Live Show Review: A Place to Bury Strangers and Polly Urethane & Rusty Steve at Larimer Lounge 5/26/22

A Place to Bury Strangers at Larimer Lounge 5/26/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Like many other musical projects A Place To Bury Strangers emerged from the early phase of the global pandemic a different band, certainly with a different membership other than guitarist and singer Oliver Ackermann. Following the highly experimental, even by APTBS standards, 2018 album Pinned the group probably had to have a different approach and lineup to avoid coasting into too familiar territory and musical habits. So we heard Hologram (2021) and what seemed more pop and garage rock in structure and sonics. Then the new full-length See Through You (2022) which felt like a reconciliation of Ackermann’s songwriting and soundcrafting instincts and channeling that through new creative filters and doing a sort of self-remix of a sound to expose a raw core that sometimes, if not for the obvious level of creative development, sounded like an early demo from a time before a band has settled on a sound that might appeal to some more conventionally-minded record label type. Then again APTBS doesn’t seem to have kowtowed that direction with any of its records. But whatever the motivations in assembling these sounds for the new record and whatever the methods for achieving these sounds both jagged and vulnerable how would this version of APTBS translate live.

Polly Urethane at Larimer Lounge 5/26/22

For this leg of the tour Florida-based post-punk band Glove was to have opened the dates but something went sidewise in its camp and that left only the Denver-based openers Polly Urethane & Rusty Steve. It’s a relatively new musical entity though Polly Urethane at a minimum has garnered attention and praise and even recommendation in the local scene with unexpected people telling me I should check out her work and initially thinking it was Polyurethane of Zach Reini vintage, the Godflesh-esque industrial grind duo, upon listening to Polly Urethane’s 2021 EP Altruism with Rusty Steve, Altruism, it was obvious this was going to be something very different. The lush production of the EP and the emotionally refined and powerful vocals hit with greater dramatic effect and force live bolstered by Amber Benton decked out in a white, gauzy dress and long, black hair lending an aspect of one of those vengeful female spirits of Japanese folklore. When Benton crawled up top of some cases on the side of the stage and sang from there as well as going out into the crowd she broke the convention of the audience and performer barrier with a seeming fearlessness but also the intention of transgressing unspoken rules that protect nothing but a subconscious status quo.

Polly Urethane & Rusty Steve at Larimer Lounge 5/26/22

The music combined with the theater of the performance was reminiscent of Zola Jesus and her own fusion of classical music and ethereal yet cathartic, darkly electronic pop. And Benton’s persona has to be compared to that of Diamanda Galás—that intensity and conviction perfected melded with a musical sophistication that helps to elevate aspects of the show some less charitable types that aren’t open to witnessing something different might call gimmicky to a realm of high art. At the beginning of the performance there was a projection of a the great, highly political collage artist Barbara Kruger—looked specifically like her 1990/2018 “Untitled (Questions)” piece—that calls into questions assumptions about society, challenging power and privilege. Seemed entirely appropriate to the current political climate even before the Supreme Court started to in full force dismantle civil rights in America. The performance seemed informed by the spirit of Kruger’s piece and if you take the time to give the EP a listen it’s a deeply personal and emotionally rich expression of the fallout of authoritarian influence on culture on the psyche. Really, an unforgettable performance that wasn’t the typical local band opening for someone with whom their music might fit.

Polly Urethane & Rusty Steve at Larimer Lounge 5/26/22
A Place to Bury Strangers at Larimer Lounge 5/26/22

From the flood of colored lights projected in shifting arrays and textures to the sheer controlled caustic sonics and brutally syncopated rhythms A Place to Bury Strangers unleashed its steady flow of electrifying sound and launched into “We’ve Come So Far” and didn’t much let up minus some breaks between songs and an unexpected and brilliant interlude toward the end of the set. It felt like being elevated into a different psychological space where your brain is stimulated in with a bright and dense energy pulsing with a driving momentum until we were let down at the end. The guitar and rhythm section just had that kind of rare synergy that is pretty much impossible to ignore with sounds that hit different parts of your listening spectrum.

A Place to Bury Strangers at Larimer Lounge 5/26/22

Even songs you already know and have heard many times over several years had a heightened freshness like the band had learned to rediscover its music to deliver in a way that still felt exciting for them. Most bands probably do this especially after roughly two years of not being able to play live shows. Seeing the outfit going back to 2008 when it came through Denver and played the Larimer Lounge with its gloriously disorienting, scorching swaths of sound this performance felt like the trio was connecting to a new source of inspiration.

A Place to Bury Strangers at Larimer Lounge 5/26/22

At one point toward the latter half of the set the band came off the stage to the center of the room where Ackermann had set up what looked like a self-contained sound generating device through which he could process vocals and his bandmates brought instruments to join in what certainly had to be a familiar experience for anyone who got to go to DIY spaces in America circa 2006-2012 akin to Ackermann’s own venue and studio in New York City, Death By Audio. In taking the show to people off stage in this way it was like the band recreated that experience in a more commercial venue thereby injecting the situation with some of that free form and free flowing spontaneous spirit and energy of the DIY world pre-Ghost Ship and pre-complete corporate/private equity firm takeover of the real estate market nationwide more or less ending that era completely into the foreseeable future. For that alone, this show felt exceptional and subversive. But of course there was more to come including the familiar strains of the always epic and enveloping “Ocean.” But the whole set came off like a scrubbing away of the mundane world and getting reconnected to one’s own raw emotions as expressed through this band that is inaccurately called a shoegaze band or noise rock or simply noise or dream pop or industrial. It’s all of that and beyond that. When the show was over that purging of regular life lingered for long afterward from two sets of deeply imaginative and creative music that directly challenged convention and that’s a gift no one should take for granted.

