can Lift a Car Up (All By Myself)” and sublime Fleet Foxes cover, “White Winter Hymnal.” Can’t wait to see them again.