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Review: Gathering of the Clouds at City Hall, 2/24/12

Overcasters at City Hall. More photos from Gathering of the Clouds 2012.
Tom Murphy

Gathering of the Clouds Day 2 @ City Hall | 2/24/12


One of the main reasons for the festival was the release of the new Overcasters album, Curses/Prayers and as usual, Overcasters delivered a solid set of music. Bathed in various shades and hues of shifting light over the course of the show, with highlights striking band members here and there in time with the dynamics and sonic flourishes, the stage looked like a window into a world where things are more vivid and less naturalistic. Guitarist John Nichols crouched and stared out into the crowd like a prowling beast and Kurt Ottaway whirled and then idled up to the mic to deliver words in his signature combination of subtle vibrato and sustained warm tones.

Overcasters at City Hall. More photos from Gathering of the Clouds 2012.
Tom Murphy

Todd Spriggs and Erin Tidwell seemed to have locked in stronger than ever with both putting in a flawless performance that allowed Nichols and Ottaway to jump off with guitars in a tight, yet expansive explorations of sounds to match the colors washing the stage. Yes, the songs have a melancholy character, but the energy with which the band delivered it suggested not wallowing in a downer mood, but finding a way to turn a bad scene inside your mind into something inspirational.

Glass Homes at City Hall. More photos from Gathering of the Clouds 2012.
Tom Murphy

The beginning of the second night of Gathering of the Clouds 2 started off with a bang with the raw, nervy energy that seems to be plugged directly into Glass Homes. Without much of a hitch, Nick Salmon and Brian Blaney switched around instrumentation with the latter playing bass with processed sounds and the former both setting off programmed sequences and playing live electronics when not fronting the band and playing guitar. During the breakdown section of "End It" the collision of sounds sounded like Salmon and Blaney were ready to take the title literally.

Musically it was reminiscent of The Cure gone aggressively cathartic or Cursive stripped down to the barest nerve. At what would have been the end, Salmon announced that it was supposed to be their last song but "We're going to be that dick band and play one more short one and hopefully it's a crowd-pleaser." With a menacing look and savage guitar work to match the rhythms, maybe the last song wasn't a crowd-pleaser in a conventional sense but it justified being "that dick band" that took up a little more time.

Wire Faces at City Hall. More photos from Gathering of the Clouds 2012.
Tom Murphy

While Wire Faces played, a few people walked up to me and asked me who it was and remarked how great the band was. I didn't recognized them but definitely concurred. Reminded me of the kind of confident spirit of The Ex and the spiky grooves of The Rapture. Shane Zweygardt somehow sang with the ferocity of a Guy Picciotto while playing drums with a propulsive flair and drive. Few people can do this and pull it off without sacrificing something in either skill set but that guy also managed to be charismatic in doing both exceedingly well. Menyus Borocz created dynamic tension throughout the show that allowed for Zweygardt to erupt with emotion and Ian Haygood to wrap all of it with resonant, wiry guitar. All three guys looked visibly very excited to play and that swept you up in the music with them.

Le Divorce at City Hall. More photos from Gathering of the Clouds 2012.
Tom Murphy

This was the second official Le Divorce show with Kim Baxter on drums and Mike King on bass. Knowing when this line-up came together it's safe to say this version of the band gelled pretty quickly because Le Divorce looked to be in good spirits with smiles all around while playing. And the band's music isn't exactly happy fare. Baxter brought with her an ability to create texture and atmosphere on top of solid beats and a keen ear for matching moods. King has long been one of the most electrifying bass players in Denver -- if you ever saw Ideal Fathers, you know. And while this music didn't invite jumping around like a maniac, he mouthed the words along with Kitty Vincent and Joe Grobelny.

For "I Shout," Grobelny's guitar sounded like there was a distorted ripple to his tone similar to what you hear on Mogwai's "Rano Pano." And the rise and fall of emotional and sonic intensity in that performance was impressive. The transitions between songs were smooth and contained what sounded like music to occupy some of that space. Still intact was the awkward joking that Vincent and Grobelny have kept up for over ten years in their bands but this time they both seemed comfortable with that joking because it's just part of who they are and it's always funny if you aren't completely devoid of a sense of absurdity and irony. Pretty sure Le Divorce ended on "Splinter Song," and here and elsewhere, Grobelny ably filled in on backing vocals as Ryan Stubbs had in the past.

Snake Rattle Rattle Snake at City Hall. More photos from Gathering of the Clouds 2012.
Snake Rattle Rattle Snake at City Hall. More photos from Gathering of the Clouds 2012.
Tom Murphy

Something must be in the water because everyone seemed to have reinvented their band in some subtle but profound and hard to pinpoint manner. Having seen Snake Rattle Rattle Snake from pretty close to the beginning I thought I knew what to expect. But this time around it's obvious the group has spent some time working on its textures and separation of sounds. Sharp shimmers, icy atmospheres, layered rhythms and Hailey Helmericks has learned to harness her powerful and evocative voice in a way that has become finely expressive with that push still projecting her smart and poetic lyrics forward with emotional force.

Wil Helmericks clearly occupied the higher frequencies but there was such an undertone of menace and brooding fire that it really caught your attention. And of course Doug Spencer has that totally unique style of playing that is deeply rhythmic and cutting while occupying sonic territory across a broad spectrum. James Yardley and Andrew Warner created a driving and sometimes seething bottom end that gave the music a lot of its power and presence. Warner has fully integrated his acoustic set with the electronic percussion in a way that shouldn't remind one of Lol Tolhurst but does in a great way. Best moment of the set? The dark, beautifully edgy "Break the Same." In general, it was like seeing a band reborn in a better form than ever.


CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK:

Personal Bias: Already liked all the bands on the bill.

Random Detail: Ran into local man about town Fred Case at the show.

By the Way: First two nights of this festival had strong performances by everyone involved.



Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music


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