A Place to Bury Strangers at Larimer Lounge 5/26/22

Partial Set List
We’ve Come So Far (Transfixiation)
You Are The One (Worship)
My Head Is Bleeding (See Through You)
Hold On Tight (See Through You)
Everything Always Goes Wrong (Exploding Head)
Let’s See Each Other (See Through You)
Never Coming Back (Pinned)
End of the Night (Hologram)
In Your Heart (Exploding Head)
I Live My Life to Stand in the Shadow of Your Heart (Exploding Head)
Have You Ever Been In Love (new song)
Ocean (s/t)

A Place to Bury Strangers at Larimer Lounge 5/26/22
A Place to Bury Strangers at Larimer Lounge 5/26/22

Live Show Review: Spoon at Mission Ballroom 5/24/22

Alex Fischel and Britt Daniel of Spoon at Mission Ballroom 5/24/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Nearly 30 years into its career, Spoon could be one of those bands that is doing fan service with a live show. But fortunately most bands of its era haven’t exactly done that and its show at the Mission Ballroom in Denver seemed both a celebration of being able to do live shows again, for now, and still proving itself touring for Lucifer on the Sofa, a rock and roll follow up to the luminously moody Hot Thoughts.

Geese at Mission Ballroom 5/24/22, photo by Tom Murphy

When Geese opened the show it seemed as though more than a few people found it to be a bit of a head scratcher. The performance was somehow both focused and shambolic, driven by a jazz quintet’s dynamic precision and a jam band’s free flowing aesthetic, part punk, part prog. Almost always within the same song. Vocalist Cameron Winter strode about the stage like wandering around, bemused, relating unusual stories with a free association improv flair. Pretty much the whole set was comprised of tracks from the group’s extraordinary 2021 debut album Projector but seeing this presentation of the music added another dimension to Geese’s widely expressive aesthetic. The energy felt like seeing some friends rehearse for their big stage debut for mutual acquaintances with no pressure and the freedom of that and seeming to be unmindful and not overly conscious of playing to a crowd mostly there to see a band with a fairly lengthy legacy. If you’re going to the UMS in 2022 this band will perform on some stage and likely in a smaller venue setting.

Geese at Mission Ballroom 5/24/22, photo by Tom Murphy
Jim Eno and Britt Daniel of Spoon at Mission Ballroom 5/24/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Spoon has probably played thousands of shows across three decades and in a wide variety of settings. The last time this writer saw Spoon was somehow in the fall of 2002 at Tulagi’s in Boulder during the touring cycle for Kill the Moonlight. The group then was impressive enough in a small club with songs that seemed so sophisticated and well crafted for a band playing a venue that often then featured music much more raw and noisy. Fast forward some twenty years and Spoon seems to have injected its current performance style and songwriting with some raw edge without losing its elegantly arranged songwriting. You could tell that everyone seemed happy with not just being there but with the crowd response. Britt Daniels regularly interacted with people in the front row directly and with people further back from the stage by making eye contact and acknowledging people who were giving back the energy Spoon was putting forth. Bassist Ben Trokan looked genuinely in awe of what the band was doing collectively and the mutual emotional dynamic between the crowd and the performers. He looked a little like a young Scott Baio with a wardrobe choice seeming to come right out of an 80s movie. It made for an interesting aesthetic like we were seeing a band that had some consciousness of how they were dressed but let the rock theater of the musical performance speak loudest.

Ben Trokan of Spoon at Mission Ballroom 5/24/22, photo by Tom Murphy

And we were certainly treated to selections from a wide swath of Spoon’s career with a slight emphasis on the new record at roughly a third of the set of twenty-one songs (including the encore). “My Mathematical Mind” was a standout of the night with its reworking into a song that expanded into epic proportions giving the musicians some space to stretch the song out without spilling over into gross self-indulgence. For a band with such tight songwriting and sensibilities that always seem to put exactly the right touches on songs so as to not waste a moment in the listening it was a welcome change into a different side of Spoon’s collective musicianship and one that allowed for variations in arrangements and to go off the established map of the original song to that degree. The whole set seemed like hit after hit even when it was lesser known songs. Something about the forcefulness of the show like an inner emotional momentum was pushing the band into giving it an extra push into cutting loose around the edges while coming back together in perfect sync. It all proved why Spoon has maintained more than a simple cult following and with its new batch of songs, some of the best and most immediately appealing of its long career maybe it’ll garner a new generation of fans.

