Oblio Duo and the Archers, Monofog, Bad Luck City Friday, February 29, 2008 3 Kings Tavern Better than: Almost anything else you can get for five dollars
Anticipation and delayed gratification aren’t that common in the Denver music scene. The talented bands that play around town are so eager to perform that it seems as though you could catch your favorite any night of the week. On Friday night, however, three of Denver’s most enigmatic outfits appeared together and brought the house down – thanks, in part, to playing hard to get.
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Kicking things off, Oblio Duo and the Archers played a slinky, seductive set of country-inflected folk-rock that built curiosity and pulled the bar’s early drinking crowd toward the stage. The group – built around the songwriting duo of Steven Lee Lawson and William Duncan – has been a dark horse on the Denver scene since 2005, playing live occasionally, releasing records quietly and generally existing below the hype radar. During that time, its spare, crackling, heartbroken compositions have evolved into fleshy, crackling, heartbroken songs that tease and tumble with an unexpected mix of melancholy and abandon. Rumored to be the band’s second-to-last performance ever, Friday’s set was filled with the kind of energy and soul that occasionally transforms live music into a religious transport.
It’s been months since Monofog has played a full set in Denver. Fans have had to content themselves with catching guitarist Doug Spencer and frontwoman Hayley Helmericks in their alter egos as Sweet Tooth Meat Tooth. The quartet seemed to understand clearly how much anticipation existed for their performance. The slow, spacey and disorienting arrangement of “Medicine” as an opener set the tone for the rest of the set. Spencer and Helmericks kept the tension high by swinging from aggressive highs to moody lows, while drummer Lucas Rouge pounded his skins like a loose-limbed, vaguely autistic animal and bassist Dave Yob assaulted his ax as if he’d gotten lost on his way to a Sabbath show. Showing just how ballsy it can be, Monofog even attempted to perform a song they’ve barely finished writing. It didn’t come off perfectly, but the energy was certainly there. It’s been a great pleasure to watch this foursome mature over the years and Friday night, they made it clear why they consistently make best-of lists every year.
The belle of the ball, however, was Bad Luck City. Friday night marked the release of the ensemble’s second record – though the band will say it’s their first – so it was a Bad Luck City party. And it certainly felt like an act finally coming into its own. The group has been hiding away to focus on recording and other projects, but certainly came out swinging with spellbinding versions of several of the album’s tracks, one brand new song, and a single surviving tune from its first record. Looking like six kids who’d skipped out early on the prom to drink whiskey in the back seat of a Ford Maverick, Bad Luck City took the stage with a confidence and charisma that easily won the audience over. Swigging from a bottle of Stranahan’s Colorado whiskey, frontman Dameon Merkl spouted his dark – and occasionally hilarious – poetry over the eerie laments of Kelly O’Dea’s violin, the textural washes and wails of Josh Perry and Greg Kammerer’s guitars, the subtle pounding of Jeremy Ziehe’s bass and Andrew Warner’s sophisticated and unpredictable drumming. Bad Luck City’s gloomy, murderous Americana always feels right at home at the 3 Kings, but I’ve never before seen the group play such a self-assured and nearly flawless set. – Eryc Eyl
Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: I’ve written feature profiles on both Monofog and Bad Luck City, so my opinion of those bands isn’t exactly secret. Random Detail: Three cheers for the 3 Kings. I don’t think you could have caught a show of this quality anywhere else in town for a mere five bucks. By the Way: Before they disappear, you can catch Oblio Duo at the Lion’s Lair on Thursday, March 13, with Two Strikes, Scooter James and Vitamins.