The Blood Arm, Art Brut, the Hold Steady November 11, 2007 Fox Theater Better than: Spending yet another Sunday evening learning Art Brut and Hold Steady lyrics from the CD tray to impress people with the stupid things you say.
Last night’s show at the Fox Theater in Boulder was like a parade of the flamboyant frontmen. When people say “flamboyant,” they usually mean, “gay,” but I mean ostentatious, odd and completely over-the-top. In all cases, however, the bands that stood behind these quirky, larger-than-life vocalists were more than equal to the musical task at hand.
The theater was a bit empty for the set by openers the Blood Arm, but singer Nathaniel Fregoso made excellent use of the extra floor space, even sitting down with the audience in the pit at one point during the set, and resting his head in the lap of a surprised listener. The slightly disheveled and pudgy Fregoso isn’t the typically hunky, sexy, moody vocalist, but his rich voice – which often reminded of Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos – and sassy hip gyrations proved he was up for the job. The other unique aspect of the outfit was the lack of a bassist. However, strikingly beautiful keyboardist Dyan Valdés held down firm and funky bass duties on her synths – kinda like Ray Manzarek, but prettier. The Blood Arm’s music mixed dance rock with a self-effacing sense of humor that made the band well-suited to the bill.
Art Brut next took the stage with characteristic swagger and swish. The loud, snotty and absurdly literate group could easily be considered the British Hold Steady – and lead singer Eddie Argos could be the British Craig Finn – so the fit was perfect. I recently reviewed a live performance by the group for this paper, and, unfortunately, the set last night was EXACTLY the same as the one they played in September at the Monolith Festival at Red Rocks – down to the seemingly spontaneous lyrical twists and between-song banter. Hearing the same spiel verbatim made the set seem a bit uninspired and contrived to me, but my companions who hadn’t seen the Red Rocks show were blown away by Argos and company’s high energy, high volume and high IQ performance. It was definitely a bonus to catch the group in a venue that suited it much better than the vast expanse of Red Rocks. Next time, however, I hope they won’t seem quite so over-rehearsed.
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Closing out the evening was the Hold Steady, a band that has quickly made a name for itself as a live act not to be missed. Last night’s performance only proved the group’s talent as showmen. I’ve seen the act play much smaller rooms and there was no diminution of enthusiasm or power in this larger venue. In fact, it would be nearly impossible to find fault with the Hold Steady’s performance. Singer Craig Finn shouted his poetry drunkenly and careened around the stage, looking like a troubled software programmer at a house party, while guitarist Tad Kubler wrung some beautifully ear-splitting riffs from his arsenal of guitars. At one point, Kubler even donned a double-necked Gibson with a 12-string on top (for the riffs) and a six-string below (for the solo). It doesn’t get much more rock-n-roll than that. Franz Nicolay not only held down the keyboards – adding his Roy Bittan flair to the band’s raucous vibe – but also played accordion and harmonica at key points during the set. The group drew from all three of its stellar albums and performed each song as if it truly mattered. The commitment, integrity and sense of fun conveyed by all five members of the band were an inspiring and infectious end to the night. –- Eryc Eyl Photos by Doug Beam
Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: I firmly believe that live performances should have an element of theater, of entertainment, so it was a joy to see a bill in which all three bands seemed to understand that. A good frontman can carry even a mediocre band, but these frontmen are playing exciting music with some great musicians. Random Detail: The underage girls standing behind me for the Hold Steady’s set were absolutely ga-ga over bassist Galen Polivka, the band’s unsung low-end hero. By the Way: If you missed last night’s show – or saw it and loved it as much as I did – you should know that the entire performance will be reprised at the Ogden tonight.