Concert Reviews

Over the Weekend: Mehko & Ocean Birds at the Larimer Lounge

Mehko & Ocean Birds, Petals of Spain, Chella Negro, Sour Boy, Bitter Girl, Marcus Church, Dustin Reid, Bokonon Saturday, February 20, 2010 Larimer Lounge

Sundays at the Larimer Lounge are pretty much guaranteed to be a mulligan, with the decidedly un-rock 'n' roll start time of 4pm. This is not the way to attract a crowd, but neither is having a show on a Sunday regardless of the time.

So maybe the management just figures they'll get the same dozen ticket sales at the early time slot and everyone gets to go home early. And, when the weather gets warmer and they fire up the barbecue, maybe this way they can at least make some money on food.

At the start of Sour Boy, Bitter Girl's set, the Larimer Lounge felt like a bar with a practice space inconveniently attached. Gamely, the band played their opening song to an attentive crowd of exactly three: me, the guitarist's girlfriend, and Stephen of Mehko & Ocean Birds, who wins this week's Ian MacKaye award for going the extra mile to support all the bands. Mad props to him.

Frontman BJ Buttice acknowledged the size of the crowd, midway through the set, by saying he'd forgotten to bring copies of the band's new CD. He happened to have two on him. "Judging by the turnout," he said. "That should be just enough for no one to buy one."

Meanwhile, this is a freaking awesome band that probably isn't getting the attention it deserves around here because they don't play Denver very often. But the songs are built of sparing use of the sort of guitar lines that made the 90s awesome (I'm dead serious), jangly keys and lyrics of sad and smart poetry. Don't be put off by the title of their aforementioned latest album: Songs About the Landscape or Songs About the Wolf Army. Just buy the damn thing.

Sour Boy, Bitter Girl managed to draw most of the people at the bar into the side room by the end of their set. Not enough bodies to warm the place up. I couldn't feel my toes for most of the night.

Next up was Chella Negro. Chella seems like the sort of woman that could get herself out of most any trouble by opening her eyes wide, tilting her head to the side and smirking slightly.

Her music is shockingly unaffected; she knows her stories do not need added drama. The mesmerizing quality of her voice is an added bonus - she'd be compelling singing entries from a phone book.

The show's next act was the clearest indication of the piecemeal construction of this ticket. I've never seen a band like Petals of Spain in a place like the Larimer Lounge before.

These guys are, on first glance, a house band. They played a Led Zeppelin cover, for chrissakes, and that takes a considerable amount of cajones at a show attended by a handful of music dorks and hipsters. They have guitar solos, keyboard solos, jazz trumpet solos, even the dreaded drum solo.

Here's the thing: Inasmuch as this was possible, they brought the place to its knees. Not just because of the bombast and accessibility of the music, either. It's because they're ridiculously good at what they do. Armed with a bunch of music students and a truly insane working schedule (two shows per week, including a Sunday residency at Fidel's Cantina), Petals of Spain are consummate entertainers.

It's weird to hear someone say "Thanks for keeping up with us on that one. We're Petals of Spain, and we're going to keep it rocking for you," at a place like Larimer with no trace of irony whatsoever. But you know what? Keeping it rocking is exactly what they did. They're all smiles and enthusiasm. And, lest we forget, the whole playing tons of shows, playing to please the crowd thing was how The Beatles got their start.

An afternoon/early evening of music most effectively summed up as disparate came to a close with Mehko & Ocean Birds. The headliners came on like a boulder picking up speed down a mountain, each of their nine members finding something to shake or whack. Vocalist and Ukulele-ist Stephen whoops and hollers. He was wearing a knit hat and a shawl, and face paint. They were all wearing face paint.

That's appropriate for music this tribal, where singing along often amounts to making monkey noises. Not that this is primitive stuff. No, Mehko & Ocean Birds come from rigid technical backgrounds. Their cacophony is carefully meditated, no doubt, but the job is so thorough that the songs sound spontaneous anyway.

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: Personal Bias: None whatsoever. I went into this show with a totally clean slate of opinion. Random Detail: I was in the bathroom (where someone had been thoughtful enough to puke all over the floor RIGHT NEXT TO THE TOILET), in a stall. There was one other dude in there, washing his hands. I heard a third person enter and say, "Are there any pencils in there?"

Through the crack next to the door I could see he was indicating my stall.

"Umm, didn't see any," said the guy washing his hands. Which is fair. That is a ludicrous question. Why the hell would there be pencils in a bathroom stall? But I looked over, and, sitting on top of the toilet, were... two pencils.

There are a couple of perfectly logical explanations for this. There are also Twilight Zone ones, and I prefer those.

By The Way: Among the many people unable to make it by show time was me - another assignment kept me from the Lounge until 7. Meaning I missed Marcus Church, Dustin Reid and Bokonon. If anyone actually did make it to these sets, let us know how they were in the comments.