Gerardo Larios of Spoon at Mission Ballroom 5/24/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Spoon Set List for the Mission Ballroom 5/24/22

  1. Held
  2. Small Stakes
  3. Don’t You Evah
  4. Do You
  5. The Beast and Dragon, Adored
  6. The Hardest Cut
  7. Satellite
  8. The Underdog
  9. My Babe
  10. I Summon You
  11. Lucifer on the Sofa
  12. Don’t Make Me A Target
  13. My Mathematical Mind
  14. Inside Out
  15. I Turn My Camera On
  16. Got Nuffin
    Encore
  17. Wild
  18. The Way We Get By
  19. The Fitted Shirt
  20. Black Like Me
  21. Rent I Pay
Britt Daniel of Spoon at Mission Ballroom 5/24/22, photo by Tom Murphy
Britt Daniel and Ben Trokan of Spoon at Mission Ballroom 5/24/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Live Show Review: Kurt Vile at Ogden Theatre 5/23/22

Kurt Vile and The Violators at Ogden Theatre 5/23/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Well over a decade into his career as a fairly prominent musician, Kurt Vile remains someone who seems to have an uneasy relationship with the spotlight. And throughout his set at the Ogden Theatre in Denver on May 23, 2022 he demonstrated that reticence to court attention even though he was playing a venue much bigger than a small club while also providing ample examples of why his work has garnered more than a small cult following.

Honey Blazer at Ogden Theatre 5/23/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Denver psych Americana band Honey Blazer opened the show. Usually you can catch this band at clubs like Hi-Dive, Lost Lake or Globe Hall and the like. With artful guitar builds and laid back dynamics, Honey Blazer was able to turn what might otherwise be an elongated jam into energetic, sunny melodies with an expansive dynamic. Prior to this act Gann Matthews had been in and around the Denver scene often as a singer-songwriter but one whose talent was obvious if not as fully appreciated as he should have been but with this band he, Brad Grear and their bandmates looked pretty comfortable on the big stage and giving us songs that imagine a life beyond the rat race of late capitalism.

Kurt Vile and The Violators at Ogden Theatre 5/23/22, photo by Tom Murphy

When Kurt Vile and The Violators got on stage their presentation was no more elaborate or theatrical than Honey Blazer. It was just shy of looking like a group of guys who got on stage for a big show in just their street clothes, unless of course it was their street clothes. And it didn’t seem like some faux humble pose either. To compound this impression Vile himself engaged with the crowd tentatively and completely unvarnished, unpracticed and without pretense. Like someone who almost feels embarrassed that they have to take up your time with their unpoetic thoughts. No grand statements and mostly Vile and company let the music speak for itself.

Kurt Vile and The Violators at Ogden Theatre 5/23/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Maybe it was his usual deal but for those of us who had never seen Vile perform live prior to this show he skirted the line between self-deprecating and eccentric pretty well. The set included songs from across a broad range of his career going back at least as far as Smoke Ring For My Halo (2011) with “Peeping Tomboy” as well as “Overnite KV” off of God is Saying This to You… (2009) and offering cuts from newer records with “Check Baby” from Bottle It In (2018), “Pretty Pimpin” from b’lieve i’m goin’ down… (2015) and ample material from (watch my moves) (2022) and “Going on a Plane Today,” “Flyin (Like a Fast Train)” and “Mount Airy Hill (Way Gone).” But beginning to Vile and the Violators delivered a rich tapestry of guitar styles, uniquely constructed lyrics with relatable and insightful sentiments that get you to think about everyday life in ways maybe you hadn’t quite considered before. There is a freshness to the music that is easy to take for granted if you’ve heard any kind of indie rock playlist since the late 2000s but in the relatively compressed confines of this show in a 1,600 capacity venue and a set that brought together the various strands of Vile’s songwriting it hit as striking and Vile as an unlikely and gifted guitar hero with a knack for songwriting that is imbued with truly inventive wordplay. The humanity and sense of humor underlying songs about coming to terms with oneself and trying not to be in the world as someone making life harder for others and making social commentary in a way that seems so personal and interwoven into stories of daily existence its easy to look past it. It never seems preachy. But the guitar tones and song dynamics are also where the group shines combining texture, atmosphere, orchestrated rhythms and intricate, inventive melodies that come off very simple and spare yet un-obviously lush.

Kurt Vile and The Violators at Ogden Theatre 5/23/22, photo by Tom Murphy

The music of course being outstanding it was Vile’s between song banter that made the show more endearing. Yes, we all saw the merch coming in and there was a cool t-shirt design and vinyl and other items for sale but people forget and maybe someone told Vile that he should remind the crowd there was stuff for sale and he seemed so reluctant to mention that because he was obviously aware that most people probably knew that and there was likely no need to stump for his own product. And as he was doing so it felt like we all knew he had to say it even if it felt for him a little awkward. Oftentimes on stage Vile would retreat from the mic to take a solo and his abundant hair regularly obscured his face all to make for an informal camouflage into the shadows of the performance, well aware that he is a member of a band and not a solo artist. At some point in the show flashing emergency vehicle lights paused in front of the venue, maybe from an ambulance picking someone up because of a medical issue, visible through the theater doors and Vile remarked, “Looks like a lot of cops out there” with a hint of concern. Near or at the end of the show Vile remarked that they’d been on the road for a month, five weeks “but it feels like a couple of years. It feels good. But this feels great.” Certainly for someone who is one of the great musicians and songwriters of his generation, Kurt Vile knows how to set aside any insufferable rock star persona and be real while not skimping on the power of the music itself.

