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Snow Patrol goes full blast on ballads

September 28, 2006|Steve Appleford | Special to The Times

THE boys of Snow Patrol want to rock. Just like it used to be, back when the band was an unknown indie-rock act out of Belfast looking for a break -- until it got one in 2004: "Run," a quiet pop anthem of swelling emotion, full of tears and romance and regret, finally landed Snow Patrol on American radio.

Melancholia sells, but it doesn't rock easily.

Snow Patrol is a far better band than it ever was in the early days, but all those new Coldplay comparisons have got to hurt. So when Snow Patrol landed Tuesday at the Wiltern LG in the first of two sold-out nights, it performed with the volume turned way, way up.

That gave Snow Patrol some surprising muscle onstage, with a nice, driving sound that had a touch of the rock of the '80s. And it was all beside the point. It's the group's ballads that hook the ears.

The band could have done worse than to simply perform its newest album, "Eyes Open," a collection of many raw, teary epics of sadness and grace, and a clear step up from "Run." Maudlin maybe, but also effective, matching melody with feeling.

On Tuesday, singer Gary Lightbody was joined for a breathless "Set Fire to the Third Bar" by Martha Wainwright, whose quivering falsetto added a haunted, unsteady edge. There was a bit of Radiohead (by way of Coldplay, no doubt) in the sudden explosiveness of "Chasing Cars," an otherwise delicate song of affection and escape. And "Make This Go On Forever" had the lyrical emotion of classic Elton John. Fans shouted along like they meant it.

Some of it was maybe louder than made any logical sense, transforming quiet songs into bigger ones, as Lightbody strummed his guitar anxiously. The flashing lights and a thin layer of fog behind him looked more appropriate to Depeche Mode or Gary Numan, but the best songs easily survived.

Lightbody was a pleasant, jokey host, endlessly praising the California sunshine. And most of the faster songs were inoffensive and well-crafted, but after 90 minutes onstage, it was clearly the saddest melodies that echoed the loudest as fans headed out the doors.

Support act Augustana travels similar emotional territory, but its Wiltern set was rooted more in classic folk rock, sounding like the brokenhearted brothers of Kings of Leon. The quintet of Illinois longhairs (now based in Los Angeles) performed a mix of acoustic and electric ballads, and singer Dan Layus sat down at a piano to sing "Boston," one more song of delicate emotion and melody that hurt in just the right way.

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