By Allyson Bills
Not every band from England can speak of Phoenix being their home away from home, but Oxford’s A Silent Film is an anomaly. The band has toured Arizona numerous times since their inception in 2005, and in fact, recorded their 2012 effort Sand & Snow in the Phoenix area. Tuesday night’s show at the Valley Bar marked the last show of their current U.S. tour in support of their latest self-titled album.
From the moment I walked into the venue and before I saw A Silent Film’s set, I could tell the amount of appreciation the band has for their fans. In front of the merch booth, there was a tree-like structure that provided step-by-step instructions on how to write the band messages. In all my years of attending shows, I have never seen a band do anything like this before. It was a unique, intimate way for the fans to connect with the band. Now, onward to the actual show.
I have attended several A Silent Film shows, and I’m always surprised that they aren’t filling larger venues by now, despite an extremely dedicated fan base. With that being said, I saw people of different groups come together to watch this band; I was even standing next to a couple of kids on the side of the stage. A little after nine o’clock, the stage became pitch-black with soft-rock music in the background. Then the bright band sign lights came on, which woke me up (I needed this because it was going to be a long night), and singer-pianist Robert Stevenson, along with the rest of the band, greets the crowd by touching their hands.
It was evident from the first note A Silent Film played that they never missed a beat. They opened with “Tomorrow” off their New Year EP. The band mainly consists of Stevenson and drummer-vocalist Spencer Walker, but they use whomever else they choose for the rest of the parts of their tours. Stevenson was dynamic from the get-go, dancing and engaging the audience with the song’s chorus: “Prove yourself tomorrow.” This is perfect message when everyone is struggling to keep awake at work from the night before.
A Silent Film further commanded the audience with “The Stage Is Your Life” from their sophomore effort, Sand & Snow. This is one of many songs in the set that the crowd went wild for, as it’s a “homegrown” album. The clean, powerful vocals of Stevenson could be heard across Phoenix. This song always gives me the feels every time it’s played live. Life really does imitate art for A Silent Film and the lyrics to this song: “Say it once more with meaning // You’ll be bringing the house down.”
After A Silent Film finished playing this song, Stevenson addressed the crowd and let them know that “Phoenix is our homecoming.” This was a heartwarming moment, given the unfortunate events that have recently happened internationally. With that being said, A Silent Film rolled into another song off their New Year EP, “Paralysed,” which demonstrated the recent direction to move into the more somewhat electronic realm. The song had a thumping bass that I could feel when I put my purse down on the speaker, and tons of electronic key interludes. Also, the tune caught me by surprise because there were pauses of when you think it will end, but then a burst of sound appears and the song continues.
Despite touring extensively on their 2010 debut album, The City That Never Sleeps, A Silent Film keeps finding ways to reinvent their older songs. This is how you keep your fans engaged time after time again. “Driven By A Beating Heart” is one of those songs. On the album, it has a more musical beginning. However, Stevenson sang the first verse completely a cappella, with the instruments building up afterwards. It was clearly one of the crowd favorites.
Before the beginning of the show, I was wondering why A Silent Film had a pear on top of the keyboard. Then during “Anastasia” from Sand & Snow, a piano-rock ballad tune, I learned it’s actually a shaker. How clever. I almost thought that it was a snack. I even Instagrammed and Snapchatted this pear to no avail. During the show, and him knowing of the upcoming holiday, Stevenson addressed to the audience who may or may not be aware that England doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and is a day to “try to understand American football.” He added that he recognizes so many people in the audience, and gave a shout out to his surrogate Arizona parents in the front row.
A Silent Film also knows not to forget where they came from. Before going into “Lavender Fields,” off their self-titled effort, Stevenson told the audience that this song is about him and Walker growing up in England. I wasn’t a fan of this song after listening to the recording, but seeing it played live blew my mind. The slow-tempo song with the acoustic guitars and steady drums, along with Stevenson’s angelic voice makes me want to hang out in a lavender field. Another tidbit that I learned tonight was that the tune “Where The Snowbirds Have Flown” from their self-titled album was actually written before A Silent Film ever set foot in Arizona. Thinking about it now, it will be ironic every time A Silent Film play this song in this state in the future.
At times, there is a tendency for bands’ energy to wane during a set, but A Silent Film never let up, even towards the end of their show. “Strong Enough” from their self-titled effort had a somber-like beginning with background electronic thumps, and then turned into a huge burst of sound after the first verse. It was a reassuring song that got Stevenson dancing up a storm, with the crowd to duplicate his actions. Also off their self-titled album, “Lighting Strike” was the loudest song of the set in terms decibels due to in large part of Stevenson busting out his Telecaster. A Silent Film closed out the main portion of their set with their classic staples, “You Will Leave a Mark” and “Danny, Dakota & The Wishing Well,” from their respective first two albums that enticed the loudest cheers from the crowd. Stevenson shredded his Telecaster and danced the hell out of the these last two songs. Walker also provided some amazing harmonies on “Danny, Dakota & The Wishing Well,” along with keeping up with this fast-paced tune. It was a rousing ending to a terrific set.
Obviously, A Silent Film was going to play an encore. Why wouldn’t they? It’s their “hometown show” after all. After a few minutes, the band left the stage, both Stevenson and Walker came back. This was the fastest encore wait I have ever seen. Stevenson explained that he didn’t remember the code to the Valley Bar green room, and so they decided to go back onstage. For the first song, it was only Stevenson and Walker onstage, which was fitting because they are the core of the band. They created an intimate moment by playing an acoustic version of their “Lamplight” from their debut album, which they dedicated to the crowd. The song was hauntingly beautiful with Stevenson on the acoustic guitar and Walker singing backup vocals and creating rhythms on the pear shaker.
In the second song of A Silent Film’s encore, “Message In the Sand” from their New Year EP, Stevenson said it’s a “song about someone meaning a lot to you and not finding the right words to say it.” The final song of the hour-and-a-half long set, “Harbour Lights,” from their sophomore effort, a quick number that enticed lots of “ooohs” from the audience. Even Stevenson didn’t want the show to end either, and sang louder as the song continued until the end.
For me, this was a show that I didn’t want to end; to the extent that my alarm clock didn’t ring in the early morning. A Silent Film played one hell of a “homecoming show,” and a high to carry into the Thanksgiving Holiday. And most importantly, I solved the mystery of The Pear.