Kurt Vile and The Violators set list for Ogden Theatre 5/23/22
Kurt Vile at Ogden Theatre 5/23/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Live Show Review: Elder Island at Bluebird Theater 5/20/22

Elder Island at Bluebird Theater 5/20/22, photo by Tom Murphy

A late spring blizzard swept into the Colorado front range the day of the Elder Island show at the Bluebird Theater with a promise of several inches of snow but by evening it had become slush and other than snow on lawns the precipitation had melted into a steady stream in municipal gutters. The net effect was to give the night a feeling like you were huddled into dusky night club where a cool, local, hip downtempo band was playing a homecoming show. Except that this was Elder Island from Bristol, UK and not someone from the Mile High City. Nevertheless the trio put on a show that came off spontaneous and low key as well as theatrical with simple elements used to great effect with the lighting and a band looking like it was playing deep in some secret warehouse space trying not to attract outside attention with bright lights, rather that this was a show between friends and the banter from stage and the sly, self-effacing, friendly sense of humor was impossible not to like.

Elder Island at Bluebird Theater 5/20/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Maybe it was the awareness of the weather potentially taking a turn for the worse or by design but the Elder Island set felt short. Right around an hour or less. And during the course of the set the group performed selections from the breadth of its career including “The Big Unknown” from the 2014 self-titled EP, “Black Fur”from the 2016 Seeds in Sand EP, the 2017 single “Welcome State” and closing the set with “Purely Educational” from the most recent album Swimming Static (2021). For a selection of songs across that timeframe of the band’s development it all, whether updated with new gear or arrangements, had that lush R&B, downtempo pop jazz aesthetic Elder Island has rendered into a coherent and compelling whole. Rich low end bass, electronic atmospherics and an ear for that style of production while coming together as music that feels very analog and homespun. Maybe it was the obvious humanity of the members of the band that embraced their own quirks and taking the craft but not themselves seriously and that level of spontaneity and openness of spirit made the show very inviting until the end which felt like came along far too soon.

Elder Island at Bluebird Theater 5/20/22, photo by Tom Murphy
Elder Island at Bluebird Theater 5/20/22, photo by Tom Murphy
Elder Island at Bluebird Theater 5/20/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Live Show Review: Adult at Hi-Dive 5/14/22

ADULT. at Hi-Dive 5/14/22, photo by Tom Murphy

You would be hard pressed to find a more representative slice of underground/independent industrial/darkwave artists with punk energy and aesthetics than the spring 2022 tour headlined by Detroit’s ADULT., who have been pioneering that sound since the 90s.

Spike Hellis at Hi-Dive 5/14/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Spike Hellis opened the proceeings with its kinetic industrial glitchcore sounds like Atari Teenage Riot. Its aggressive and urgent beats and eruptive dynamics delivered a sense of displacement and disorientation yet not confusion. The mood was very focused and present with that disruptive energy seemingly aimed at the complacency that has the culture stuck, repeating outworn patterns that seem comfortable but has society trapped in a psychological death spiral from which the music of Spike Hellis and its ferocious performance seemed like a counter to that emotional paralysis.

Spike Hellis at Hi-Dive 5/14/22, photo by Tom Murphy
Kontravoid at Hi-Dive 5/14/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Kontravoid’s set set a similar tone with a flood of strobes in sync with the avalanche of textured melody and rhythms. Wearing a white mask and black clothes, Cameron Findlay seemed to channel and resist the spirit of an era when we’re all encouraged to monetize our very lives and become yes a “Faceless” figure in service to an international corporate and authoritarian agenda that sees pretty much everyone as interchangeable and only useful insofar as they fit into the strategy of maximizing profit above all other human needs or concerns. But with this music Findlay gives a powerful form of dark dance music that makes it impossible to forget you have a body you live in and that the experience of it is very much your own and with vitality of the performance and the sonics of the music it felt like you were part of something while also not being subsumed by it. Kontravoid created a headspace outside of normal time with the strobes and when they shut down it felt like being eased back into ordinary existence and that effect is surely a gift.

Kontravoid at Hi-Dive 5/14/22, photo by Tom Murphy
ADULT. at Hi-Dive 5/14/22, photo by Tom Murphy

ADULT. had been on the road for weeks prior to this gig and anyone driving to Denver is coming from far away. Nicola Kuperus may have alluded to this fact early in the show while at the same time seeming pleasantly surprised that people showed up maybe more so than in the past in Denver. But no predictable complaints about the altitude and with little preamble Kuperus and Adam Lee Miller gave us a generously lengthy set. Kuperus used her two microphones like conductor batons in gesturing with the crowd and prowled the stage striking an array of ritualistic poses as one might have come to expect from the singer. But it never feels rote from this band. There was no phoning it in, rather, a performance that honors why ADULT. has been at this project for some twenty-four years.

