A Shoreline Dream lives up to its name. (Photos by Tom Murphy)
Westword Music Showcase Saturday, June 14, 2008 Bar Standard Better Than: Last year’s lineup.
By the time we were allowed in to Bar Standard, the first band of the afternoon had already started. A Shoreline Dream is probably a stranger to a lot of people in Denver because they’re smartly not orienting themselves as a local band but rather as an outfit that’s outward looking and reaching, just like their music. They only played six songs including the driftily lovely “Love is a Ghost in America,” “Ukraine,” “Seattle,” closing with the forceful, driving and awe-inspiring “New York,” but it was one of the greatest performances I’ve yet seen from the band. They somehow make elegant, ethereal music surge with energy and their sonic inventiveness is a marvel. Singer Ryan Policky’s stage banter remains as awkward as ever but when you perform music that well crafted and imaginative, you can get away with a lot. If A Shoreline Dream isn’t the best neo-shoegaze band, they’re definitely in the upper echelon.
Astrophagus showcasing its indie folk side.
This appearance from Astrophagus marked bassist Chris White’s last show. But the band didn’t play as though it were an occasion for mourning, beyond the melancholy subject matter of many of their songs. The act opened with its noise and free jazz “Intro.” Although Astrophagus has some countrified tunes and some richly layered experimental rock songs that mix in electronic music and jazz-like rhythms, it's difficult to pin a genre on this band. This set was heavier on the indie folk side of the group's sound and included delicately powerful versions of “Buena Vista Park,” “Ruiner,” and “Do You Have 3 Settings.” The band closed with what sounded like an alternate version of “For Boating.”
During an intermission in which the backline amp had to be fixed, White riffed on Spinal Tap’s “Jazz Odyssey,” but I think that joke was lost on most people. It’s a shame that it was his last show, because he really knows how to add texture in his bass playing — alternately thundering and smooth. What this show made more obvious than ever to me was Jason Cain’s ability to paint pictures in your imagination with his vivid, poetic imagery and mastery of metaphor.
Overcasters setting the mood.
Overcasters really know how to set the mood for a show with their custom projections, stage lighting and fog machines set up to act in accord with the music being performed. And yet none of it seemed contrived, because all of it served to enhance the experience of the show and not cover up for shortcomings in the music. They performed five or six songs each with an elemental beauty and expansive voicings. It’s unlikely that Bar Standard typically plays host to music possessed of such dreamlike magnificence, live or otherwise.
Overcasters' set was comprised of great, controlled torrents of sound pouring from the stage like Echo & The Bunnymen bolstered by a cloned Will Sergeant, along with great lyrical one-liners from Kurt Ottaway, especially toward the end with lines like, “There is no time like the present, so better get moving” -- a reminder that life doesn’t wait for you to get yourself together before it passes you by. At some point during their set some guy came to the stage all hot and bothered and asked bassist Jeremy Ziehe about who was using “the fog pedal.” Apparently the fog machine had set off a fire alarm elsewhere in the building. But with their set almost over, it came to nothing.
Widowers stripping things down a bit.
With regular drummer Corey Brown out of town for the time being, Widowers recruited Crawford Philleo of Vitamins to fill in. Playing in the background during their first song was a weird beer commercial that was more funny than effective, but it was easily forgotten in the sweep of the music. The band performed a great deal of material from their recently released self-titled album, including “Bone Collecting Ghost,” “Moonshining” and “Space Never Strays.” Singer/guitarist Mike Marchant engaged in his customary ducking, swooping and twisting stage maneuvers in time with the pacing of each song. The music seemed shorn of some of the excesses I’ve seen at certain other shows, and I think that helped them, sonically speaking, and allowed the core of solid pop craftsmanship shine through the complex tapestry of sound that normally festoons the proceedings. Marchant got in a good, sarcastic monologue at the expense of a car commercial, which got the crowd to laugh before Widowers finished with one of their newer songs, a melodic yet caustic tune that ended with a raucous implosion of sound.
Astra Moveo wins over new fans.
