It's before 9 a.m. when Marie Litton and Matt Bellinger shuffle into Pablo's at Sixth Avenue and Washington Street. The barista calls out to them by name; they grunt back. It's like Ice Station Zebra outside, and the shivering Denver couple doesn't look happy to be conscious — but at least they've got each other.
He's a quiet but intense six-stringer, once part of the original nucleus of the now-defunct Planes Mistaken for Stars. She's a morose waitress with a country pedigree and aspirations of paying the rent with her brooding lyrics and sultry, twangy vocals. Together they roam as the husband-and-wife foundation of the recently reinvented roots-rock quartet Ghost Buffalo.
The band itself has only been knocking around since February of 2004 — er, that's if you talk to Bellinger. "No," the diminutive Litton corrects him with a snap, "it was definitely the summer of '03."
CD-release show, with Git Some, Only Thunder and Robert Edward Lewis III, 8 p.m. Thursday, February 28, Larimer Lounge, 2721 Larimer Street, $8, 303-291-1007.
Ozzie and Harriet, they ain't. More like Kurt and Courtney, only without the kid, the celebrity baggage and the drowning pool of addictions. The polite, sweetie-you're-wrong disagreements have simply become the furniture of rocking a more domestic life.
"Yeah, we've spent a lot of time at Home Depot," admits Bellinger. "We're starting to feel like an old married couple."
"We're turning into our fucking parents," Litton adds, smiling sheepishly.
The thirty-somethings have been juggling the demands of the band with pulling all-nighters at home, hanging curtains and laying down a second coat of latex in their newly acquired apartment in the Capitol Hill area. Taking the skid-row flat is part of their master plan to save dough in anticipation of supporting their sophomore release, The Magician. A mini-tour is in the works: After a CD-release party this Thursday at the Larimer Lounge, they'll bounce around the southern flatlands, hitting Oklahoma, New Mexico and Austin's famed South by Southwest festival, and then they'll tackle the coasts, which they've done three times before, Bellinger thinks.
"We've done the coasts five times," his wife corrects.
Either way, the once-countrified alt-rockers have never really made much of a splash outside the metro area. But that's all about to change, they say. They've retooled with a fresh rhythm section — drummer Jed Kopp and bassist Ben Williams — that shares their commitment to putting an edge on their sound. The new CD is a grungy affair, devoid of the acoustic influences and the gushy, I-lost-you love songs that appeared on the band's eponymous release of 2006. In their place are a short set of pain-laden rockers that sound as if Neil Young had crashed the Gish demo sessions and taught Corgan that guitars could be used for more than just post-punk noise.
"But there's still some twangy influence," Bellinger warns.
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"No," his wife counters. "It's nothing like that. There's no more country."
Indeed, Magician is harder. The opening power chords announce the band's unmistakable new direction. But just when you think you've stumbled onto an L7 reunion CD, Litton pours lilting, velvet sex through the microphone and starts in with her trademark autobiographical narrative of grief mixed with enough macabre to make Danzig wince.
The two use music to process their differences. Otherwise, they would have blowout fights, says Bellinger.
"What blowouts?" snaps Litton with a wry smile. "We don't fight."