Concert Review: Deck The Hall Ball 2016

Photo by Sunny Martini

Ah, Deck The Hall Ball. The one wonderful 8 hour Tuesday night at the beginning of December when 107.7 The End works their magic to pull some of the best alternative bands from the year all onto one lineup, packing 8 bands into one afternoon. The event, filling Key Arena, is home to Seattle’s alternative music lovers of all ages. From the eager teens freezing outside for hours before filling the front of the floor, to elderly couples lovingly holding hands in their seats, to little babies obliviously sleeping in their baby carriers. And much like many 107.7 events, the night is filled with a silly carefree energy as the on-air encourage ticket holders to wear ugly Christmas sweaters, Santa hats, pajamas, or whatever holiday themed clothes they can find.

Anyone who can get Cage the Elephant, Walk The Moon, and Twenty One Pilots all on the same lineup is pretty much my hero, so I was skeptical about how this year’s lineup would stack up to 2015’s. And in mid-October when the list was released, I was pretty disappointed. While there were a lot of great names, there didn’t seem to be ones quite as earth-shattering as the year before. Despite this though, DTHB 2016 proved to be easily just as good, if not better than 2015.

Every year, DTHB opens with a local band. That 3 p.m. slot at the beginning of the long lineup is far from a coveted spot, however this year’s band, My Goodness didn’t let that get to them. Their set quickly shaped up to be one of the best of the night, they’re a small band but they surely fill the large stage. Their studio stuff is pretty great, but nothing really unique against what you typically find from Seattle Bands; that darker, heavier, alternative rock sound. It’s the live performance that really sets them apart, it’s energetic and fun to watch, and even if you have no idea who they are, the music is perfect to simply enjoy. Released in 2014, “Cold Feet Killer” has been frequently played on 107.7 year-round, something the crowd instantly keyed into once those opening chords began to ring through the arena. My Goodness blew it out of the water with their short time slot as the opening local band, and they kicked the event off perfectly for the small crowd that was smart enough to get there early enough for them.

Photo by Sunny Martini
My Goodness – Photo by Sunny Martini

Next up, Nashville indie-pop outfit COIN. Though they were only grated a spot long enough for five songs, they also made the most of their early afternoon performance. COIN was my second favorite from the night, the first performing a bit later. They’ve got the kind of bright music that makes you forget its probably below freezing outside, because this is the stuff you listen to jumping around carefree in the middle of summer. The band released their self-titled debut album in mid-2015, but never gained a huge amount of traction with it. However, their new single, “Talk Too Much” has been played constantly on 107.7 since it dropped. Between this and opening for Bad Suns on tour, they’ve finally begun to cultivate quite a fan base that’s ready to party just as hard as the boys. COIN’s performance was nothing but fun. Filled with fast-paced tracks and intense dancing and head-banging, the music somehow gets even better live than on the album. While the beginning of their set was pretty well received by the crowd, no one really seemed to know exactly who they were until “Talk Too Much” closed it out with a little dance party. Their performance ended much too quickly with frontman Chase Lawrence simply stating “We’re called COIN,” picking up his keyboard, and promptly following the band off stage.

COIN - Photo by Sunny Martini
COIN – Photo by Sunny Martini

As the crowd slowly started to fill up, Band of Horses (another Seattle band) took the stage to deliver their amazing set. After a few opening songs, they launched into “Casual Party,” an upbeat song that’s been on 107.7 frequently since the album came out in early 2016. In case simply congratulating a band on a great performance wasn’t enough reason to cheer them on, lead singer and guitarist Ben Bridwell figured it would be a good idea to throw out candy between songs too. The band would finish a song and he would throw out a little handful of candy as he happily shouted “Thanks for clapping!!” The set was filled with many of the band’s best songs, and was certainly fun to watch. Introducing it as what they thought was the best song they’ve ever made, “The Funeral” was made to be a set closer. It starts out lightly with simple guitar riffs and just Ben singing, and slowly builds to this massive sound by the end that has the whole band playing extremely intensely and the crowd watching in awe. A extraordinary ending to an extraordinary set, Band of Horses kept up to great pace of DTHB thus far.

