Red Orange Yellow, Michael Trundle, Autokinoton and the Swayback Saturday, April 5, 2008 Bluebird Theater
The drummer is often the most overlooked member of any rock ensemble. Providing the rhythmic foundation and propulsion for a band’s songs, the drummer is rarely noticed, unless he or she really screws up or pulls off some showboaty Tommy Lee moves.
This weekend’s show at the Bluebird, however, included three gifted drummers who were absolutely impossible to ignore – Devon Shirley of Red Orange Yellow, Andrew Segreti of Autokinoton, and Martijn Bolster of the Swayback.
The last time I reviewed Red Orange Yellow, the quartet had just started playing out together again after Shirley’s departure from the Photo Atlas. In the intervening time, guitarist Holland Rock-Garden, keyboardists Nick Martin and Kyle Gray, and Shirley have really jelled as an ensemble and refined their stage show. Dramatic onstage lighting augmented the act’s dynamic performance of largely instrumental, electronics-driven mayhem. Manning a Korg and a Moog, and occasionally adding vocoder vocals, Martin kept largely to himself, while Gray thrashed and screamed behind his Moog. Rock-Garden, who previously seemed a little too withdrawn, broke out of his shell with some hefty riffs and deft finger-tapped leads that added an organic urgency to ROY’s aggressive, angular compositions. The highlight was still Shirley, whose effortless acrobatics behind the kit provided not only the visual focus, but also much of the structure, energy and momentum of the band’s set.
While the next band prepared, Michael Trundle hopped onstage to spin in his inimitable fashion. This particular set was heavily weighted on the electro side, with banging beats from Justice, Teenage Bad Girl, MSTRKRFT and more. Unfortunately, given the sparse crowd in attendance, all of whom were looking for the next live band, few folks paid much attention to Trundle’s deft DJing.
Autokinoton took the stage next with their accustomed mixture of modesty and mastery. This powerful trio has become a consistent favorite of mine, thanks to their roller coaster dynamics, psychedelic interludes and brawny brutality. Laid-back bassist Josh Everingham outdid himself with thundering, athletic bass lines that would have tested the endurance of lesser musicians, while guitarist Justin Slojkowski vacillated between space-rock noodling and closed-fist pounding that alternatingly soothed and stung. At the center of it all, literally and figuratively, sat Segreti, punishing his modest kit (his only extravagant indulgences are a broad-belled ride cymbal, an extra floor tom, and, well, a gong) with a delicate combination of laser-guided focus and animal abandon. Probably one of the most proficient and musically conscientious drummers in town, Segreti had the energy of a heavy metal symphony conductor as he led Autokinoton through a mind-blowing and skull-shattering set. It’s always a delight to see this act win over neophytes, and last night was no different. As I looked around me, most of the crowd was awestruck and rapt.
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During the inordinately long break between Autokinoton and the headliners, Trundle made the most of things by spinning one of his trademark mash-up sets, including Iggy Pop, Guns-N-Roses and Kiss. This set resonated better as the growing crowd took notice and rocked along.
The star of Saturday night’s show, however, was the Swayback, celebrating the release of its first proper full-length album, Long Gone Lads, with an explosive set that quickly proved the group is one of the most engaging and professional Denver has to offer. The act’s stylistic unpredictability and impeccable musicianship seem to pull in even the most indifferent attendees. On Saturday night, performing mostly tracks from their astounding new disc, bassist/vocalist Eric Halborg, guitarist Bill Murphy and Bolster delighted loyal fans and won a whole batch of new ones with a well-balanced, consistently entertaining performance, as well as keyboard and backup vocals help from Shawn Astrom. Despite his hippy messiah look, Halborg delivers his vocals with as much garage as Goth influence, while his bass lines invariably get unsuspecting hips gyrating. Murphy – whose guitar playing has developed remarkably over the past year or so – thrashed his ax – and his bangs – with rock star sauciness. Meanwhile, Bolster’s authoritative, subtle and tireless drumming demonstrated that he not only understands his critical role in the band, but also that he is likely one of the most physically fit kit jockeys in town. Trippy, vaguely disturbing images projected on a large, round screen behind the group added to the drama. The trio and Astrom ended the night with a blistering rendition of “All Bad News” from 2004’s self-titled record, which left the crowd – especially the women who can’t seem to get enough of the band’s visual appeal - sweat-soaked and screaming for more. –- Eryc Eyl
Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: I’ve been eagerly anticipating this show since I first heard the stunning new Swayback record a few months ago. Random Detail: Devon Shirley was one of NINE people who provided backing vocals on the recorded version of the Long Gone Lads title track. By the Way: Autokinoton drummer Andrew Segreti is now also moonlighting with electro rockers Astra Moveo.