Astra Moveo reminded me of one of those great synth dance groups out of early-'80s Sheffield, England, like the post-Human League act Heaven 17. But Astra Moveo clearly draws sonic inspiration from more recent '80s revivalists like the Faint, and late-'90s house music—much of which borrows heavily from that first wave of synth pop. The act exhibited impressively dense atmospheres throughout its set, and the triple vocal melodies actually worked. I think Tyler Hayden’s at his best vocally with this band. It was also gratifying to see James Holden taking up his Rickenbacker again and dancing about with the same enthusiasm he brought to his old band, the Cigarette After; it made the performance seem surreal with how well it came together. “Kill Your Stereo” sounded eerily like the synth opening to Tom Petty & The Hearbreakers’ “You Got Lucky,” but these guys took it to more interesting and fun places. I honestly had low expectations for this band, but the group impressed me enough that I’ll be checking it out again.
Red Orange Yellow opening eyes and ears.
There probably isn’t strictly a genre that easily applies to Red Orange Yellow either. The act's music is a spectral, synthy post-punk rife with heady atmospheres. Some would mistakenly call the outfit dance punk, but beyond its experimental bent, there’s nothing punk about it. The group employed creative samples, nice mid-range keyboard tones, thick, relentless rhythms and gritty guitar sounds. At one point Holland Rock-Garden played a finger boarding solo that, in other contexts, might seem obnoxious, but in the song in question, his choice of notes fit in well with the wave of synth, moog and drums coming off the stage. For its final song the members of Red Orange Yellow borrowed a sample from Apocalypse Now and made it its own by either-pitching the voice down accordingly. Overall, the new wave post-rock band put in an eye opening performance.
Cat-A-Tac burns through its set with ease.
Cat-A-Tac hasn’t played much in the last several months, but for this show the outfit pulled out six of its best songs, all culled from the excellent Past Lies and Former Lives, beginning with the gorgeous “Respite.” The vocals were a little difficult to hear for some reason, but the guitars were not lost in the mix. The band's breezy, catchy songs seemed like a good fit for a late spring day, even songs like “Credit Whore” and “Needles and Pins,” about some of life’s less savory moments. Cat-A-Tac, whose music just seems aimed to rise above misery and make the air around it shine, closed the set with the Jesus and Mary Chain-esque “Burned.”
Hot IQs are as poised as ever.
Eli Mishkin made an appropriately sardonic comment on a contest announced before his band's set, before Hot IQs went into one of its newer songs, with “Release the hounds,” as its refrain. This set was a nice mixture of new material and some older favorites like “Firecracker,” “Retro Muff,” and “Duck and Cover.” The act explored new territory with a song called “Another Song About Pretty Girls,” which featured a beautiful guitar sound that recalled Galaxie 500 in its minimalistic expansiveness. I’ve seen Hot IQs many times, and this show was proof of how the outfit has gone beyond being merely a tight, confident band, to being a band that knows how to introduce new material with the same level of self-assurance it brings to songs the band has played endlessly for the last four years and more, with none of it sounding stale and worn out.
Hulks...er, Hearts of Palm bring the joy.
Apparently Magic Cyclops had loaned his coveted Hulk Hogan bandana to Hearts of Palm frontman Nathan McGarvey, who joked that if the show goes well it’s because of the bandana, and if it didn’t, that you could find Magic after the show outside. This was the eight-member version of the band, and it sounded like an indie pop orchestra performing songs that would be killer soul and R&B hits in an alternate universe. Even after hearing these songs at each of the other shows I’ve seen these guys perform, this group of people somehow performs each note with a passion and enthusiasm you’d expect had they written these songs in the past month. There’s nothing fake, insincere or hackneyed about Hearts of Palm’s songs or its delivery.
What struck me as remarkable this time out is the fact that they don’t gratuitously have eight members in the band. The group truly knows how to add and remove layers of sound so that there is a great deal of variety from song to song, and because of that the outfit is able to create a mood that celebrates life in its entirety from the sad moments to those most joyous ones. Hearts of Palm eventually brought its set and the showcase at Bar Standard to a crashing end with horn accompaniment.
With each band playing like they’re rediscovering what’s good about their music and why they enjoy making it, what could have been a tedious stretch of six hours and forty minutes seemed like a third of that time. I don’t know if anyone else writing about the shows at a single venue felt the same, but I felt fortunate to get to see each and every act, all very different from each other. There is more musical talent in this city than a lot of people would suspect. A couple of these bands made a new fan out of me, while the others rejuvenated my faith in their creative output.
-- Tom Murphy
Personal Bias: I know or have met most of the people who played. Random Detail: The door guy actually kept an eye on the water he wouldn’t let me bring inside, and I got it hours later on the way out. By the Way: Many fine bands, like Breezy Porticos, didn't or couldn't perform at the showcase, but are on the ballot and worth checking out.