There is a reason we eat dessert last.
See, if you have the best part of the meal up front, it sort of ruins everything else. How exciting are boiled potatoes when you’re still savoring the taste of that chocolate mousse? This applies to music as well, as the Friday, June 1 show at the Larimer Lounge showed all too well.
Local opening act We Are! We Are! simply owned the night. Their set was a tight, exciting instrumental exploration of some of the best elements of latter-day rock. Elements of punk, aggro funk, post punk and garage caromed off each other like bodies in a tweaked-out mosh pit. Even as they veered and lurched from one idea to the next they fused it together into a coherent whole.
Bass player Jim Sutton was the heart of the group. His accomplished playing and infectious energy propelled the show and set the tone for the rest of the band. Too many instrumental bands fail to present an obvious focus for the audience’s attention, but Sutton stage presence was as riveting as his playing. He danced across his section of the stage, twisting, jerking and hopping in time as he played.
His bandmates were less entertaining to watch but unquestionably pulled their weight musically. Guitarist Sam Cat displayed a wide range, veering from intricate, rapid-fire picking to coaxing a wall of textured distortion from his instrument, with stops at damn near every point in between. Drummer Sam Gault was similarly versatile, effortlessly switching between a chugging, straightforward thump and labyrinthine runs and fills.
The small crowd was definitely engaged. They bobbed and tapped as enthusiastically as most Denver crowds ever do and seemed constantly on the verge of achieving the critical mass needed to get people moving. If another 15-20 people were there, which would have doubled the crowd, the dancefloor might well have erupted into a sea of gyrating indie kids.
For a three piece band they managed to create an enormous sound through clever, inventive arrangements and devastatingly effective use of dynamics. Each member filled a discreet section of the sonic spectrum, each part expertly woven into the whole. Tight interlocking grooves, stop/start rhythms, a propensity to turn on a musical dime and the skills to pull it off added up to something special. The result was impressive, an exuberant, explosive spasm of funky, driving music with a sound all its own.
All Capitals followed We Are! We Are!, an unenviable position. They played well enough but were unremarkable in comparison. They have an early ‘90s alt-rock sound somewhere between the Pixies and any number of grunge bands, with perhaps a bit of Pavement and a few contemporary influences thrown in. The low point of their set was a cover of Love and Rockets’ “So Alive” that stripped the song of the restrained dynamic pulse and ambience that made the original work, turning it into a boring straight-ahead rock song. The results did little but expose the song’s flaws, leaving their cover without any appeal beyond a certain queasy nostalgia. They did manage to redeem themselves to some degree with two songs, “Civilization Error,” a catchy slice of indie rock with a hook-filled bass line, and “In the Ministry,” a high-octane blast of throwback post punk that sounded like little else they played.
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Chicago band the Narrator, the ostensible headliner, suffered a similar fate. They had two ear-catching songs, “All the Tired Horses,” a folky, largely a capella dirge and “Rage Pants,” an uptempo groove that got at least a few girls getting down. They played back to back, which injected some excitement into the set but before they could capitalize on it they were done. The crowd was certainly enthusiastic, but the abbreviated set didn’t give them much of a chance to get momentum going.
Me Llamo Rosa ended the night with a set of pleasant, engaging songs whose strength centered around the interplay between the guitar and keys. The music was unfortunately tainted by the singer’s too-accurate imitation of Conor Oberst’s strangled, yelping delivery and too-frequent bouts of screaming. His lyrics, which seemed to borrow heavily fro Bright Eyes’ spastic confessional stylings, didn’t help much either. Musically, they weren’t a million miles from where Bright Eyes was last I looked, which was admittedly some time ago, but apart from the I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-Oberst vocals it wouldn’t be fair to label them a clone.
I can see how fans of that style of singing would definitely find a lot to like here. I found it mostly grating, which is a shame, because it ruined the music for me. Nate Sullivan’s guitar work in particular was incredible and I can’t help but wonder how much better this band would be if the singer toned down or was replaced.
The next time a promoter is booking We Are! We Are! for a show, they should pay heed to the logic of saving the best for last, so I don’t have to ruin my appetite for the other bands on the bill and spend all night thinking about the delicious treat I had earlier. --Cory Casciato