40TH DAY @ LARIMER LOUNGE | 7/20/13 The whole 40th Day set felt a bit like me traveling and a creative resurrection at the same time. For whatever reason, it just didn't feel like a reunion show. The felt show felt like the five members of the band were playing music they had written and just hadn't had a chance to play out yet.
Despite how it felt, really no one had heard any of the music live yet, unless they caught Jimmi Nasi in February, 2012, when he played some of the songs with Neil Satterfield at Rockbar. When the band rolled into "The End of a Day," the version they played was so much more vibrant than any CD might be, so much so that it almost sounded like a different song. With the members of the band able to hear each other well, and after half a lifetime of living, the music cohered and had a strong emotional resonance from the beginning to the end.
The group didn't just stick to Lovely Like a Snake, it dipped into later material that remains unreleased. But whatever songwriting period provided the set list, Shawn Strub's voice hit a broad spectrum of tonal ranges; her powerfully evocative, soulful voice recalled Ann Wilson circa Little Queen and Siouxsie Sioux from the A Kiss in the Dreamhouse period -- forceful, ethereal and emotionally stirring.
Mindy Uhrlaub's backing vocals complemented Strub's in a distinctive harmonic blend that seemed to inexplicably soar over the other instrumentation. Nasi's masterful arpeggios on the bass were fluid, powerful and gritty without ever being overbearing. Even when he hit a funky rhythm it was the sort of funk that informed something like Bahaus, the Pop Group or Gang of Four and not the usual mode.
For his part, drummer Tony Morales perfectly established the grooves in which the songs fit even when he dropped out or pulled far back during the quiet sections of songs. His intuitive sense of not just rhythm but where to accent and the force of the percussion to drive at times and drift at others. Satterfield somehow blended dreamy psychedelia with slicing, arching distorted passages that cut through the low end soundscape.
"Nightmares and Moonbows" felt like some childhood fable written into an adult exploration of past trauma with its descending progressions. "Bloodseconds" brought together a driving low end with twisty guitar verses and high register synth tones like a sound a horror movie soundtrack composer would use to represent wind -- an icy sound that got under your skin.
"Blackbird" had a brooding pace, but tonally it soared and came back together in what may have been an extended minor chord shift away from a major. Whatever method the band used, there was a sense of emotional urgency and the kind of melodrama that makes for evocative songwriting.
After twelve songs, the set ended with the ascending, romantically-tinged and lushly expansive "Saturdays." Even after a dozen tunes, you just didn't want the show to end because it was like spending close to an hour in the dream state that informs the core of 40th Day's songwriting and being transported out of mundane reality, which many of us need now and which too many contemporary songwriters have forgotten.
As if one whole set of beautifully moving music wasn't enough, Sympathy F closed the night. More undergirded with the aesthetics of jazz, Sympathy F was able to strike a groove that didn't feel like it was coming out of improv so much as pop and rock. It was rock music without standard rock rhythms.
Elizabeth Rose has always been a strikingly charismatic singer of immense talent, and she continued that here, singing with Tony Morales. Now on guitar instead of the drums, Morales has a powerful musical chemistry with Rose, and both are gifted vocalists. Doug Seaman played a broad spectrum of sounds on his guitar like a true fusion of psychedelia, dream pop, noise rock, jazz and the kind of blues rock that Santana played in the '70s and before. Just burning, uplifting, whorling, inspired passages of lead guitar that perfectly suited each song.
Performing the mutant dreamy noisy funk of "Mary White," the jazz-like "Guilty Conscience Day" and the proto-alt-rock classic "Neverending Spin," the act played strong and gave the impression of looseness and ease. Both Morales and Rose seemed to be in good spirits, and Rose gestured with a theatrical flair and came to the front of the stage and engaged people who were sitting close by. Now if only this band would put out another album of material.
Personal Bias: I found Lovely Like a Snake around 2000 when I was first amassing a library of older Denver music and I've been a fan of the dynamic atmospherics, emotional catharsis and haunting melodies of that album and of 40th Day ever since.
Random Detail: Ran into Kit Peltzel formerly of Space Team Electra (an act that was directly influenced by 40th Day), Bhajan Williams, who co-produced shows at the Skyline Cafe in the early 90s and worked with 40th Day, as well as photographer Joe Beine.
By the Way: There were actually long box blister packs of Lovely Like a Snake from 1992 for sale at the show.
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