ADULT. at Hi-Dive 5/14/22, photo by Tom Murphy

The set list sounded seamless in production style though mostly drawing from the group’s three most recent albums This Behavior (2018) including the brooding title track, Perception is/as/of Deception (2020) and the stellar new record Becoming Undone. There’s something instantly compelling when you can see that a performer is feeling the emotions that went into the writing the songs, as heavy as they can be with ADULT., all over again. It’s shamanic in its ability to induce a catharsis for the anxieties, fears, frustrations of living in a country and global civilization seemingly bent on overt and what is insisted is subtle self-destruction with the specter of climate change and environmental degradation neglected for so long politicians and corporate leaders blame the effects on personal choice over the way the economic system is organized and prioritized to maximize profits and push the costs of questionable choices and agendas onto the natural world including human life in aggregate. The weight of that pressure you heard in the way ADULT. crafted atmospherics and in how Kuperus evoked that no longer ignorable agony that the is subconsciously pervasive with most people and not at all subconsciously for many of us. The honesty of that expression extended a human solidarity that underlined the show thus making it beyond a signal of the endurance of live music and the hunger for it the kind of performance that might actually be good for you too.

ADULT. at Hi-Dive 5/14/22, photo by Tom Murphy
ADULT. at Hi-Dive 5/14/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Live Show Review: Dehd at Bluebird Theater 5/2/22

Dehd at Bluebird Theater 5/2/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Chicago’s noise pop band Dehd interestingly enough played the first show of its Spring tour in Denver at the Bluebird Theater. Perhaps not so unusual since, apparently, singer/bassist Emily Kempf has been spending a bit of time in New Mexico of late. But this show was very Chicago-centric with another Windy City trio on the bill with darkwave industrial group Pixel Grip. Stylistically it would take some effort to find bands further apart. But both represented distinctly different side of a city known for bands with eclectic influences.

Pixel Grip at Bluebird Theater 5/2/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Pixel Grip’s Rita Lukea took the stage alone at the beginning of the show with just a microphone and backing tracks for the first song. And that would have been compelling enough for a whole set such was Lukea’s commanding presence as a singer. But when Tyler Ommen and Jonathon Freund came on to take up places on synths and drums the sonic signature became more saturated and the rhythms deeper and with such a rich low end that it reminded those in the know of a techno show at a warehouse somewhere at which the people holding the event bring in real gear. Lukea’s vocals remained strong but there was also a completely unaffected vulnerability in her performance that was powerful on its own, that coupled with an utterly sincere way of engaging with the audience that helped to make the music immediately and constantly accessible.

Pixel Grip at Bluebird Theater 5/2/22, photo by Tom Murphy
Dehd at Bluebird Theater 5/2/22, photo by Tom Murphy

You can have listened to every Dehd record and not be prepared for the sustained bursts of joy the band exudes on stage. Often lumped into loose categories like post-punk, garage rock and surf rock, Dehd is all of those things but its spirited performance somehow incorporates a healthy, self-deprecating Midwestern sense of humor with songs that are a direct line to heartfelt emotion transmitted with great sincerity and enthusiasm to the audience. The presentation of the music is that of self-aware bravado infused with a startling vulnerability that strikes in unexpected moments in almost every song. In that way Dehd came off like a party band that gave up the uninspired hedonistic lyrics for something with more depth and soul.

Dehd at Bluebird Theater 5/2/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Much of the joking from stage came from Kempf who said she was a Virgo at one point (which it turns out isn’t simply a joke) and asked the crowd where they were on the astrological spectrum, getting some humorous responses. And almost as a non-sequitur Kempf asked “Where have all the cowboys gone” and maybe that Paula Cole hit got teased by the rest of the band. The synergy of what seemed like a loose performance but which really wasn’t was a fascinating display of contrasts.

Dehd at Bluebird Theater 5/2/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Throughout the show one couldn’t help but be impressed with how Dehd could stretch way out with the melodies and then come back together in tight dynamics with both Kempf and singer/guitarist Jason Balla throwing themselves bodily into the performance singing from their core while Eric McGrady, no slouch on performing with his entire body either, seemed like a tranquil and steady presence standing up and playing his small set of drums. He made it look easy but the music demands creative and imaginative percussion. But the force of the performance didn’t just come from that visceral intensity, it came in the moments when the songs went atmospheric and introspective and the vocal performances weren’t simply fiery and earthy, they evoked complex emotions with a disarming simplicity. The vocals on “Disappear” and “Dream On” are some of the best of the band’s impressive catalog and the latter surely a standout on the group’s forthcoming full-length Blue Skies (due out May 27, 2022 on Fat Possum), from which more than a couple of songs in the set were taken though there was plenty from Flower of Devotion, Water and earlier releases. Ending the encore with “Desire” seemed like an exclamation point on a set of all high points. If Dehd is right now a bit of an indie cult band the exuberance of its live shows and how so many of its songs linger with you should propel it wider circles before too much longer.

Dehd at Bluebird Theater 5/2/22, photo by Tom Murphy
Dehd at Bluebird Theater 5/2/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Live Show Review: Waxahatchee at Ogden Theatre 4/22/2022

Waxahatchee at Ogden Theatre 4/22/2022, photo by Tom Murphy

Waxahatchee’s most recent album Saint Cloud released two weeks into the first phase of the global pandemic in 2020 so fans didn’t get the full force of the songs in the live setting for many months and perhaps not until this 2022 tour. But that setback didn’t seem to diminish Katie Crutchfield’s enthusiasm and spirit for the music and this performance at the Ogden Theatre in Denver showcased the record in almost its entirety with some choice cuts from earlier records. But Saint Cloud was the focus of the generous nineteen song set.

