Adam Rojo and Nick Salmon aren't the kind of people who would beat you over the head with their importance or even push their music on you. Their previous projects are cult bands at best in certain circles in Denver. Ideal Fathers was one of the most impactful and emotionally explosive post-punk bands of its time, and Rojo's guitar work with that band was an exhilarating blend of pyrotechnics, noise, ghostly-yet-ethereal atmospheres and irresistible momentum. Salmon's Glass Homes was darkly brooding, with moments of furious release. Both bands had incisive and insightful lyrics critical of the neo-conservative bent of modern American politics. It was never enough for either band to bemoan the plight of the oppressed or to excoriate the villains of the moment — both bands were more like Gang of Four in the way they abstracted yet humanized the issues to better illuminate the deeper issues.
Following the effective split of both projects, Rojo and Salmon have not been particularly active in a public sense with their music. Rojo put out an album with his solo noise project Diffuser, Salmon has kept his music out of the public eye after he parted company with Violent Summer nearly two years ago.
Both artists are synthesizer geeks and into experimental guitar rock, so it seemed like a natural fit when they started to work together last year. They called their band Voight, and the group that most inspired them was the Soft Moon. The last time the latter group was to play Denver, the show had to be canceled, and it seemed like fate (or at least a fortuitous coincidence) that Voight was ready to play its first show when the Soft Moon actually came through last night.
Even though there was a lot of pressure involved in this being Voight's first show and opening for an act that both members of the band respected so highly, Salmon and Rojo really owned the stage. People cheered and yelled out asking who they were. And the cheers were genuine and as enthusiastic as any anyone else got that evening.
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The songs were reminiscent of A Way of Life period Suicide, A Place To Bury Strangers and even Big Black. The industrial beats, the expertly sequenced synth lines, the sometimes abrasive and sometimes elegantly beautiful guitar work, Salmon's richly emotional yet ghostly vocals as well as Rojo's own made it seem like this was the band we were there to see. The level of confidence projected despite any nerve-wracking internal doubts swept the songs along and the crowd with it. Rojo and Salmon have amalgamated the music they love most and synthesized it into their own take on all of it. It almost left you wondering what could possibly come next that could match it.
Fortunately Noveller was no slouch either. The one-person project of Sarah Lipstate, Noveller has been releasing some interesting experimental instrumental music in recent years. Her compositions are centered on guitar and loops, but Lipstate has mastered the art of swells and layers and separation of frequencies. Her command of swells was worthy of Robert Fripp, and at times the way she used these swells made the guitar sound more like the kinds of synthesizers Vangelis used for the soundtrack to Blade Runner. It had that thick, low-frequency quality, coupled with a hint of effervescent spaciousness that Vangelis brings to his music. And Lipstate also puts on a kind of dance with her performance, as though her entire body is modulating the sound with each movement triggering a movement, a progression, a shift in tone. Though not much like Voight or The Soft Moon, Noveller had that same quality of pulling together disparate ideas and sounds and making a cohesive and un-ignorable whole.
The Soft Moon capped the night and didn't disappoint. Listening to the band's records, it would be easy to expect something more ethereal. The band on stage, however, was weighty, had grit in the tones, projected an intensity that gave the impression that somewhere along the line Luis Vasquez was into punk or that he had at least took some cues from Alan Vega. But Vasquez is less menacing, only because he didn't come rolling off stage to confront the audience directly. It was a surprisingly raw display from a band that is clearly using beats, as evidenced by the laptop going down for several minutes toward the end of the set. Vasquez had also told us he and the band had the flu and apologized if the show wasn't what it could be. If that was the Soft Moon at a low point, its non-flu-addled shows are difficult to imagine.
Bias: The Soft Moon is a band I've been wanting to see ever since hearing its first EP in 2011. Noveller is, to my mind, one of the most innovative guitar/loop artists going. I'd been a fan of Rojo's and Salmon's previous bands and Voight I knew would be good but for a first show I was surprised by how very developed it was.
Random Detail: Ran into Cozmos Mudwulf, Seth Ogden of Acidbat, Keith Curts of Echo Beds, Chase Dobson, former Eyes Caught Fire bassist Noah Winningham, DJ El Brian, Snake Rattle Rattle Snake's Will Helmericks, former Prism Waves singer/guitarist Zale Hassler and Deep Club artist JsCrew/Occidental at the show.
By the Way: Voight had a lathe cut 7" made by Tripp Wallin. The digital version can be downloaded at voight.bandcamp.com/releases and the physical version can be purchased directly from the band. Also, anyone into The Soft Moon should make the effort to check out Echo Beds from Denver, Prostate (now Burning) from Minneapolis, Beastial Mouths from Los Angeles, Pop. 1280 from New York City, Curse from Baltimore, Church Fire from Denver, Claps from Minneapolis and Fake Snake from Tucson.
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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.