The stage set looked a bit like something out of Later…with Jools Holland, the long-running music show on BBC2. Like Mogwai was bringing a bit of the UK with them wherever they were touring but also a heightened visual presentation of the music without depending on the lighting of any particular venue.
Drawing liberally from the band’s excellent new record, Every Country’s Sun, Mogwai opened the show with the rich and roiling low end and scintillating, weather system-esque build of the title track. From there and for the rest of the set, Mogwai demonstrated how it’s not quite like some other instrumental rock bands or post-rock acts. If you give yourself some time with the records it hits you. Live, the effect is even more pronounced. It’s never just variations on a theme or jamming out. Mogwai has a vibe if not a one trick pony sound. The song titles suggest there is emotional content that goes beyond merely attempting to be epic. There is humor, terror, apprehension, anxiety, joy, tranquility, contemplative airs and heady dives into layers of sound both introspective and fiery. Mogwai’s dynamism is kinetic—it is of the body. But it is also working on the levels of the heart and the imagination without having to speak or sing a word. Sure, there have been lyrics and vocals in various Mogwai’s songs over the years but on Every Country’s Sun the more pop moments with words work as elements of the music itself, another sound working in synch with the others.
Because Mogwai’s music is all but beyond language it’s ability to communicate effectively is not dependent on linguistics. And yet its enigmatic titles employ a clever use of the English language to add a sense of suggestive mystery and multiple meanings. With “I’m Jim Morrison I’m Dead,” the surrealistic title conveys a dry, irreverent sense of humor but one that draws on Morrison’s own personal mythology as being connected with Native American spirituality and communicating poetic and cosmic truths past the barriers of time, space and culture. When band edged into the song there was a sense of being swept into a melancholic realm where despair sublimates off into the haze of spent emotions.
And yet there was something a bit different with this Mogwai show. Apparently drummer Martin Bulloch was suffering from health issues and filling in on the tour was Cat Myers of Honeyblood. And Myers proved more than adequate to the task, providing the power and nuance that Bulloch masterfully brings to Mogwai’s records and live performances.
The show would have ended with “Old Poisons” but we were treated to the full rendition of an early Mogwai track, “Mogwai Fear Satan,” proving the Scottish quintet (including touring multi-instrumentalist Alex Mackay) was crafting evocative soundscapes of delicate intricacy and raw power from the beginning.
Every Country’s Sun
Friend of the Night
Party in the Dark
Crossing the Road Material
Killing All the Flies
I’m Jim Morrison I’m Dead
Battered at a Scramble
Don’t Believe the Fife
Hunted by a Freak
Who:Seraphim Shock 20th Anniversary of Red Silk Vow w/Euphorbia and DJ Rockstar Aaron When: Friday, 11.24, 9 p.m. Where: The Oriental Theater Why: Seraphim Shock started in the mid-90s during, despite what late-comer-commercially successful genre fiction like Twilight might seem otherwise, the height of the vampire craze in America. Anne Rice’s vampire novels with Lestat as a main character were enjoying a bit of a renaissance and Vampire: The Masquerade had become a popular role playing game (in 2018 the 5th edition of the game is due out) with a spin off television series produced by Aaron Spelling for Fox. But Seraphim Shock formed in Denver at a time when LoDo had become a thing that hadn’t dominated all of downtown and plenty of urban decay was a feature of the central part of the Mile High City. Its particular flavor of Goth-industrial music included the musicians performing as vampires with theatrical make-up and garb. What could have been silly instead came off as creating atmosphere and putting on a show rather than the image eschewing late alternative rock underground.
1997’s Red Silk Vow was Seraphim Shock’s debut album coming at a time when the mainstream music world in any sense was having zero to do with the Goth subculture so it seemed an anomaly as vocalist Charles Edward, who performed shows at that time looking Victorian vampire chic including a top hat and cloak, crooned for long lost loves and alternatively raging against cultural conservatism and against a repressive society in general—liberally using the image of Satan as not just the opponent of the Christian god but as a totem against the perverted use of religion to oppress human nature and impulse to creative endeavors.
