Neon Trees' mohawked singer Tyler Glenn declared his intentions early on at the band's sold-out Webster Hall show.
“Tonight we're gonna build a church where we can all feel comfortable and let our hair town,” he said, echoing a nice bit of Lady Gaga-ism. But, the Provo, Utah, quartet, despite trying very hard with a 65-minute set of fun, crowd-pleasing '80s-drenched pop, fell a bit short on church construction – unless they meant to build a temple of One Perfect Pop Song instead.
Yes, “Animal” was fantastic – as catchy and clever and smile-inducing as it was the first 100 times you heard it on its march and eventual domination of alternative rock radio last year. Not only did it get the crowd singing and bouncing along, but the only time they stopped bouncing was when Glenn was body-surfing above them. It was truly a great moment – the memorable collision of Neon Trees' new-new-wave and the best power pop of producer/co-writer Tim Pagnotta's Sugarcult – and it paired nicely with “1983,” another collabo with Pagnotta.
Neon Trees also got the build-up right, with the promising “Your Surrender,” where they team with the great S*A*M and Sluggo to marry a Killers' guitar line to Glenn's Gene Loves Jezebellesque vocals.
However, getting to that point was a long, trying slog. Glenn made a point of complaining that Neon Trees existed before its major-label debut “Habits” arrived, despite what bloggers and critics said. But it became pretty clear pretty fast that the band's best work came when it got outside help.
“Love and Affection” was kind of a snarled mess, while “Calling My Name” owed a whole lot to The Cult's “Firewoman.” Glenn's strain on INXS' “Never Tear Us Apart” showed that the band has a bit to go until it can sustain their “Animal” power for a whole set. But they may get there.
SETLIST: Sins of My Youth / Love and Affection / Girls and Boys in School / Calling My Name / In the Next Room / Death of You and Me / Your Surrender / Animal / 1983 / Our War // ENCORE: Never Tear Us Apart / Farther Down