I'm no Mark Pellington or David LaChapelle, so take this for what it's worth: The new Laylights video looks like a million bucks.
"I know," marvels Laylights frontman Tyler Hayden. "That's why we were so excited about it."
The Laylights paid the Lockerpartners (Emily and Mary Grace) less than you'd pay for a new clutch to capture the essence of their song "Sparrow" on film. The production team shot the footage in one day back in November. Two hundred bucks and about fifty hours of editing later, "Sparrow" is ready for prime time. "Everything just worked out perfectly," Hayden enthuses. "We don't have money -- I mean, we need to buy better equipment. So hooking up with the Lockerpartners was awesome. They had a keen eye and great production skills. But we had no idea that our simple little concept of a video would come out as good as it did."
On the surface, the concept is indeed simple. The clip -- slated to premiere this Friday, February 16, at the Oriental Theater -- focuses on a woman clad in a Victorian-era gown walking through the woods, interspersed with performance shots of the band in its rehearsal space. Upon repeated viewings, though, a few subtleties begin to stand out -- like how the train of her dress brushes past various antiques strewn on the trail, which then reappear in the band shots. The items are intended to symbolize the idea of "things inherited," says Hayden, which is the underlying theme of the song. "Sparrow" was inspired by a similarly named recording that Hayden's grandmother bequeathed to him when she died.
"Part of the main verse, just the feeling of her voice, has always kind of stuck with me," he notes. "So it's sort of a dedication to her. She had a crazy sense of beauty about her, this really giving and bold sense of being. Just one day, it sparked in my head. The girl that I'm in love with now has a similar essence. It's like I have that beauty in my life once again. So I wanted to incorporate that idea."
Even without that depth of story line, the cinematography is stunning, with postcard-worthy shots of a tree line cloaked by low-level clouds. The telegenic Hayden and his bandmates also wisely chose to adorn themselves in turn-of-the-last-century garb, which lends a certain elegance to the proceedings. "Whether you were selling newspapers in the street or whatever you were doing, whatever part of society you fit into, you still had a certain class about you," Hayden says of the Victorian style. "There wasn't casual, necessarily, and there wasn't formal. It was all sort of upper formal."
In other words, even if you were broke, you could still look good.
Morning has broken: Officially, everyone gathered at the Gothic last Friday to celebrate the release of new discs from Nathan & Stephen and Born in the Flood. But the evening felt a lot like a coming-out party for Morning After Records, since all four of the acts performing record for the burgeoning label, which is quickly establishing itself as the Saddle Creek of Denver.
I arrived at the theater a little after 9 p.m. and was greeted by Dan Rutherford, who was behind the merch counter shilling for his bands. "You'd better get in there," chided the label head, who knew I wanted to catch Nathan & Stephen. "They're on right now."
Sure enough, the show had started at 8 p.m., just as advertised -- which only seems to happen at these theater-level shows. Everywhere else, the publicized start time is more of a suggestion of when things might get going. My tardiness meant I missed Meese, which was a drag; I'd been looking forward to seeing how much (if any) the band's live show has progressed. Early on, Meese struggled with lackluster performances that didn't quite live up to the caliber of its songwriting. Little by little, though, the outfit has become more refined on stage, a development no doubt sparked by its high-profile supporting roles opening for the Fray at Red Rocks last fall and in Vail a few weeks ago.
Obviously, I can't comment on whether that trend has continued, but I'm happy to confirm that Nathan & Stephen was mostly firing on all cylinders. I elbowed my way up to the front in time to see the band -- clad in all-white get-ups that invoked the cult-like fashion sensibilities of Danielson -- turn in an impassioned version of "Happier." That was followed by a slightly shaky-handed rendition of "Stand Back Up," which is sure to be the feel-good hit of the summer. Although the players tripped over their feet a bit during transitions, I'm pretty sure most people didn't notice, thanks to their entertaining syncopated gesticulations -- impromptu hand gestures to go along with the words I'm letting you know, I'm letting you go. That takes some coordination -- not to mention that keeping fourteen people in lockstep has gotta be a bitch.
Uh-huh, fourteen. Overnight, the nine-piece had inexplicably morphed into an act with more than a dozen members. I can only deduce that either a) someone fed the mogwai after midnight and didn't tell anyone, or b) the members of Nathan & Stephen took notice of my flippant Polyphonic Spree quip in last week's profile and threw down the gauntlet.
Size does matter: Nathan & Stephen rocked a cheetah's ass. Ditto the Photo Atlas, whose Morning After debut, No, Not Me, Never, is slated to be re-released next month on Stolen Transmission, the imprint being distributed by Island/Def Jam and headed up by Rob Stevenson (the guy who inked the Killers). I've yet to be disappointed by this band.
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The Photo Atlas is a tough act for anyone to share a bill with (ask Head Automatica), much less follow. But Born in the Flood isn't just anyone. Plowing through songs from its fantastic debut full-length, If This Thing Should Spill, the mighty foursome was in top form -- a stark contrast to the underwhelming set I caught last August, when Flood warmed up for Munly and the Lee Lewis Harlots at the Bluebird. The guys had looked downright frustrated that night as they struggled to hold the crowd's attention with new material that struck me as both tired and uninspired.
This time out, though, the Flood played with passionate precision that brought the house down. As the floor-to-ceiling, Coldplay-esque LED lights scrolled up and down behind the musicians, making them truly seem larger than life, I was flooded with wistful memories of those times, just three years ago, when I'd watch the then-unknown act try to cram its arena-rock ambitions into a dank LoDo basement to the bemusement of a few dozen people.
Now, with the Flood already packing mid-sized theaters, I have a sinking feeling that it won't be long before we'll be paying fifty-odd bucks just to stand next to some clueless steakhead in a puka-shell necklace and flip-flops as he pumps his fist in the air and drunkenly screams along to "Anthem."
Upbeats and beatdowns: On Thursday, February 15, Chris Adolf, who recently put together a new version of Bad Weather California (aka the Love Letter Band), will play his last acoustic show at the Larimer Lounge. Then on Friday, February 16, HemifuckinCuda returns to the stage after a nearly two-week -- er, make that two-year -- hiatus (that show last month at Herman's was just a tease); expect nothing less than Thick Riffs 'n' Tasty Licks when Karen and Anika bring sexy back to Bender's Tavern.