Over the weekend: Houses at the Meadowlark
Houses, Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, Joseph Pope III
Friday, August 7, 2009
Better than: The other performances I've seen from the same three acts.
Houses' schedule has been demanding lately. The group's ambitious goal for the year -- to release four separate EPs, each bearing the name of a separate season and each touting a unique sound and structure - has translated into a seemingly nonstop schedule of writing, recording and performing. Happily, any toll from the group's ambitious project and busy agenda didn't show during Friday's EP release show for Summer, the second in the four-EP series. Instead, the group seemed energized by the high output, delivering a polished and dynamic performance to a dense crowd that seemed to benefit from long hours spent on a stage or recording.
The set also managed to capture the poppy and speedier appeal of the Summer EP, with a few nods to the more grounded and understated sound of the preceding Spring recording. What's more, the show drew input and attendance from numerous notables from the Denver music scene, many of whom offered cameo contributions during opening sets. Specifically, Joseph Pope III's act featured brief appearances from Born in the Flood/Wheel bandmate Nathaniel Rateliff and Bela Karoli's Julie Davis. As the crowd on the Meadowlark's patio became more and more dense, Pope offered a set of minor-tinged ballads and sparse harmonic structures to set the opening mood. Pope offered up dark lyrical musings over basic chord structures and repeated finger picking patterns, an approach that kept the growing crowd engaged and interested. Despite moments of melodrama in some of the verses, Pope kept things interesting with his spates of falsetto and his ethereal song structures.
The understated feel of Pope's set served as a polar opposite to Snake Rattle Rattle Snake's set, which reveled in unbridled bombast and attitude. Led by former Monofog diva Hayley Helmericks, whose brash attitude and inviting enthusiasm simultaneously recalls PJ Harvey, Grace Slick, Patti Smith and Jenny Lewis, Snake helped whip the growing audience into a participatory frenzy. The group's catchy, riff-based approach benefited from the rich percussive sound created by drummer Andrew Warner and electronic percussionist Kit Peltzel. With their collaborative rhythms as a canvas, Wilson Helmericks' guitar and James Yardley had plenty of room to shine, as they spelled out insistent melodies and defiant sounds. All in all, Snake Rattle Rattle Snake's energetic performance helped ramp up the mood for the Houses' set, a performance that seemed to draw from the best elements of the opening performances while offering an impressive, innovative and unique musical statement of their own.
With Joseph Pope III and Stephanie Goldman as guest players, Houses seemed to tout a fuller, more epic sound during the Meadowlark performance. Indeed, tunes from the new EP like "Fair Weather" sounded particularly lush during warm keyboard lines and coordinated guitar solos from Pope, Andy Hamilton and Mike Marchant. But for all of the performance's grandiosity, the group retained an intimate and approachable feel. The group's performance of "Be the Woman," for example, was by turns understated and opulent, veering from a serene acoustic ballad marked by multi-part harmonies to a collaborative rock anthem overflowing with distorted solos. The band's growing currency also found a concrete expression during this tune, as the majority of the audience knew the lyrics well enough to sing along at high volumes. Most impressively, the group's conceptual goals for their quartet of recordings found a realization, even in a hectic and cramped live setting. Sticking to tunes from Summer, the band's goal of creating a distinct mood for each EP came through. The poppier structures and quicker cadences on display at the Meadowlark on Friday night matched the mood of the late summer season, offering images impressions of languorous sunny days and lazy afternoons. The group's success so far in creating "concept EPs" makes the coming follow-ups - Fall and Winter - all the more tantalizing.
Personal Bias: I'm a sucker for all projects associated with guitarist Mike Marchant.
Random Detail: Rumors circulated that the Denver police were set up outside the Meadowlark fence, with decibel meters at the ready, waiting for an excuse to break up the concert.
By the way: Even Houses' frontman Andy Hamilton seemed impressed at the high turnout on Friday night, noting "There are a lot of you here," before kicking off the performance.
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