Madi Diaz at Ogden Theatre 4/22/2022, photo by Tom Murphy

Opening the proceedings was Madi Diaz. The prolific singer-songwriter stood on the large Ogden state with her drummer Adam Popick and held your attention with her luminous and strong vocals accompanied by her spare yet expressive guitar work that conveyed a distinctive yet grainy tone. It was an effect that set her apart from many other artists operating with a similar palette of sounds. Diaz hadn’t spent a lot of time live performing for two years either and expressed a great deal of gratitude for people taking the time to give her 2021 album History Of A Feeling a listen. Her songs about the pitfalls of relationships hit with a wit and nuance of understanding that provided both a clarity and an embrace of the messy emotions that can flood your brain when you’re in the moment. “New Person, Old Place” was especially poetic and vivid in its imagery but her whole set felt very intimate and strikingly honest but not cruel and a good fit as an opener for Waxahatchee.

Waxahatchee at Ogden Theatre 4/22/2022, photo by Tom Murphy

One of the recent times Waxahatchee performed in Denver was also at the Ogden on September 30, 2018 opening for Courtney Barnett and accompanied by an electric guitar player to her acoustic and no one else. Of course the songs were good and Katie Crutchfield’s vocals strong and her lyrics personally incisive. But this time out, headlining her own show, Crutchfield had a bass player, two electric guitarists that also played keyboards and a full kit drummer. Yet with this expanded line-up the singer lost none of that intimate feel and air of vulnerability bolstered by confidence and a fluidity in the transitions between songs throughout the show.

Waxahatchee at Ogden Theatre 4/22/2022, photo by Tom Murphy

The aesthetic was reminiscent of an old country concert with Crutchfield in what might be described as a minimalist ball gown. And that little bit of theater gave the show a slightly different quality than if Crutchfield was dressed up in something less formal. The vibe seemed Memphis that combined the rustic with a touch of glamour reinforced before anyone took stage by “The Ballad of El Goodo” by Big Star playing over the sound system as the introductory music. The effect made the Waxahatchee songs seem more intimate and impactful. It also helped to bring in focus Crutchfield’s lyrics which always seem so direct in tone whether singing to someone in the song or addressing herself, a quality that gives the sense that she’s singing directly you about something you’ve experienced in your own life. The wordplay seemed even more effective as with the playful and clever couplets of “Hell.” Perhaps less obvious was the way all three guitarists, if one includes Crutchfield, synced together to create truly elegant and subtly intricate guitar melodies that created a nuanced atmosphere within which Crutchfield’s commanding voice and presence could stand out and stand clear.

Waxahatchee at Ogden Theatre 4/22/2022, photo by Tom Murphy

“Lilacs” was dedicated to Madi Diaz whose own songs of romantic mishap had a similarly poignant resonance and Crutchfield told us that “This song is a breakup song so if anybody needs that, this is before you” before performing “Never Been Wrong.” The set took us through a broad range of human emotions but always with great creativity and nuanced insight. The self-deprecating, melancholic insecurity of “Singer’s No Star,” struggles with one’s own shortcomings on several songs but definitely on “War” and existential uncertainty and coming to terms with not necessarily knowing which is the best path forward as on “St. Cloud.” Waxahatchee covered a lot of emotional territory without trying to put a try hard polish of positivity on anything with the underlying suggestion that despite how deeply you feel that you’ve got nothing left and things seem like too much to bear that you can find some thread of a reason to at least keep struggling and enjoy momentary joys and strong feelings that burn through the mundane haze of every day life now and then. So it seemed entirely appropriate that the set proper ended on the song “Fire” from Saint Cloud after beginning the show with “Oxbow” to suggest some heavy work ahead. And if that isn’t impressive set order planning it’s hard to say what would be.

Waxahatchee at Ogden Theatre 4/22/2022, photo by Tom Murphy
Waxahatchee at Ogden Theatre 4/22/2022, photo by Tom Murphy

Live Show Review: IDLES and Automatic at Mission Ballroom 4/19/22

IDLES at Mission Ballroom 4/20/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Somewhere between when IDLES last played Denver at Larimer Lounge on October 1, 2018 and 2022, the Bristol-based rock band turned from small cult band to much wider international following going from a room that supposedly has a capacity of 250 to Mission Ballroom at 3,950. Who can say what happened. Maybe more people got on board when Ultra Mono came out during the peak months of the pandemic and Crawler in the fall of 2021. Its appeal has certainly been much broader than might have been suspected four years ago. The group resists easy and obvious genre tags like punk and post-punk much less post-hardcore but the spirited performance, the explicit anti-fascist bent of the lyrics and the attitude of this show even on such a big stage sure made it feel like IDLES came out of the punk or at least UK pub rick lineage.

Automatic at Mission Ballroom 4/20/22., photo by Tom Murphy

Automatic from Los Angeles opened the show with its minimalist aesthetic. No guitars but bass, synths and drums with all three members performing vocals with Izzy Glaudini (synths) doing most of the leads, Halle Saxon (bass) doing many of the backing vocals and Lola Dompé (drums, daughter of Kevin Haskins of Bauhaus fame) putting in lead vocals at various points in the set. Musically it was reminiscent of minimalists like Young Marble Giants with a touch of Stereolab and Delta 5. They seemed like a retro-futurist pop band with a visual style that resonated with a 1990s vision of a band from 2049. In some ways the music recalled the unconventional rhythms and otherworldliness of Suburban Lawns or LiLiPuT and the mix of organic sounds with the more electronic was well-integrated and imaginative. The new Automatic album Excess releases on June 24.