After the 90s, Seraphim Shock’s music and image transitioned into an even more cartoonishly Satanic glam rock/Goth-industrial hybrid. Arguably the music was better and more developed it was hitting at the wrong time and long before the resurgence of the popularity of glam rock, Goth, industrial and related music of the last few years. But with this celebration of Seraphim Shock’s first album, maybe Edwards can capitalize on this moment.
Who:Sgt. D’s List, ROAC, Almataha When: Friday, 11.24, 5 p.m. Where: Chain Reaction Records Why: Early grindcore show at Chain Reaction Records. Sgt. D’s List is an S.O.D. cover band fronted by Alton Schoonmaker of Doperunner and Aberrant. So it’ll be pretty legit and you can check out one of Denver’s best record stores.
Who:The Sehkunts last show w/Smokestack Relic and The Blackouts When: Friday, 11.24, 8 p.m. Where: Bar Bar (Carioca Café) Why: The Blackouts is an all-female hard rock cover band whose members are veterans of the local punk and metal scene. The Sehkunts never played many shows but the people in the band have contributed to Denver’s local culture and music world for decades. The reason it’s the band’s last show is that singer Lisa Cook is moving out of state. Might have something to do with Denver having become a playground for the moneyed at the expense of everyone else. Sounds like all “cool” American cities these days. Cook is perhaps best known as the charismatic frontwoman and guitarist of the punk bands The Emmas and Turbo Knife Fight. In the latter she played with drummer Karen Walton who some may know from her days in the all female punk band Rabid Ragdolls. Walton and Cook played together in the short-lived punk duo Naako Deesko before playing with noteworthy punk and rock guitarist, Sherry Hern. Hern has played in various Denver bands over the years, and having guested in The Emmas now and then, including the all woman punk band Pin Downs and the hip-hop/noise rock phenoms Rainbow Sugar. Primarily an accomplished visual artist these days, Hern can still rock with the best of them. Because there are no real recordings this may be the last time you get to see or even hear The Sehkunts.
Saturday: November 25, 2017
Who:Steve Gordon Benefit featuring Animal / object, Lynn Baker – Miguel Espinoza Flamenco Jazz Duo, David Dinsmore, Gordon Gano, The Noise Gallery and Perry Weissman III When: Saturday, 11.25, 7 p.m. Where: Mercury Café Why: This is the benefit show for artist Steven Gordon of Animal / object, with whom we recently conducted an interview about his life in and out of art and music. Tonight the aforementioned musicians will perform including Steven’s own band. Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes will perform a solo set, free/experimental jazz group Perry Weissman III will treat us to some of their own weirdness and an all-star case will perform as The Noise Gallery. You can donate to Steven at this link during his time dealing with pancreatic cancer pre-early 2018 surgery while he has to take a leave from his job. Because cancer is exhausting in a way that goes beyond the usual ways most of us experience.
Sunday: November 26, 2017
Who:Textures: Synth Drone Collective When: Sunday, 11.26, 7 p.m. Where: Mutiny Information Café Why: This will be the final Textures Ambient Showcase of 2017 hosted by Wesley Davis but it’s all heavy hitters in the Denver/Boulder synth world with a collaborative set as Synth Drone Collective from bios+a+ic, Mark Mosher, Chris Sessions, Sean Faling, Kuxaan-Sum and Chris Frain.
Monday: November 27, 2017
Who:Purity Ring w/Oko Tygra When: Monday, 11.27, 9 p.m. Where: Boulder Theater Why: Ever since the release of 2012’s Shrines, Purity Ring has exerted an influence on pop music production with its imaginative soundscaping born out of their idiosyncratic songwriting style. While still a member of Born Gold, Corin Roddick immersed himself in the art of beatmaking during the downtime that comes with touring and asked Megan James to perform vocals on some of his initial material. The bright, ethereal music sounded like pop songs influenced by hip-hop production. Subsequently the band has worked with Danny Brown and Angel Haze, it’s done numerous remixes, production work on a Chance the Rapper record, recently co-wrote/co-produced three songs on Katy Perry’s 2017 album Witness (whether by chance or otherwise, Katy Perry performed last night at Pepsi Center). But collaborating with massively commercially successful artists aside, Purity Ring’s core appeal is that its work is the product of cultivating their own imaginations and touring with the unique lighting rig designed by Roddick and making music that seems like as great an attempt to express dream imagery as has come down the pike in recent years. Opening the show is the great Denver dream pop band Oko Tygra whose own vision of transcendent sonic beauty will fit in perfectly with what follows the rest of the night.
