The upside to a big, multiple-venue show like the Hot Congress/Long Spoon Block Party this past Saturday is that there's always something awesome to see. The downside: There's always more than one awesome thing to see at the same time. And that was the case Saturday, with bands making often-simultaneous appearances on stages at the Meadowlark, indoors at the Larimer and on the Larimer's patio. Out of the thirteen bands that played, I caught four full performances and two partial ones. So yeah, pretty packed bill.
I started my night off at the Meadowlark with an opening performance from Mercuria, otherwise known as Maria Kohler, who occasionally performs with her band, the Gem Stars, but tonight played solo. With the venue still filling up, Mercuria proved a fine choice of opener, with a light, jokey stage presence that complimented the mood. But if she's a laid-back performer, that's not to say her tunes lack gravitas. Her jazzy, winding songs recall Paul McCartney's "White Album"-era acoustic work (think "I Will"), and her low alto croon highlights whimsical lyrics with more than a hint of sadness.
Next, it was Mike Marchant with Crawford Philleo on the Larimer Patio. With Marchant's full band, his set ratcheted up the intensity some, and his invitation of guest performers to the stage augmented the community vibe. Those performers notably included guitarist Cole Rudy of Varlet and Barnacle and Maria Kohler again, who harmonized on a couple of songs and then took lead on a song of Marchant's that -- humorously -- she'd covered in her own set. In terms of mix and sound quality, Marchant's set was probably the best of the night, and Philleo's ethereal vibraphone work complimented his effects-laden pop nicely.
Princess music was one song away from the end of a set inside the Larimer when Marchant finished up, so I didn't catch much. And although I'm not super familiar with the band, its closing number made excellent use of the band's string-ensemble setup, topping off with a jam that started as percussion-based groove and built to a grand, orchestral close.
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Next up on the Larimer's inside stage was Old Radio, with the most straight-ahead rock I saw that evening: All hooks, two-part vocal harmonies and crunching power chords, Old Radio made me think of what Weezer should have sounded like on the "Green Album" -- except maybe a little spacier than Rivers Cuomo would have arranged.
I had to leave halfway through that set, though, to go catch Lumineers at the Meadowlark, whose music I like but who I hadn't yet been able to see live -- and as it turns out, the live show is probably the best facet of the band. Taking the direction back toward folk, Lumineers play tunes based around the acoustic songwriting of frontman Wesley for a Bob Dylan-goes-electric feel that paired well with Wesley's Rod Stewart rasp. The tunes are a bit throwback, but that didn't matter at all when Wesley moved the band out into the crowd toward the end for a sing-along. There was hardly a soul in the bar not singing.
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Dovekins were last, and the band's feel-good amalgam of bluegrass and folk had the venue, now absolutely packed, again singing along. While Dovekins' tight three-part harmonies and songs, which draw from influences from Eastern European to Motown, are a pleasure to hear, the best aspect of the band is perhaps its traditional bluegrass acoustic instrumentation and high-energy stage show.
Dovekins only got about five songs in before last call came. Nevertheless shouts of protest met the venue's request that the band wrap it up, and Dovekins agreed to play one more song, on the condition that everyone "leave immediately" when it was over -- which of course nobody did.
There's a certain amount of audience stamina that goes in to a show that epic. There are so many decisions to make, so many bands to run and catch, so many sing-alongs to sing along to. But there wasn't a single performance lacking, and I, for one, went home tired but fully satiated.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Maybe it's Dave Chappelle, but I just really like the idea of a block party. Random Detail: Some guy with what looked like electrical tape over his mouth and noise protectors on his ears hung out the whole time, and never took off that getup. By the Way: Princess Music is about to start recording, so stay tuned.