A version of my review originally appeared at soundcheck.ocregister.com
Toward the end of Snow Patrol’s enthralling Fox Theater performance on Thursday night, leader Gary Lightbody said the lyrics to tender new ballad “Lifening” were about “friends, family and everything that’s important to me.”
Then came a telling moment: after suggesting some crowd participation at the chorus, the Irish singer/guitarist added, “it’s up to you; I want you all to be happy.”
That eagerness to please onstage, paired with life-affirming, romantic songs which straddle the line between alternative and adult rock, has helped make Snow Patrol one of the U.K.’s biggest bands since the mid-2000s.
Here in America, major success arrived with fourth album Eyes Open, which went platinum on the back of top 10 multi-format single “Chasing Cars.” Latest studio effort Fallen Empires debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 chart this past January.
Recorded in SoCal, it finds the quintet in a slightly more experimental mode, utilizing orchestration by Owen Pallett (Arcade Fire, Duran Duran, Pet Shop Boys), a Compton gospel choir and prominent backing by soulful Illinois vocalist Lissie. Lightbody has said the songs’ recurring theme is “reaching out and comforting people.”
After the band’s North American tour concludes next week, the band will represent Northern Ireland during a July festival at London’s Hyde Park, held in conjunction with the Summer Olympic Games.
A remix of “Berlin” – among two Empires instrumentals – played as planetary visuals and the venue city’s name were displayed on the backdrop. Expanded to a seven-piece in concert, Snow Patrol kicked off the 95-minute concert - their first-ever Pomona appearance - with a hard-rocking “Hands Open” and ample strobe light effects.
There was a distinct camaraderie between the singer and musicians, though I get the impression it isn't mutual. He playfully teased and hugged a few of them at various points and joked around with fans toward the front section (spotting some grumpy-looking guys, Lightbody said, “I told you I’d make you smile.”).
“This Isn’t Everything You Are” was an early highlight. Currently top 20 on the Triple A radio airplay charts, the anthem featured the group’s traditional dramatic buildup. “Run,” off 2004’s excellent Final Straw, was equally captivating.
Dynamic guitar squalls driving “In the End,” about realizing truths, were reminiscent of U2’s The Edge (no surprise there – both use producer Garret “Jacknife” Lee regularly) and Lightbody jumped into the audience.
Opening act Ed Sheeran did guest duet vocals on the idyllic, piano-led “New York,” providing an even warmer vibe. Still in male bonding mode, the jovial Lightbody embraced him and quipped, “it’s a love affair for the ages.”
When a fan passed up a humorous note during the serious-minded “Set the Fire to the Third Bar," Lightbody lost his composure and had to restart the song.
Later, an uplifting “Chasing Cars” prompted a loud sing along and waving hands. The infectious “Called Out in the Dark,” with percolating synths and prominent rhythms had people dancing up a storm.
Totally dark and intense, the Arcade Fire-ish “Fallen Empires” was a breathtaking departure. As Nathan Connolly quickly strummed a mandolin and Jonny Quinn did a mix of live and programmed beats, the band chanted and pounded on additional drums. It would’ve been a perfect main set closer.
Aforementioned encore song “Lifening,” where Lightbody sang about simple pleasures in life (seeing Ireland in the World Cup, hearing Teenage Fanclub on the jukebox), was an acoustic guitar-based wonder.
English acoustic folk/hip-hop sensation Sheeran had one of 2011’s biggest-selling debut albums across the pond (the impressive effort, simply titled +, arrives Stateside on June 12). He also notched four top 10 singles and won two BRIT Awards. The shaggy-haired 21 year-old sets himself apart from the pack with an awesome rapid-fire delivery (“U.N.I.”) and shrewd wordplay (“Wake Me Up”).
A friend to members of One Direction, Sheeran co-wrote “Moments” on the deluxe edition of their hit album Up All Night. Surely that teen pop connection had something to do with many young female fans at the Fox shrieking their lungs out throughout the four-song, half hour set.
Sheeran, who played LA-area open mic nights in 2010 and wrote at Jamie Foxx’s home studio before being signed to a record deal, mentioned it wasn’t the first time he’d been to Pomona. The first was with a friend obtaining a passport visa.
Clad in a green UCLA t-shirt, Sheeran played solo acoustic guitar and looped various live vocal effects that eventually had the same effect as a full band behind him. The fun, frenetic and funky “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” contained quick, self-deprecating lyrics about fame. Lots of howls and guitar-as-percussion encompassed the vulnerable “Give Me Love,” while the ballad “A Team” (a drug reference) was quietly heartfelt. The looped, but mostly a capella cover of 19th century folk song "The Wayfaring Stranger" was simply stunning.
Fans were more than happy to engage in some call and response action on "Give Me Love." A long line of them waited to take pictures and get memorabilia signed as Snow Patrol’s show wound down – a portent of things to come. Sheeran returns to headline in the fall. From witnessing this all-too-short display of brilliance, I can only imagine what he brings to a standard set.
Setlist: Snow Patrol, Fox Theater, Pomona, May 10, 2012
Main set: Intro-Berlin (remix)/Hands Open/Take Back the City/Crack the Shutters/This Isn’t Everything You Are/Run/In the End/New York (with Ed Sheeran)/Set the Fire to the Third Bar/Make This Go on Forever/Shut Your Eyes/Chasing Cars/Chocolate/Called Out in the Dark/Fallen Empires/You’re All I Have
Encore: Lifening/Just Say Yes