It's never boring when you go see A Place to Bury Strangers play, and last night at the Larimer was no exception. The band overwhelmed the senses for the bulk of the set. A tasteful layer of fog drifted around the stage, sliced through with streams of light forming a cone that turned and produced images of colors and textures. There wasn't much time to focus on any of that, though, as the images moved at the same hectic and relentless pace of the music, pausing briefly only as the songs did in fleeting moments of reflective tones before diving headlong into buzzsaw explosions.
Opening with "You Are the One," A Place to Bury Strangers immediately made us forget about the cold outside. That track is more of a pop song than some of the band's other material, but, really, there is a pop element to all of its music in general, even as it's wed with raw noise and the outer edges of what can be done with guitar sound.
"Deadbeat" was the first song of many from the band's 2009 album Exploding Head. That song, with its hypnotic build to a burst of emotional catharsis, is one of the finest moments on the album. Live, it definitely felt like we were riding a heady wave with the band as the music was being performed. And the outfit fed off this symbiosis in a major and noticeable way. The trio didn't appear to be playing off a set list. Instead, it felt like the guys were feeling things out in some imperceptible way, except for when Dion Lunadon joked with the audience about needing to loosen up and then solicited requests.
Later in the set, the group treated us to a relatively new song called "Burning Plastic," which appears on a split seven-inch with the band Ceremony, and both Oliver Ackermann and Lunadon played bass, making it sound like there was another guitarist, as both processed their sounds heavily -- something most bass players in rock bands don't do even remotely to the same degree.
Someone in the audience kept asking for "Fear," and the band responded by playing "Lost Feeling," one of its most harrowing songs. At the end, Lunadon said, "This is for the guy who insisted on 'Fear.'" The main set ended with "I Lived My Life to Stand in the Shadow of Your Heart." This was when the band -- more so than they had in the already outstandingly psychedelic, beautifully disorienting show -- totally went for broke.
At some point, Ackermann put down his guitar facing up from the stage. He then took one ultra-bright strobe and set it blinking upward and used another bright strobe as a kind of scraping slide on the guitar. This setup effectively washed out anything on the other side of that light on the stage, so much so that you could no longer see Robi Gonzalez.
After some guitar tonal gyrations, Ackermann picked up the strobe and the guitar and played with the strobe aloft. You could make out Lunadon amid the nearly blinding flashes of light, but it was like the guys had opened some gateway into another dimension made entirely of light and cavernous sound. Your eyes had no time to adjust, and when the strobe was facing forward across the other strobe, it washed out everything else. Then the music stopped, and only the strobing continued.
After several moments your eyes could adjust, but all the same, it looked like Ackermann and Lunadon came out of nowhere to pick up instruments and play two more grittily luminescent displays of raw power before calling it a night, with Lunadon commenting, "Thank you Denver, you're always the best."
The show opened with Force Publique. That band has always been good, even though early on, the outfit needed to work on its stage presence a little. But the songs last night were strong, and that's far more difficult to work on than getting comfortable being in front of people. Somewhere between the early part of the band's life and now, it added and then dispensed with a drummer.
But the loss of the drummer doesn't seem to have hurt the trajectory of the band's development much. This time out, Cassie McNeil seemed more confident than ever with her voice and with the way she carried herself on stage. She and James Wayne have fully integrated their sounds together in a powerful way. The guitars (bass guitar and six-string electric) and the vocals work with the electronics, which are now also greatly expanded, in a cohesive way that enhances all aspects of the band's sound.
Instead of the dark post-punk of its earlier days, this version of Force Publique has clearly explored the logical end point of where post-punk often goes into the psychedelic end of shoegaze. Force Publique has found a solid way to make music in its own voice through developing creatively out of where it started. Hopefully the band will finally put out that album some of us have been waiting for.
Philadelphia's Bleeding Rainbow played the second slot. The foursome's songs were reminiscent of Lush's more wiry and energetic compositions. Early on, the guitar interplay also sounded like something J Mascis might do in terms of melodic, distorted, aggressive guitar work.
The band's playful spirals of melody, warping guitar leads and crisp, rambunctious drumming went well with the amount of fun the members of Bleeding Rainbow seemed to be having -- even halfway through the show, when Sarah Everton chuckled and laid down on stage at the end of a song, later explaining, "That's the result of not being able to see the frets of my guitar. It's fucking dark up here, and A Place to Bury Strangers isn't even on yet."
The song that followed this incident? Everton told us it was "Fuck My Life." While this may actually be the name of the song, it also very well could have been Everton's attempt at defusing the situation in her own mind. You have to respect someone having a mini-meltdown, snapping back without throwing a tantrum and putting in a fun, strong performance. This band played rock music with a noisy, dreamy vibe to it, performed with a lot of spirit.
Personal Bias: Been a fan of APTBS since the first album and the band's first appearance in Denver in early 2008. Oliver Ackermann has taken guitar noise, texture and tone to consistently interesting places this whole time.
Random Detail: Ran into Nelson "Lecter" Echeverry of the Haircut at the show, as well as Cerealman.
By the Way: There's probably a shirt or two I can't wear to a pretty lax day job because the word "fuck" is on there somewhere, or "cum" (thanks, Seraphim Shock). I can now add a Place to Bury Strangers shirt to that short list. If someone pays too close of attention, it's kind of racy.
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