Three years ago, Bright Channel and Red Cloud were two of the highest-profile underground bands in Denver -- not to mention the most interesting and consistently compelling live acts in town. Despite having widely disparate sounds, the two played together often. So this show was a bit like coming full circle.
Treeverb's lineup includes Jeff Suthers of Bright Channel and Moonspeed on guitar and vocals, Ryan Sniegowski of the dreamy, long-inactive psychedelic Moccasin on bass, and Adam Shaffner of instrumental space-rock adventurers Tjutjuna on drums.
On stage, Suthers and Sniegowski appeared to have matching Traynor heads, so the sonic character of their collective tone would presumably have some inherent unity. Suthers has a knack for mixing soaring melodicism into guitar riffs with real bite, and this aspect of his playing was very much present throughout the set. As expectantly atmospheric as this band is, though, Treeverb is also clearly informed by more of a pop sensibility than Suthers's other projects.
Not that anyone would ever confuse Treeverb with the kind of pop band that trades in lyrical platitudes and sonic pandering to a lowest common denominator. Sniegowski's melodic counterpoint on bass and Shaffner's minimalist rhythm locked in to give Suthers a platform off of which he could engage in periodic bursts of swirling, incendiary passages.
At other times, the three players came together to create a vortex of sound that didn't engulf so much as unexpectedly soothe. Suthers has been working on his voice lately, and while his otherworldly resonance has always been captivatingly hypnotic, with this project, it seems as though he's letting his voice convey a haunting soulfulness only hinted at during his solo performances in the past.
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Up next was Ross Etherton & the Chariots of Judah, which comprises Ross Etherton, his Red Cloud bandmate Jeremy Ziehe (also of Bad Luck City) and Trevor Morris (formerly of Big Timber). Chariots noticeably embodies the spirit of Red Cloud, which made colorful and deeply moving music that was a true fusion of rock and roll and country and burned with a visionary honesty.
In this project, Etherton and his bandmates really seem to have figured out when to keep things stripped down and when to jump off the deep end. Opening with a solemn number, they treated us to songs like the tribal "Coyote" as well as reworked and expanded Red Cloud such as the majestic "Kingdom Gonna Come" and the heart-rending "Goodnight Everybody."
For "The Best Parts of Me," it seemed like someone had plugged Etherton directly into the soul of Jimi Hendrix as he cast out mind-shearing solos that careened around the room, anchored only by the sure, steady, smooth rhythms of Morris and Ziehe, for an impressive display of improvisational musicianship. Mixing the old with the new, the outfit ended the night on a high note, even while performing some of the saddest songs ever written in these parts.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Anything Jeff Suthers or Ross Etherton is involved in is worth checking out. Random Detail: Ran into half of Forests of Azure at the show. By the Way: Neither of these bands has releases, so you pretty much have to hear the songs by seeing them live.