The Neighbourhood is solid but predictable at Bill Graham

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Jesse Rutherford, The Neighbourhood’s lead vocalist, got on an amp and reached out into the crowd. As he belted lyrics about fear, fame and being displaced in the music industry — those of “Afraid,” off the band’s 2013 album I Love You. — Rutherford reached out his hands as an adoring group of fans shouted up at him. His other band members looked at each other and grinned.  

The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium was half full Wednesday night when the five person alt-rock band took the stage. In between two Coachella weekend performances, The Neighbourhood made time to come up to the Bay Area, touring for its recently released self-titled album, The Neighbourhood.

At the offset, the band was hidden by the shroud of a dark blue light. The sound of the four-piece band rolled through the giant auditorium, filling the Bill Graham as The Neighbourhood’s fans and Alt-J’s fans alike came together for the evening. The beginning of the set was slow — young adults holding plastic cups of beer mingled in the back, utterly indifferent.

The evening’s main crowd had yet to fill in the auditorium as the opener The Neighbourhood took the stage, but those who had showed up to catch the band’s opening act crowded the barricade to get a peek at the young, alternative-rock band’s performance. Though fans looked forward to the band’s chart-topping hits, the live performance failed to make an impact as strong as these greatest hits have.

The band didn’t take much time to interact with its audience. While his lines got occasional laughs from the audience, Rutherford’s presence felt forced and, at times, uncomfortable. For a band that has gotten so used to the limelight, its presence was shockingly lackluster.

As expected, the band played “Sweater Weather” — the song that brought the members into the mainstream nearly five years ago — as its set came to a close. The entire audience, which had started to fill up in preparation of Alt-J’s performance, knew every word to the pop hit.

Although it’s the song that everyone knows the band for, the performance itself was banal. Rutherford knew to hand off the mic to the crowd at the choruses; the band knew to play it just at this sweet spot in the set — overall, the number felt overtly formulaic and borderline disingenuous.

This isn’t a new characteristic. In the last few years, The Neighbourhood hasn’t taken many stylistic risks. The band knows what it does well — emotionally charged alternative rock — but in just a 45-minute set, even that can get stale.

Although it did a technically impressive performance, there wasn’t much that was done to differentiate its recorded music from the live performances. There was little crowd engagement beyond the few words Rutherford said between sets, and there weren’t many improvised riffs in their pieces. The members of the five-piece band came, performed their pieces and left.

It’s this very reason that The Neighbourhood has fallen flat in its last few albums. The band has become so used to having the sound and presence of overproduced, crowd-pleasing alt-rock that it has become merely a mode in which to present music, rather than a collection of artists who strive to create their own sound.  

This isn’t a wholly negative thing — the band still puts out content that keeps listeners tuning in, but it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. Ultimately, its sound hasn’t progressed from its 2013 hit “Sweater Weather.” In 2018, when alt-rock still continues to possess a strong, evolving presence in the music industry, this lack of growth is detrimental.

Nevertheless, in the last few pieces of its set, The Neighbourhood delivered the excitement needed in its role as an opener. Although there wasn’t much pizzaz to its performance, the band gave its fans what they wanted — a few of their favorite artists performing a few of their favorite songs.

Annalise Kamegawa covers music. Contact her at [email protected].