Automatic at Mission Ballroom 4/20/22., photo by Tom Murphy

Automatic at Mission Ballroom 4/20/22., photo by Tom Murphy
IDLES at Mission Ballroom 4/20/22, photo by Tom Murphy

With the forcefulness and aggression inherent in its live energy IDLES could both alienate and inspire people. What made the band appealing to so many people early on was its stridently political yet humanistic and populist lyrics tempered with an embrace of sensitivity and openness singing of deep psychic pain with a raw and refreshing honesty and authenticity. The music felt like a way to redeem aspects of UK “lads” culture by cutting out the misogyny and, well, working class manifestation of racism and xenophobia while preserving the energy that is exciting to music aimed at that demographic. Because it was so authentic and real and spoke in direct language, the group couldn’t help but expand its audience with people who realized those old and outmoded ways didn’t belong to their core identity. At the aforementioned show in Denver, IDLES utterly erased the barrier between attendee and performer with lead singer Joe Talbot spending most of the time off stage and among the people who showed up with an infectious energy that swept you up in the the momentum the band built throughout the show.

IDLES at Mission Ballroom 4/20/22, photo by Tom Murphy

This performance expanded on the raw charisma and power of the smaller show and translated it all to the much bigger stage. Was it punk? Sure, but more like an AC/DC show minus the wack lyrics and lines about wanting to cut your cake with their knife. Mark Bowen wore a dress and cut back on what might have been seen as the hypermasculinity of the performance if the sensitive and thoughtful songs about personal struggle, pain and loss could be missed in the sheer, visceral excitement of the show. Never once did anyone in IDLES seem to complain about the altitude, they just poured themselves completely into the show. Lee Kiernan often seemed to be dangled and whipped about by powers beyond his control and toward the end of the set Bowen went out into the audience and sang. Kiernan stepped down off the stage and played among the people and Talbot too went out into the crowd—things that you don’t often see at a place like Mission Ballroom.

IDLES at Mission Ballroom 4/20/22, photo by Tom Murphy

All of the antics were certainly worth going to the show alone but it’s the songs of IDLES that were most riveting. Beginning the show with the appropriately titled “Colossus” and on into a roughly nineteen song set that included the tender yet intense “Mother,” the nihilistic yet transformative “Crawl!,” the surreal yet poignant “A Hymn” and closing with “Rottweiler” IDLES were on fire. One thing that seemed perhaps not so obvious but striking is that with a show like this with songs such as these IDLES is putting into practice a way for people to question their angst, their masculine identity and their aggressive impulses and channel that energy in ways that are more compassionate and humane rather than pretend its not there which is as creative a project as any overt musical goals. Before “Rottweiler” Talbot informed us that “There’s one thing we don’t love and that’s fascism and this is an anti-fascist song by an anti-fascist band.” Ending on that note of unity but showing where one of the lines is with acceptable behavior and worldview IDLES didn’t preach so much as make an easy statement of solidarity with the human condition and how fascism erases those conversations between people.

IDLES at Mission Ballroom 4/20/22, photo by Tom Murphy
IDLES at Mission Ballroom 4/20/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Live Show Review: Snail Mail at Ogden Theatre 4/17/22

Snail Mail at Ogden Theatre 4/17/22

Lindsey Jordan came out on stage looking like a rock/pop star from another era with what looked like a leather jacket and a lot of browns and rust colored pants. And for someone performing many songs from a fairly heavy record, Valentine, she seemed to be very upbeat and quick with the playful gestures on stage and with her band and lighthearted quips with the audience that really made the performance uplifting. There was a casual and free exchange with the audience who were attentive and supportive, a kind of rapport that set the tone for the show and somehow seemed to exist for the opening act as well.

Joy Again at at Ogden Theatre 4/17/22

Philadelphia-based indie rock band Joy Again opened the show and it seemed as though more than a few people in attendance were familiar with its music. Considering the group has been active since 2014 and roughly the same time frame as Snail Mail. Initially it hit like some sort of post-Mac Demarco, bedroom pop-esque band but then there was a keyboard player and a guy playing Moog and as the set went on the band’s ability to stretch out beyond initial impressions made its music more interesting and enveloping. Evidently Moog/keys player Zachary Tyndall evidently has a brother who lives in Denver and in attendance and after giving that shout out Tyndall took lead vocals for a spirited cover of “My Own Worst Enemy” by Lit.

Snail Mail at Ogden Theatre 4/17/22

Snail Mail’s set list drew liberally from both Lush and Valentine beginning with “Adore U.” Although there seemed to be a sense of camaraderie and good humor on stage, Jordan ably brought the intensity to her vocal performance when the moment called for expressing the strong feelings that undoubtedly inspired the song as if reliving the song but being able to let go of that moment. And the singer’s ability to convey a broad range of emotions was impressive. It was as though Jordan summoned these memories and living in them temporarily whether those feelings have a traditionally strong expression or as in “Ben Franklin” a melancholic acceptance. All executed with a fluid command of and confidence one might not expect from songs that articulate trauma and hurt so poignantly.

