Period Piece

Making great-looking videos on a shoestring budget.

I'm no Mark Pellington or David LaChapelle, so take this for what it's worth: The new Laylights video looks like a million bucks.

"I know," marvels Laylights frontman Tyler Hayden. "That's why we were so excited about it."

The Laylights paid the Lockerpartners (Emily and Mary Grace) less than you'd pay for a new clutch to capture the essence of their song "Sparrow" on film. The production team shot the footage in one day back in November. Two hundred bucks and about fifty hours of editing later, "Sparrow" is ready for prime time. "Everything just worked out perfectly," Hayden enthuses. "We don't have money -- I mean, we need to buy better equipment. So hooking up with the Lockerpartners was awesome. They had a keen eye and great production skills. But we had no idea that our simple little concept of a video would come out as good as it did."

On the surface, the concept is indeed simple. The clip -- slated to premiere this Friday, February 16, at the Oriental Theater -- focuses on a woman clad in a Victorian-era gown walking through the woods, interspersed with performance shots of the band in its rehearsal space. Upon repeated viewings, though, a few subtleties begin to stand out -- like how the train of her dress brushes past various antiques strewn on the trail, which then reappear in the band shots. The items are intended to symbolize the idea of "things inherited," says Hayden, which is the underlying theme of the song. "Sparrow" was inspired by a similarly named recording that Hayden's grandmother bequeathed to him when she died.

"Part of the main verse, just the feeling of her voice, has always kind of stuck with me," he notes. "So it's sort of a dedication to her. She had a crazy sense of beauty about her, this really giving and bold sense of being. Just one day, it sparked in my head. The girl that I'm in love with now has a similar essence. It's like I have that beauty in my life once again. So I wanted to incorporate that idea."

Even without that depth of story line, the cinematography is stunning, with postcard-worthy shots of a tree line cloaked by low-level clouds. The telegenic Hayden and his bandmates also wisely chose to adorn themselves in turn-of-the-last-century garb, which lends a certain elegance to the proceedings. "Whether you were selling newspapers in the street or whatever you were doing, whatever part of society you fit into, you still had a certain class about you," Hayden says of the Victorian style. "There wasn't casual, necessarily, and there wasn't formal. It was all sort of upper formal."

In other words, even if you were broke, you could still look good.

Morning has broken: Officially, everyone gathered at the Gothic last Friday to celebrate the release of new discs from Nathan & Stephen and Born in the Flood. But the evening felt a lot like a coming-out party for Morning After Records, since all four of the acts performing record for the burgeoning label, which is quickly establishing itself as the Saddle Creek of Denver.

I arrived at the theater a little after 9 p.m. and was greeted by Dan Rutherford, who was behind the merch counter shilling for his bands. "You'd better get in there," chided the label head, who knew I wanted to catch Nathan & Stephen. "They're on right now."

Sure enough, the show had started at 8 p.m., just as advertised -- which only seems to happen at these theater-level shows. Everywhere else, the publicized start time is more of a suggestion of when things might get going. My tardiness meant I missed Meese, which was a drag; I'd been looking forward to seeing how much (if any) the band's live show has progressed. Early on, Meese struggled with lackluster performances that didn't quite live up to the caliber of its songwriting. Little by little, though, the outfit has become more refined on stage, a development no doubt sparked by its high-profile supporting roles opening for the Fray at Red Rocks last fall and in Vail a few weeks ago.

Obviously, I can't comment on whether that trend has continued, but I'm happy to confirm that Nathan & Stephen was mostly firing on all cylinders. I elbowed my way up to the front in time to see the band -- clad in all-white get-ups that invoked the cult-like fashion sensibilities of Danielson -- turn in an impassioned version of "Happier." That was followed by a slightly shaky-handed rendition of "Stand Back Up," which is sure to be the feel-good hit of the summer. Although the players tripped over their feet a bit during transitions, I'm pretty sure most people didn't notice, thanks to their entertaining syncopated gesticulations -- impromptu hand gestures to go along with the words I'm letting you know, I'm letting you go. That takes some coordination -- not to mention that keeping fourteen people in lockstep has gotta be a bitch.

Uh-huh, fourteen. Overnight, the nine-piece had inexplicably morphed into an act with more than a dozen members. I can only deduce that either a) someone fed the mogwai after midnight and didn't tell anyone, or b) the members of Nathan & Stephen took notice of my flippant Polyphonic Spree quip in last week's profile and threw down the gauntlet.

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