Band of Horses - Photo by Sunny Martini
Band of Horses – Photo by Sunny Martini

Just when you thought the night couldn’t get much better, a little after 5 p.m., Glass Animals took the stage. The band released their debut album, ZABA, back in mid-2014, gained a little bit of traction for “Gooey,” but never made it real big. Until their second album How To Be A Human Being skyrocketed them up alternative charts, and their show at The Paramount less than two months ago went well enough for them to perform in our lucky city again. Opening their set with the first track off the new album, Life Itself, Glass Animal’s set was incredible from start to finish. This was, by far, my favorite set of the night, these guys really know how to put on a show. Dave Bayley, lead singer and guitarist, splits his time between playing/singing at his mic and dancing in his own quirky way that involves lots of bird-wing arms and he makes his way around the stage barefoot. Taking it back to ZABA, the band decided to play “Black Mambo” next. Listening to this on the record, it’s great, but it’s not something that sounds like it would be super fun and exciting live; it’s got a smoother, slower sound to it than most of the newer stuff. Yet somehow, the band manages to make this just as entertaining as any other song in the set, and it definitely wouldn’t be marked as a dull moment of the night. “Season 2, Episode 3,” a weird name for a weird song was next. Again, even sitting way back in the arena, far away from the dancing crowd, this song was so fun to watch. Bayley gets so into singing it, and the crowd members that know the lyrics enjoy shouting them back in all their odd glory. A few more fun songs were played before they sadly had to close their performance with “Pork Soda.” Glass Animals had easily my favorite set of the night, and the only thing I didn’t like about it was how short it was. Looking at it objectively, it was actually a super sloppy performance. Especially in the first song or two, Bayley’s vocals were really quiet, there were a handful of wrong notes played, and a few times where the band was just off of sync enough to be noticeable. However they manage to do it though, these little imperfections don’t take away from the performance at all, it was still just a fantastic time. There’s a difference between performances where the crowd watches the band and dances along, and performances where the music is really meant to be with a crowd, and it thrives in that capacity. Glass Animals has the second kind, the one you absolutely need to see live, and they definitely stole the night for me.

Glass Animals - Photo by Sunny Martini
Glass Animals – Photo by Sunny Martini

Unfortunately after that crazy performance, the night started to go downhill from there. As much as I really wanted to love the Phantogram set after all the hype they’ve been getting recently, it just wasn’t that great. It wasn’t bad by any means, you can definitely tell the duo is very talented, and there were some great moments. Opening with “Black Out Days,” they started it off with a punch for sure, that song is massive, and Sarah Barthel is a great performer. However, the set was pretty dead between the opening and the last two songs, their most popular. The opening of “You’re Mine,” the third of the night stuck out like a bit of a sore thumb. The way the versus are sung is unique on the album, but it works. Live, however it’s just awkward and sounds way too thin in a way that sounds unintentional. Closing with “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” definitely picked the set up. Most of the crowd was much more familiar with that than their other songs, and it sounds great in such a big space.

Phantogram - Photo by Sunny Martini
Phantogram – Photo by Sunny Martini

The next mildly underwhelming act of the night was Jimmy Eat World, an older name, but they still get their fair share of air time on The End. They’ve got an undoubtedly talented performance filled with some of their biggest hits along with their rendition of “Last Christmas” complete with red and white Christmas ornaments on the screen behind them. Jimmy Eat World seemed to be an odd choice for the DTHB lineup though. Sure, “The Middle” and “Sure and Certain” get played on The End multiple times each week, but they don’t quite fit very well on a bill filled with new, up and coming alternative artists. There were a lot of Jimmy Eat World fans in the crowd, it’s easy to see how much talent is in the set, but it wasn’t a standout performance.