Snail Mail at Ogden Theatre 4/17/22

Between songs Jordan free formed the banter almost like a comedian interacting with people. Before playing “Light Blue” along with the band off stage Jordan reacted to the enthusiasm of the crowd saying, “Come on., don’t gas an old lady up. You’re gonna make an old lady cry. Just kidding. I don’t see myself as an old lady.” Later when Jordan asked what day it was, Sunday or Monday, someone said it was Easter and the singer joked, “Bad Catholic. I didn’t come here with an Easter agenda.” In general it was a lively and charming performance that kept your attention throughout including the encore that included “Mia” and ended with “Pristine.” Given the aesthetic of the band it felt like some kind of modern take on classic pop and rock except that Lindsey Jordan’s songs are so vulnerable, open and raw it felt like a collective purging of anxiety for an evening.

Snail Mail at Ogden Theatre 4/17/22
Snail Mail at Ogden Theatre 4/17/22
Snail Mail at Ogden Theatre 4/17/22

Live Show Review: The Velveteers at Fox Theatre 4/15/22

The Velveteers at Fox Theatre 4/15/22, photo by Tom Murphy

The Velveteers have certainly reached an interesting crossroads in their career on the eve, as it were, of their national tour opening for Greta Van Fleet following the 2021 release of their debut full-length album Nightmare Daydream. The album and its thoughtful and incisive lyrics and imaginative sound palette much expanded from its early days perhaps helped to that level with the help of Dan Auerbach’s production of the album is a creative success even if it has yet to set its performance on streaming services on fire. But this show at The Fox Theatre felt like a way to acknowledge its roots as a band from Boulder with a hometown performance before setting sail to win over the audiences of a popular buzz band operating in a loosely similar realm of rock music drawing on older blues based rock. And for the occasion the trio brought on the bill some friends from the local scene who may have emerged around the same time as The Velveteers or shortly after.

Rose Variety at Fox Theatre 4/15/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Becc from Rose Variety seemed to indulge in a string of inside jokes and references throughout the band’s set including hinting that Rose Variety had broken up or went inactive during the early years of the pandemic but that Dry Ice had asked them to open for its own first show so this quintet got things back together for the occasion. Its music sounded like a blend of shoegaze pop and psychedelic indie rock of the sort that emerged in the 2010s. The fact that the performance felt a little rough around the edges but seemed musically coherent with a strong songwriting foundation made the threads of chaos that ran through the songs and Becc’s off-the-cuff persona just added an element of excitement to the show this early on.

Dry Ice at Fox Theatre 4/15/22, photo by Tom Murphy

Dry Ice had opened for The Velveteers in November 2021 for the album release show at the Gothic Theatre in Englewood, CO but if you didn’t get there early enough you missed them as I did. But listening to the band a bit online I did not expect to see a group whose music was very tight and expertly executed and was somehow both on the shoegaze spectrum with a touch of post-punk and more than a touch of riot grrrl edge and sensibilities including the final song “Don’t I Look Cute” which bassist Olivia Booth said was about killing frat boys and even brought someone on stage who claimed to be one and theatrically did so. But that aside there is something vital and visceral about the way in which Dry Ice delivers its politically/socially aware lyrics that strikes a broad emotional resonance like an amalgam of sounds and textures like there is some jazz background in the way they seem to invoke Deerhunter, Dum Dum Girls and The Slits all at once.

The Velveteers at Fox Theatre 4/15/22, photo by Tom Murphy

The Velveteers have their sound dialed into sharp focus at this point. And while the energy is very intentional and practiced even as they seem to cut loose in the performance it still feels spontaneous like they have built into their shows the ability to indulge going off the map for periods of time so that it doesn’t get stale for them even as they deliver a strong performance. Because it can get like that when you’re in a band. How long can you sustain the excitement for yourself when you’re playing the same songs for extended periods of time and a consistent quality of performance for the many, many people you’ll see on the road that haven’t seen you several times like many fans in your hometown may have? You build into the songwriting and in the set lists and in the songs places where you can exercise spontaneity without sacrificing cohesion. And this show was an exercise in that and rock theater generally. Sure, the group has had that as part of their shows from very early on but you can see the work put in to give people a show rather than just three musicians getting up and rocking out. Demi Demitro’s combination of vulnerability and commanding, passionate vocals and thoughtful and astutely observed lyrics really set the band apart from other groups that have a rooting in the classic rock revival of the 2010s. But with Baby Pottersmith and Jonny Fig pushing the momentum in polyrhythmic fashion and giving the music a strong dynamic foundation the music and the show seems to reach great emotional heights. And with any good fortune this will translate well to the bigger stages The Velveteers take on what will hopefully be a successful run as impetus for another creative leap forward with its next record.

The Velveteers at Fox Theatre 4/15/22, photo by Tom Murphy
The Velveteers at Fox Theatre 4/15/22, photo by Tom Murphy
The Velveteers at Fox Theatre 4/15/22, photo by Tom Murphy
The Velveteers at Fox Theatre 4/15/22, photo by Tom Murphy