Concert Reviews

Gathering of the Clouds, 10/21/10 - 10/23/10

Overcasters • Swayback • Buckingham Squares • Gangcharger
Achille Lauro • Light Travels Faster • Glass Homes • Juliet Mission
Action Packed Thrill Ride • Hearts in Space • Anna.Martina.Ross
10.21.10 - 10.23.10 | The Weather Center, Denver, CO

Overcasters put together a great sound system for this show, and it made everyone sound better than usual. Light Travels Faster had a lively set that it played with a good balance of humor and focused intensity. As usual, the trio closed its set with a cover of the Stooges' "Search and Destroy." Christopher Rigel used his amp, the mike stand and the drums -- he probably would have used Todd Spriggs's head, too, if Spriggs had let him -- to beat the guitar frets for the chaotic ending of the song.

Not since the days of the now-defunct Emerald City has anyone seen Achille Lauro much outside the context of a rock club or other such venue. One of the songs, as yet unreleased, which began with a hypnotic synth drone drawn out like something from Dark Side of the Moon, remains one of the band's best to date, and its closing number, "Unicorns and Consent," sounded like someone took an inspired mistake in a synth line and made it into a sample to break conventional ideas of melody.

Perhaps Gangcharger has gotten a lot better in the last few months, or maybe it was the fact that Ethan Ward's parents were at the show and he wanted the band to play better than usual, but there was some edge in the performance to match that sound in the music. It was also possible to hear the nuances in the Gangcharger songs in a way that you don't often get on most sound systems.

The clarity made it possible to appreciate the subtle changes Ward uses in his guitar progressions and how that fits into the rhythm and Paige Peterson's noise-scaping. Adam Rojo and Ward seemed to hurl sounds from the stage with sudden gestures when songs peaked. The act played pretty much entirely from its new album, Free Exhaust, and never sounded better.

Friday, October 22, 2010

This night started off with a band not many people know about yet called Glass Homes, a duo comprising a guitarist and singer and a bass player, with programmed drums and synths. These guys had some aggressive energy and sounded a bit like those "dance punk" bands from around a decade ago, but more like the Faint than Interpol. Great energy and tighter than a lot of bands.

Juliet Mission turned in an admirable performance with its moody yet uplifting music. Not sure how these guys make introspection rock so much or how Andre Lucero sings with such melodic precision and strong emotionalism, but they do.

Apparently Shane Williams revamped his projection rig, because when Overcasters played its short set, the stage was awash in such rich, vibrant colors that it sometimes didn't look like you were seeing a live band. Or, at the very least, the projection made everything seem hyper-real. Overcasters, for their part, turned in one of their most assured performances, moving in conjunction with the swirl and flow of the music. Kurt Ottaway danced with his guitar a lot more than usual, and even did the classic move where he nearly goes to his knees, crossing his legs in a kind of lunge.

This set from the Swayback didn't have as many of its more atmospheric songs, instead focusing on the outfit's bluesy rock numbers. The rework of "Concrete Blocks" was almost unrecognizable, because the guys put a grittier, more aggressive spin on the performance. Anyone who was used to this band being more brooding saw a show this night that could be described as being in a more hard-rock vein.

Closing out the longest night of the festival were the Buckingham Squares. And, as usual, it was one at-least-as-good-as-the-original cover of garage-rock classics after another. None of us will probably ever get to see the Music Machine or the Blues Magoos or even an original lin-up of the Kinks again anytime soon -- much less any other band interpreting the same material with as much conviction and power as the Squares displayed this night. Ricky Kulwicki had to go to work at 4 a.m. after getting home around 3; he deserves some kind of award for extreme dedication to rocking.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The final night of The Gathering of the Clouds began with Action Packed Thrill Ride. Instead of the concisely well-written countrified rock for which the outfit is known, the band played more of a straight-ahead pop-rock set, but with no skimping on the energy and charm these guys typically put into every show. Mark Cawthray's friendly demeanor and earnest vocal delivery, coupled with Lucas Johannes and John Evans's manic energy and grounded by Duncan Dotterrer's solid timekeeping, made for music that could be both loose and wild as well as catchy.

The deserty psychedelia of Hearts in Space probably comes across to some as straight-ahead rock music, but a discerning listener will hear shades of tone and rhythm that make the music a little weird. Jordan Huebner and Ezra-David Darnell are still honing their craft as vocalists, but their confidence as performers has grown immensely since their first show a few months back. A bit like the countrified Brian Jonestown Massacre, without the druggy vibe. The band is immediately likable because the people on stage are so humble and personable without the usual self-deprecation you often find among many Denver musicians.

One of the most anticipated performances of this festival happened when Anna.Martina.Ross took stage. Anyone who ever saw Matson Jones -- a band that broke up a few years just as it was well on its way to popularity well outside of Denver -- kind of knew what was in store. On this night, as a three-piece, this project received a very favorable reaction to its simple pop songs, crafted from drums, two cellos and two voices. The set served as a reminder of what these people had done previously that garnered such a dedicated following and what is in store when the band starts writing new material.

It's possible that Overcasters played twice as long this night, but you couldn't tell by the momentum it kept up throughout. Between the projections and the thick atmospheres coming off stage, it didn't seem like keeping track of time mattered for a change. The rest of our lives, most of us are on the clock in one way or another, and Overcasters derailed that thought process with another strong performance, again giving us that powerful visual complement to the music to make the mundane world shrink away for as long as the band and the audience wanted.

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I tend to like less-conventional venues over bars. Random Detail: Ran into Liz Forster and Todd Ayers of Sonnenblume. By the Way: Light Travels Faster has an excellent new EP out called College, and it's very different from most of the act's other material -- a lot of electronic composition rather than rockist.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.