It isn't the worst thing that can happen to you when you're on stage, but breaking a string without having an immediate replacement or a back-up guitar can induce the kind of red-faced anxiety that throws a show into that nightmarish eighth grade-talent-show-gone-wrong tailspin. When this happened to Michael Stein ofSchool Knights
-- which opened for Vivian Girls and No Joy last night at the
-- he took it in stride. Instructing his awkward band members to tell jokes while he looked for an immediate solution, Stein quickly recovered, reappearing on stage moments later with Laura Lloyd from No Joy. Lloyd pulled out her gorgeous J. Mascis Signature Fender Jazzmaster for him to borrow, and the band played on.
School Knights was an appropriate local start to a show that sounded forever coated in reverb -- the dudes' songs about inherent coolness and, well, school, kept the sparse crowd rocking heel-to-toe with hands in pockets. The band, which has grown into a four-piece as of late, swiveled about with big smiles that cut through the fast and jagged rhythms. If you've been to a School Knights (or even Vivian Girls show) before, it was also glaringly obvious from the get-go that this event would have been much more densely populated if individuals under the drinking age were allowed to attend.
Montreal's No Joy was next, sudsing up the sound system with Lloyd and band co-mastermind Jasmine White-Glutz's double assault of pedal-heavy guitar work. Their Sonic Youth-esque dual whisper-talk vocals were barely audible and instantly buried beneath the feedback and crunch, but it was intended to be so as the two guitars slid expertly between fingers and palms. Dark roots with dirty blonde ends overtook Lloyd and White-Glutz's faces as the two banged heads in unison, no stops or gaps of silence or speaking between each song.
The evening moved quickly, and just around 10:30 p.m., Vivian Girls took the stage. The trio's mere existence on the only slightly elevated but still separated stage seemed to highlight the feeling of awkwardness and unease that had become the vibe at the show. There was no particular reason for the atmosphere to be so uncomfortable, but again, perhaps it was due to the fact that the crowd felt like it was missing large pieces of itself where the younger kids would usually be.
The show went on in flawless pursuit anyway, bassist Katy Goodman and newest edition, drummer Fiona Campbell sharing wide grins with each other and fans as guitarist Cassie Ramone hunched herself over under a tiny mess of hair and shyness. Opening with "Never See Me Again," Vivian Girls' live translations were immediately clearer and more concise than any of its recorded work, leading right into "Can't Get Over You" and the strong bass line and full-band vocal harmonies of "Heard You Say."
Ramone led "The Other Girls" down a seven-plus minute path, turning away from the crowd to simultaneously needle through the melody with her guitar and voice, Campbell and Goodman exchanging tempos underneath it all. This would be the closest Ramone would come to a guitar solo of any kind, and the singular work was cleverly ego-less, hidden behind the musician's charming discomfort with the whole performance.
About halfway through the set, "Take It As It Comes" came off with a bit of humor, as the song began with conversational dating advice between the outwardly accessible Goodman and the virtually impenetrable Ramone. As a co-front woman, Ramone is a case study; she doesn't seem shy or disinterested in being in the moment, but more painfully aware of her own discomposure -- leading Vivian Girls with a strong head while dipping back into the shadows at any available juncture. Goodman -- who at one point stepped over the invisible barricade and into the crowd with her bass -- plays the perfect opposing stage persona, engaging with the eyes in front of her at any chance.
Crowding Campbell's kit and then backing away, Ramone and Goodman fluctuated in and out in perfect time, engaging in an on stage powwow where inter-band smiles were traded. Beginning "Before I Start To Cry" on tambourine before dropping back into her bass position, Goodman led Vivian Girls right into "Tell The World" for a grand finale before disappearing from the stage through the venue's strangely positioned backstage door. Moments later they returned for a quick turn at "All The Time," but the encore was short-lived, and the trio then disappeared for good.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: None. I have no strong feelings either way for any of the bands.
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Random Detail: Anytime there are all-women bands on a bill in Colorado, inevitably a group older dad-types show up and take lots of pictures. This show was no exception.
By The Way: Seriously, it was a crime this show wasn't all-ages.