The Light and Love of Snow Patrol Live

May 20, 2012

For much of this century, Snow Patrol have provided gifts of a guilty pleasure, ears riding on the arc of prescient guitars and lyrics lifting us into heart-space to sing along to passionate love poems. Critics have noted the band’s ballads compatibility with wedding dances and romantic-comedy soundtracks, so much that they’ve suggested that the film and television producers keep the lads in business. Since seeing them open for U2’s 360 Tour and now again twice (selling-out smaller venues in support of their latest studio release), I’m moved and encouraged how well their gems generate a great live concert experience.

I remember discovering Patrol’s first hit “Run” when the band joined the Live 8 efforts in 2005. Something struck me about this group’s epic sound and honest grace, and I have gobbled each record’s accessible appetizers ever since, so capable are these guys to tempt and satisfy my audio appetite. These are emotional pop-rock anthems that pop in the mouth like candy, that rock the belly and the bones with the balm of perpetual youth, like long rides in the car at high speeds, like an ocean wind that pushes back your hair when the tide comes in. Hearing “Run”  again early in the live set, it still gets me like a force of nature about the nature of fate, with the lyric “as if you had a choice” churning and burning my soul to seize the day.

At the Nashville show in the historic comfort of the Ryman Auditorium, we sat near a family who’d brought their rambunctious-but-tired pre-teen son. Before the show, after he inadvertently kicked me while feigning a nap on the Ryman pews, I whispered disparagingly to my date, “I guess a babysitter is more expensive than a concert ticket these days.” But later in the show I swallowed my words as our younger enthusiast was on his feet and fully immersed in the show, recognizing every song and repeating every lyric. Snow Patrol’s multigenerational reach touches this middle-aged-fanboy-for-life with similar gravitas.

Folks who fill the first few rows at a Snow show beware: both in Nashville and again in Austin at the legendary Stubb’s (the former a seated show, the latter general admission), front-person Gary Lightbody confidently chided people who looked like they may not be having a good time. Calling it his “tough love” approach, the lead singer teased his fans, making smiles mandatory. For us engulfed in an affirmative dance of appreciation, the grins already bent our faces in an automatic response to the gorgeous sounds and sumptuous light show.

Lightbody beckons us with the light, leaves melodies on our bodies and brains to linger for hours. Their latest, Fallen Empires feels like an album required by 2012 yet mired in the irony that it sounds like it could have been released in the 1980s, a compilation of swirling chants and thundering hymns to lay love and hope at the feet of the apocalypse. These tracks treat our aural ailments, lulling listeners with a life force that need not apologize for how it might energize. Snow Patrol’s musical medicine makes a somehow soothing ointment for the oddness of the age.

I’ve noticed critics confuse the band’s sometimes melancholy moodiness with a kind of disembodied dreary detachment. Despite the sadness of certain songs, though, the impulse to joy jolts on. With the dueling dual percussionists propelling us towards the fire, “We are the light” is the sizzling refrain of the recent album’s title track, sung with such power, with Gary’s arms stretched cruciform, calling forth spirits and being for spirit. Contrast this with the pleading prayer that covers “Make This Go On Forever” in aching pathos: “Please just save me from this darkness.” In all cases, Snow Patrol sing about human romance for the service of humanity, admitting fault and enduring failure but finally embracing love fully.

The shadows of Coldplay and U2 inevitably cast endless comparisons around this band’s sound and reputation, but it’s certain in their soaring sincerity that we need not deny or apply the striking resemblance for the band to get us at the gut level. I still call them a guilty pleasure because I find something intrinsically cheesy about the entire package; for some reason, they remind me of why I still like to listen to 70s and 80s pop rock radio stalwarts.

Whether eyes are open or shut as if in love, whether fans are singing along or waving hands as if in church, whether the sound is filling a room or floating to heaven at an open-air gig, Snow Patrol are a sonic powerhouse for hopeless romantics and unpretentious aficionados. We check our indie-artsy game at the door and get into the dripping goodness of the songs. “Chasing Cars” compels lovers and spouses and best-friends to “forget the world” and see “a garden that’s bursting into life.” Let’s waste time listening to Snow Patrol, digging the grace that still gets us every time. —Andrew William Smith, Editor

As of this writing, Snow Patrol are concluding a United States tour, with a summer of European gigs still awaiting. Thanks to Selena Mullinax for the pictures from the Austin show.

Review: REMinding Us of Greatness—Accelerated Parables of the Deconstruction*

April 5, 2008

By Andrew William Smith, Editor

Michael Stipe is no stranger to singing about the end of the world, but for the last few years, these testaments tended towards contemplative elegies rather than shake, rattle, and rolling with energy. With the release of the band’s fourteenth studio album Accelerate, R.E.M has finally silenced the naysayers who had prematurely predicted the end of his band’s career. Taking tips from The Edge, the band hired producer Garret “Jacknife” Lee (U2, The Editors, Snow Patrol) to return to the ferocious familiarity of guitar-driven, fist-waving power pop.

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