Five Iron Frenzy at Ogden Theatre, 8/17/13

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FIVE IRON FRENZY @ OGDEN THEATRE | 8/17/13 There were several moments during Five Iron's set that nodded to the hometown crowd, and all of them were dependably absurd thanks to frontman Reese Roper. "The Broncos are losing forty to seven," Roper informed us. "I've never been more proud to be from this place." Someone in the crowd responded by yelling, "Elway!", to which Ortega-Till clarified, jokingly, "Or if you speak Spanish or are Chicana, you can say, 'El Johnway.'" That got big laughs from the crowd, and then the band went into "Hope Still Flies."

See also: Five Iron Frenzy: An extensive oral history

"Speaking of Denver," Reese Roper said later in the set, just before Five Iron kicked into "Where the Zero Meets the Fifteen," seemingly apropos of nothing, "there is no substitute for eating lead paint." At that, Dennis Culp quipped, "Take that one to the bank." Roper has been living in Virginia, evidently, and he said he misses Denver, and from the reaction he and the band received, the feeling is clearly mutual.

The band's set began when the members of Five Iron Frenzy took stage to excited cheers. A droning sound filled the room, but it quickly faded as soon the group queued up "Blue Comb '78" and the outfit slowly ramped up the energy and brought all the sounds forward full force -- and it was a force, the kind that runs through the crowd like chain lightning. On stage during the hanging chords, frontman Reese Roper and saxophonist Leanor Ortega-Till struck dramatic poses and executed grand gestures, heightening the sense of theater that is very much part of the band's performance and appeal.

See also: Photos: Five Iron Frenzy at the Ogden

After "Handbook for the Sellout," Roper said, "Thank you, friends," and Dennis Culp followed that up with "And we do mean friends. from the bottom of our bottoms." Being that this is Five Iron we're talking about here, the joking, naturally, didn't end there. Culp told us he was supposed to go to his high school reunion the day before, but he did a drive-by, saw what was going on before and left, to which Roper chimed in, "His five-year reunion." Culp jokingly copped to being 23, and it was the perfect way to introduce "At Least I'm Not Like All Those Other Old Guys." For all the joking, even if it was planned, it sure didn't feel canned.

Earlier in the day, and the night before, the band had filmed a video for the new album, which, evidently, is coming out in November and called Engine of a Million Plots -- that little tidbit of information was supposed to be kept a secret, apparently, but Roper gave up the goods. After making the impromptu announcement about the new record, Five Iron went into a song from that album called "Zen and the Art of Xenophobia." Although the tune is more in line with the band's later songwriting, "Xenophobia" was more rock than ska, and it certainly didn't skimp on the social critique of American politics today.

See also: Photos: Five Iron Frenzy at the Ogden

"The Phantom Mullet," from Five Iron's 2000 album All The Hype That Money Can Buy, followed with its silly and surrealistic lyrics, only to be topped by Ortega-Till taking on vocal duties for "When I Go Out" -- this bit coming after she had already sang in a death metal voice, something about ripping off someone's face. It might have been a quasi-reference to Roper joking with Culp earlier briefly about his involvement with chimpanzees. Maybe not. Absurdly amusing either way.

One of the high points of the show came just past halfway with "You Can't Handle This." If there was any flagging of energy at all, it sure didn't feel like it; the band sounded especially forceful in the delivery. Many times during the set, Roper jumped around, and at one point, he came close to doing the splits and then forced his legs together smoothly like a gymnast. He was entertaining as ever to watch between his falling all over the place and then getting back up and just generally acting like a goof -- and all without ever seeming to miss a beat.

See also: Photos: Five Iron Frenzy at the Ogden

After "You Probably Shouldn't Move Here," Roper told us that they were going to make some money off of us and film a music video for "So Far" from the new album. So the band played the song twice in case the filmmakers needed something a little different the second time. No one seemed to mind, especially for a song like that that sounded like where the band really would have gone next after 2003's The End is Near.