Tuesday: November 28, 2017
Who:Mogwai w/Xander Harris When: Tuesday, 11.28, 7 p.m. Where: Boulder Theater Why: For 22 years, Mogwai has proven that you can write highly expressive instrumental only rock songs that convey a mood, a sense of place, a non-verbal story better than many bands with lyrics. Early on, Mogwai accomplished this with guitars, bass, drums and keyboards. But following 2011’s towering epic Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, Mogwai has changed direction a bit of incorporated more synths and production into its sound for an effect like soundtracking an experience rather than what could be seen as cinematic vignettes on its previous albums. Mogwai were no strangers to movie soundtrack work at that point but it seemed to take that method and apply it to crafting its music independent of someone else’s creative vision. 2017’s Every Country Sun demonstrated that Mogwai’s gift for humorous, enigmatic, poetic song titles is still as strong as their ability to write evocative, imaginative music even as they no longer seem tied to having to rock.
Opening is analog synth style artist Xander Harris. His work is often compared to that of John Carpenter with good reason—his dark, brooding synth work evokes a sense of claustrophobia and menace while at the same time creating an expansive emotional atmosphere. Often his music seems inspired by dystopian, horror science fiction though in 2017 he did an alternative soundtrack to the Hoichi the Earless section of 1965 Japanese horror anthology Kwaidan.
Who:Hockey Dad w/The Frights and Vundabar When: Tuesday, 11.28, 7 p.m. Where: Boulder Theater Why: If Hockey Dad is a “surf rock” band then surfing in Australia must fit with the marketing clichés used by Foster’s in the 90s. Except that rather than some weak beer, Hockey Dad is a rock duo inspired by 90s punk and garage rock circa The Sonics and The Wailers—melodic, a little rough around the edges and crackling with youthful energy. On the recordings either Zach Stephenson or Billy Fleming must play bass so maybe live they’ll bring on a third member for the tour. The band released its debut full-length, Boronia, in 2016 and its follow-up, Blend Inn, is due out on February 9, 2018 on Kanine Records.
Who:Kanga w/Adoration Destroyed and n810 When: Tuesday, 11.28, 8 p.m. Where: 3 Kings Tavern Why: Kanga makes the kind of industrial music certain artists aimed for in the 90s but ended up making sometimes clumsy industrial rock with a short shelf life. As an artist who did music programming for prominent horror films like The Conjuring II, Insidious III and The Devil’s Carnival, Kanga DuChamp has proven to have a real ear for a hook that works in a variety of contexts. Her 2016 self-titled full-length sounds like something from that 90s era of industrial music if the limiting sonic fetishes were shed such as over processed, crunchy guitar, alienating aggression in any aspect of a song, the distorted screaming that got old immediately after Trent Reznor took it in interesting musical directions while many just settled for being monochromatic vocalists. DuChamp actually sings. Her songs are still dense, edgy and dark while not shying away from pop songcraft. Maybe you could compare her music to that of Curve. Catch her at a small club like 3 Kings before she moves on to bigger venues.
Wednesday: November 29, 2017
Who:Ashley Koett, The Corner Girls, Schapero and Terremoto When: Wednesday, 11.29, 7 p.m. Where: Globe Hall Why: Ashley Koett isn’t yet well known anywhere but her sophisticated, jazz-inflected, soulful pop songs are reminiscent of Amy Winehouse had Winehouse come up listening to a lot of indie rock like Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie, bands that are no strangers to fully incorporating electronic sounds in their own music. The Corner Girls are a surf rock band with a feminist punk edge. Schapero’s new single “Freaking Out” sounds like a combination of flamenco guitar and emotionally fragile ambient pop—spidery guitar, echoing, ghostly cloaks of sound around the vocals. Terremoto is a band whose sound harkens to that branch of early 2000s emo and post-rock that employs slow, fragile dynamics that reflect an introspective state of mind better than a lot of abstract, chill, ambient music.