Jimmy Eat World - Photo by Sunny Martini
Jimmy Eat World – Photo by Sunny Martini

The last act before the headliners, another beloved PNW band, was The Head and The Heart. First off, I am definitely not a fan of their music. I’ll continue to groan every time it comes on the radio, I was honestly dreading their set a bit, and I could never understand how they managed to become popular enough to play three nights in a row here. But now I get it. Their live show completely transforms their music, taking it from just words and sounds to a real story and real feelings put into an intense performance from all six band members. They opened their set with a song that’s been floating around 107.7 for the last three months since the album release, “All We Ever Knew.” For any audience members that weren’t quite sure who the band was, this definitely clicked it in quickly as everyone was immediately singing along. There’s something about the music that mixes with the crowd to create this atmosphere that just completely saturated with this feeling of love. The title track of an older album, “Let’s Be Still,” holds the lyrics “you can get lost in the music forever…so just for the moment, let’s be still,” and that’s pretty much how their entire performance felt. The Head and The Heart had a set that was simply the most lovely little break between these hard-hitting, fast paced sets. Throughout the night with other performances, you could always spot those few super dedicated fans sprinkled through the audience who know every single lyrics and dramatically lip-sync every word. For THATH set, however, it seemed like every person in the room was that fan. Lyrics would come where even drunk college guys would set down their beer for a minute to throw their firsts in the air, put their arms around their buddies, and sing along dramatically with their eyes closed. The performance concluded with “Rivers and Roads” which singer Charity Rose dedicated to her niece who was in the crowd that night. It was a truly beautiful ending to the set, and had a jaw-dropping moment that showed off Charity’s singing abilities very, very well. Overall, The Head and The Heart had a wonderfully adorable set, that was a perfect change of scenery toward the end of this year’s DTHB.

Head and the Heart - Photo by Sunny Martini
Head and the Heart – Photo by Sunny Martini

Headlining the night was Australian duo Empire of the Sun. Having them headline was a choice I still don’t understand. And after having Death Cab for Cutie headline last year, they seemed even more out of place. Having Empire of the Sun close Deck the Hall Ball would be like having Taylor Swift headline Watershed—you could argue that they fit the genre and style of the festival, but when it comes down to it, they’re really not a great match. Among the other seven bands that occupied the different shades of the alternative genre, Empire of the Sun leans much more dance/synth-pop, the kind of music commonly featured playing in stores at shopping malls. But the set itself was nothing short of insane. In addition to the added platforms and stairs of the stage setup, the duo was accompanied by four backup dancers who performed during each song, constantly changing costumes and wowing the crowd. Accompanied by elaborate costumes and makeup by each band member, their set was definitely a performance that pulled out all the stops. In terms of the music, it wasn’t quite as outstanding as the visual aspects. All the songs follow the same basic dance pop theme with incoherent lyrics and chorus with a beat ready to move around to. The set had people dancing, but it also cleared out pretty quick. A large portion of the crowd left after “High and Low,” and after “Walking on a Dream,” the arena was about as full as it was around 4 p.m. while the event was just getting going. To close out the main part of their set, one guitar was thrown off into the wings, another was violently smashed, and shortly after, its replacement was beaten into the ground before the lead singer rammed into the drum set and amps multiple times. Figuring that was quite an ending, about half the crowd left after this, and missed a three song encore of more of the same sound. A pretty mediocre, misplaced, yet ultimately enjoyable end to the night, Empire of the Sun closed with the dance party promised by The End just a few weeks prior.

Empire of the Sun - Photo by Sunny Martini
Empire of the Sun – Photo by Sunny Martini

Deck the Hall Ball lives up to all the hype every year, and never disappoints. Though the lineup didn’t look quite as good this time as it has in previous years, there were still some killer performances Tuesday night. My Goodness started off the long night perfectly, proving they’re more than just another small Seattle band. COIN brought their bright, fun indie-pop set that put everyone in a great mood with an energetic and lovable performance. Band of Horses threw candy at their adoring fans between songs, and delivered an especially mind-blowing performance of “The Funeral.” Despite how early on the lineup they were, Glass Animals had the best performance of the night, entertaining both new and old fans with their engaging and quirky set. Phantogram followed up with a set that was good, but didn’t quite meet expectations for a band that sounds so good from the studio. Jimmy Eat World pulled in many dedicated fans with their performance of their many 107.7 classics. More locals, The Head and The Heart had an outstanding performance that brings their music to life in the most incredible way. And finally, Empire of the Sun closed the night with a performance ready to dance with, and visual aspects that suck you in. Always a wonderful time, Deck the Hall Ball pulls together the dorky and adorable attitude of 107.7 The End for a perfect night of good people, good music, and good times.

See more great photos of Deck The Hall 2016 at Sunny Martini Photography.

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