Picking a high point of a show as thoroughly enjoyable as this one would be tough, but when Alex Fischel started playing the synth intro to "You Got Lucky" by Tom Petty -- which could have gone either way, kitschy or funny -- and Dan Boeckner started singing (turns out he's one of the few people who do Petty believably and with conviction) and then Britt Daniel and Sam Brown joined in, these guys turned a mere cover into a song that they could've written, playing it as though they owned it. Boeckner even rattled out the guitar echoes at the end of the song. For a band that made a virtue out of layered and dynamic simplicity the whole show, the attention to detail on this song, which it didn't even write, was quite impressive.
Earler, when the show started, the lights dimmed a bit, and Fischel came on to the stage to much applause, and he created a synth figure as the other members of the band strolled on stage to even more applause. The crowd's excitement level clearly registered on the pleasantly surprised faces of the band, which opened with the interesting choice of the more subdued "Neapolitans" -- only this version was not as subdued as the recorded version.
But this was just a prelude as the band ramped up the energy and sustained it for nearly an hour and a half, following up the opener with "Baby Get Worse." For such a solid, entrancing pop song on the record, live, the guys gave it some extra emotional weight and uplifting energy.
After an intense and powerful outro for "Would That Not Be Nice," for "My Love is Real," Boeckner set down his instrument and sang, while Brown and Fischel established a steady, pulsing rhythm, as Daniel let loose fragments of textural tones into the mix. During a chorus toward the middle, Boeckner came off the front of the stage into the audience and sang among those gathered upfront.
"The Salton Sea" began with an essentially motorik beat courtesy of Fischel, and the way all the instruments built up the sound and wove together was especially powerful and moving in a way that isn't as obvious on the album -- which is pretty normal when a band starts to play its material more often live and evolves it a bit.
Boeckner's solo toward the end was remarkably expressive and passionate. Before "Like Ice Cream," Daniel told us that Fischel was going to play guitar, and that when he joined the band initially, Daniel had heard he played a little guitar. "And he's better than me," Daniel informed us, marveling with an amused modesty.
The main set ended with "For Your Heart." In the beginning, Boeckner created a sound from his guitar with some modified delay, like something metal bouncing around haphazardly inside a metallic container with a rapid back and forth tone. Even more so than most of the rest of the set, it became apparent that Daniel and Boeckner had similar strumming styles in guitar, even though both had very different yet very complimentary styles in the leads. At the end of the song, a dense, smoky sonic atmosphere broke apart and cleared.
The outfit didn't make us wait long before coming back on stage. That was when Daniel told us, with all sincerity, "This is one of my favorite shows ever. We sat back stage judging you, and you did okay, Denver." After every song, there was so much cheering and enthusiasm, it would have been a complete affront to the truth to disagree with him. It felt like a show where everyone you ran into loved this band. Daniel even pointed out a woman down front who had been to the previous two shows, as well, and he genuinely thanked her for coming to "three in a row."
For our effort, Divine Fits gave us two final songs, both covers. The first, "Sway," a Rolling Stones cover, which was an interesting reinvention of the song to make it more R&B in a way. The last was its inspired take on "Shivers" by the Boys Next Door. It was here that, once again, Boeckner and Daniel stood up high, as though being pulled along by their respective instruments and then crouched down and explored the guitars as noise makers beyond their inherent musical properties. Daniel lifted the Telecaster Thinline high in the air at the very end and closed the show with a simple "Thank you so much."
The sole opening act of the evening was Denver's Achille Lauro. This set was, appropriately enough, a more R&B inflected arrangement of the band's already compelling blending of elements that might not work together as well if anyone else was doing it. Hip-hop beats undergirded some of the music, but the expressive and urgent guitar work coming from Luke Mossman and John Evans's James Jamerson-esque, smooth, funky bass work locked in with Ben Mossman's sensitive percussion and gave Matt Close a vehicle to seemingly float in space with his soulful vocals, even as he emoted forcefully to punctuate choruses.
It would be impossible and pointless to highlight the stylistic flourishes that make up Achille Lauro's music, but it was interesting to hear Luke and Close play a guitar style that could be described as surf reggae without it seeming silly. These guys take what could be silly in anyone else's hands and make it fun and beautiful -- even the downtempo cover of Biz Markie's "Just A Friend." Someone in the audience kept yelling "Summertime," and right before the end, Achille Lauro indulged the request.
Personal Bias: Been a Spoon fan since Girls Can Tell came out, I've liked The New Bomb Turks and Wolf Parade, as well. This band I like at least as much, if not more.
Random Detail: Divine Fits had these great Kelly green T-shirts at the merch booth with an image of poet and playwright Vladimir Mayakovsky behind the name of the band. This speaks well for Divine Fits in my book. Yes, the guy is mentioned in the song "My Love is Real."
By the Way: I saw ten of the best shows I've seen in my life this year before tonight. This was number eleven.
Divine Fits Bluebird Theater - 12/14/12 Denver, CO
Neopolitans Baby Get Worse Flaggin A Ride What Gets You Alone Would That Not Be Nice My Love is Real Civilian Stripes You Got Lucky (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers cover) The Salton Sea Like Ice Cream For Your Heart
Sway (Rolling Stones cover) Shivers (The Boys Next Door cover)
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