Houses, Elin Palmer, Ian Cooke Friday, May 1, 2009 Hi-Dive Better than: Going to bed at eight because you're mildly narcoleptic, which is what my date ended up doing (and man, she missed out)
At the Hi-Dive on Friday night, someone mentioned that the lineup should have gone in reverse order. It was true. As it was, the order was Houses, Ian Cooke, and lastly Elin Palmer. And in terms of content, the night couldn't have been much better.
But it's safe to say--and this is no small feat--that Houses stole the show right off the bat. So let's save the best for last.
I'd never seen Ian Cooke play with his full band before--which is strange, because I've seen Cooke play about a million times--and it was a real treat. I've probably said this before, but Cooke is maybe my favorite performer in Denver, even performing solo, where his show features loop pedals and cello-tapping. In some ways, I missed the focused intensity of Cooke's solo performance, but the chemistry he shares with his band, and the tight, mathy hooks it adds to Cooke's gorgeous chamber-pop, made up for the missing intimacy. While some songs, like "Vasoon," I decided I prefer to hear solo (nothing to drown out the cello), others, like "The Rats," rocked in a way they could never rock without the full treatment. The biggest downside were the various moments of dead space between songs, which may or may not have been due to the band, but I've definitely seen Cooke perform more focused shows.
I hadn't seen Elin Palmer, and while I enjoyed her show, I really wish she would have gone on first. Of the music of the evening, Palmer's was by far the most chilled-out, a mix of circular, ambient melodies and hypnotizing vocal harmonies with a Sting-style, world-music feel (she also sings at times in a language I couldn't identify; I'm guessing it's Swedish, since that's where she's from). Palmer is an engaging performer, and she plays a ridiculous amount of instruments--guitar, accordion, and a violin-like instrument called the nycelharpa among them. But she's also low-key, serious and reserved. She performed the entirety of the show seated. It is worth noting that her drummer at one point set his snare on fire--which, okay, that was pretty metal--but that was the orchid in the tulip patch, and not the other way around.
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A good bill should build in intensity, and that's why this one was all wrong, because in terms of intensity, Houses blew me away. There are eight people in this band, so you couldn't help but be steamrolled by the wall of sound. The stage was almost as packed as the room (the show sold out), and the atmosphere was all party, with members of the band at various points kicking the balloons that littered the stage into the crowd. Maria Kohler and Kinsey Hamilton, the female vocalists, were often involved with just playing hand percussion, and they looked like they were having a blast, dancing and grooving out with each other.
The most epic moment of the night, though, came during Houses' performance of "We'll See the Sun," off of its new EP, when songwriter Andrew Hamilton invited Esmé Patterson (of Paper Bird) and Caleb Williams (of Cada Dia) to come up and help with vocals. With fully 10 people onstage, the band performed a flawless rendition of the slow-burn, Rhodes-based groove with Hamilton laying down smoldering Jimi Hendrix guitar licks and no less than six people singing a chorus that reached downright angelic heights. It was basically overwhelming. A less manly man would have been brought to tears.
It would have been a perfect cap to a near-perfect evening, and it was too bad the show blew its load so early. Anything following that kind of soaring moment -- with apologies to Cooke and Palmer, who really are fantastic -- couldn't help but be a bit of a let-down.
Critic's notebook Personal bias: I think Houses guitarist Mike Marchant is dreamy. Random detail: Houses' Andrew Hamilton told me he was going to begin recording the band's Summer EP the day following the show. By the way: Elin Palmer is releasing an album next month.