That was followed up by one of the outfit's best songs, "American Kryptonite," which Roper prefaced by saying that some people might think the band hates America for having written the tune, and for things the band has said on stage and in interviews, but "We don't hate America," Roper pointed out. "we hate Americans," clearly kidding but not bothering to clarify his assertion for the people who can't figure out the sense in which he said it.

See also: Photos: Five Iron Frenzy at the Ogden

Some people had brought a Canadian flag to the show and waved it, so later in the set Five Iron ended up performing "Oh, Canada." Apparently the video work wasn't done and following "Oh, Canada," Five Iron did "So Far" yet again and performed it with even more vigor than the first two times. Who knows how they do it? By then, it was time for the tail end of the show, beginning with a song that Roper said was, "For all the ophthalmologists in the crowd." Yes, it was "Farsighted." It was probably predictable, but it was never anything less than excellent and uplifting.

The show ended with "Every New Day." Once everyone got off stage, Andrew Verdecchio came to the front of the stage and graciously thanked everyone and asked that they respect the venue and that the band would come out front and meet with people until the club had to shut down. And this exactly how the band has always operated, and it's probably one of the reasons it has had developed such a loyal fan base, some of whom came from far away for this show, some driving, some flying.

See also: Photos: Five Iron Frenzy at the Ogden

Keep reading for more on Nathan & Stephen and Yellow Second, plus Critic's Notebook

Earlier in the night, things got started off with Hearts of Palm, which played a rare reunion set. Though technically on hiatus, the band was able to reconvene with Nathan McGarvey, who was back town, leading the charge. The act's music always been a little rough around the edges, but that is also what has made it compelling.

See also: Photos: Five Iron Frenzy at the Ogden

McGarvey's slightly roughened voice, imbued with a certain warmth and conviction, delivered words filled with a rare sensitivity and perspective. Songs like "Happier," "Farewell Valentine (Cigarette Homecoming Queen)," "Going Home" and "Little Pieces of Paper" rarely sounded more vivid and detailed. Whoever was working sound actually made Leanor Ortega-Till's saxophone come through clearly as well as the other instrumentation. The performance was a nice reminder of Denver's scene from five years ago, when the band played regularly and made completely un-selfconsciously positive pop music with thoughtful lyrics.

Between the Hearts of Palm set and that of Yellow Second, a marching band with two sousaphones came out into the crowd to play some covers using all marching band instrumentation. The covers included "Push It," "Tricky" and "Bust a Move." For those who didn't know, the American flag uniforms may have given them away as Boba Fett and the Americans. If not, Roper identified them later when offering up his thank yous between Five Iron Frenzy songs.

It had been more than a minute -- two years according to frontman Scott Kerr -- since Yellow Second had played. For this incarnation, John Warne of Relient K sat in on bass. Kerr joked that he was famous, to which Warne quipped, "Famous for playing with Yellow Second." Whatever the membership, the songs were beautifully realized modern power pop with some stylistic and sonic nods to the layered guitar melodies of bands like Sunny Day Real Estate, earlier Deathcab for Cutie and the Dandy Warhols. Kerr's lyrics waxed to the melancholy, and he perfectly and poetically articulated the kind of thoughts that most people keep to themselves, even though expressing them dispels the funk a little.

See also: Photos: Five Iron Frenzy at the Ogden

At some point in the Yellow Second set, Kerr said that he was pretty sure Five Iron Frenzy was next and that he loved everyone in that band except for the bass player (in this incarnation of Five Iron, Kerr holds down the low end). And that he heard the old bass player was a nice guy. The dry self-deprecation is definitely Kerr's hallmark. His lyrics, meanwhile, reveal a more earnest, sincere and unvarnished evocation of the inner life. The dichotomy was certainly interesting to witness.


Personal Bias: Five Iron Frenzy is my favorite third-wave ska band and one of my favorite Denver bands that came out of the '90s.

Random Detail: As usual, a bevy of cool T-shirts and other merch from FIF out front.

By the Way: Some wizard with glowing lights on was wandering around the crowd both upstairs and downstairs dancing enthusiastically to the music.

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