Concert Reviews

A Wonderfully Strange Night at Hamsterdam With Gordon Gano and a Fuzzy Hat

Saturday was a night of firsts at Hamsterdam. It was the first live show from Hippies Wearing Muzzles, the mostly modular synth project from Lee Evans, better known as the bass player in Kissing Party. It was probably the first cross-country performance art, found sound and lattice poem collaboration show at Hamsterdam or in Denver generally for a good long time. It was also the first time Animal/Object played this venue with the usual crew of Kurt Bauer, Steve Gordon, Gordon Pryor and David Mead. But this outing the avant-improv outfit was joined by part-time violin player, Gordon Gano -- a founding member of Violent Femmes.

For the last year and a half or so, Lee Evans has been making music as Hippies Wearing Muzzles after acquiring a modular synthesizer. This month, Siberian-based imprint Klammklang Ltd. issued a cassette of his album Egyptian Paralysis, the follow-up to Tropical Math, released earlier in 2014. Though Lee composed with elements you might expect out of a notoriously quirky modular synth, he corralled the sounds into something that actually sounded like songs akin to the sort of thing Ryan Mcryhew was doing in Thundercade before starting Thug Entrancer -- organized blips, bleeps, tones and rhythms like pointillist sound composition.

Luke Leavitt hosted the entire event and met Internet correspondent Lee Evans for the first time this day. His direct involvement in a performance was with the group of people putting on a performance inspired by a recording Leavitt got of a second grader speaking. Leavitt sent the snippet to the Atlanta Poets Group to transform into a lattice poem with a performance component and an accompaniment of Leavitt's own soundscaping. A rhomboid cylinder was suspended from the ceiling and inside what looked like a fuzzy. A handful of performers (David D'Agostino, Claire Leavitt, Mango Katz, Ron Zito, Corrina Espinoza, Tyler Christopherson and Shaun Carter) walked in circles around the thing, turning the cylinder as though each was attentively communicating with the object and with each other in some rhythmic dance in synch with the informal rhythm suggested by the poem's meter. Or not. Either way, it was the sort of thing you don't see much of at any music-oriented show.

The night closed out with Animal/Object. The long-running project has had a changing membership with senior avant-garde statesman, Kurt Bauer, as one of the central figures along with Steve Gordon, David Mead, Gordon Pryor and David Britton (not performing this night). Bauer had made artwork for the legendary local prog band Thinking Plague but has also been involved in local avant-garde music for four decades now.

Over the summer, Violent Femmes frontman Gordon Gano had read about the open mic night in Westword and decided to attend and effectively joined Animal/Object on a part time basis. But that's how the group operates -- somewhat informally. None of its sets are ever the same as it is true improv in the abstract jazz sense of the term. Sometimes improv doesn't work, sometimes it does but this night the chemistry was very much there between all the players even as Bauer switched up instruments from slide guitar to a horse hair fiddle and a flute. Pryor went from acoustic guitar to an electronic device. But Mead, Gordon and Gano stuck to percussion, upright bass and violin accordingly. It was a bit like hearing an Albert Ayler or Charles Gayle ensemble and transitioned smoothly from section to section as though guided as much by instinct as good listening.

Catch this ensemble again tonight, October 20, at Strange Grounds at 8 p.m.

Critic's Notebook

Bias: Fan of Lee Evans' various projects from Kissing Party to Assdroids and now Hippies Wearing Muzzles. Also of Luke Leavitt's expansive creativity and Animal/Object's dedication to inspired, intuitive improv.

Random Detail: Ran into some former residents of Rhinoceropolis at the show: Docile Rottweiler's Stefan Herrera and Kid Mask's Pete Bell.

By the Way: Animal/Object hosts an open improv night the third Thursday of the month at Strange Grounds starting at 8 p.m..

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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.