Hot Congress Show 1 at Moe's Original Barbecue

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Hot Congress Show 1: The Jim Jims, Lil Slugger, The Pseudo Dates and Vitamins
Friday, January 30, 2009
Moe's Original Barbecue, Denver
Better Than:
A bill where a random group of bands is thrown together.

Opening this show was the Jim Jims. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it sure wasn't a good post-punk band that wasn't going for the whole faux-Gang of Four thing. The band's singer reminded me of Sam Mickens from the Dead Science, but instead of a falsetto, his singing was strong and edgy. The band's finely layered guitars and imaginative chording reminded me of Fiction-era Comsat Angels, and the angular leads coupled with rhythms to match reminded me a bit of Wire. I felt like I was watching the Wall of Voodoo part of Urgh! A Music War, because these guys were definitely not following any of the latest musical trends here or anywhere.

Lil Slugger was up next, with its usual array of odd equipment, including a car wheel on top of Eric's kick drum, along with that giant, metal megaphone-looking thing that Ben beats on for various songs and the plush kiwi bird doll that is the band's current mascot. Trying to describe the group's sound is a bit tricky, since it's obvious its members have spent a lot of time, consciously or otherwise, deconstructing rock music and learning obtuse tricks from bands like Chrome, Captain Beefheart and the weirder moments of Tom Waits' career. To some, the outfit probably sounded like a sonic train wreck hobbled together into some loosely structured songs. But inside it all, you can hear guitar work reminiscent of Jonathan Donahue-era Flaming Lips and unconventional melodies. Lil Slugger is a truly original and powerful live act that proved it with every song of this show.

With little fanfare, the Pseudo Dates opened its set with "Amateur Night at the Shooting Range," and pretty much didn't look back. The Pseudos have definitely gone in a grittier direction since the release of their debut EP, but with the addition of Taylor Evans-Rice on second guitar, the songs have more of an edge and the psychedelic leanings are easier to execute. There was a sparkly aggression and urgency to the performance that I'd seen the band move toward on previous occasions, but it emerged during this show fully formed. The set closed with the trippy yet fiery "I Don't Know But I Think That I Might."

Topping off the show was Vitamins, whose set began with a Lil Slugger cover. Since losing its original guitarist sometime in the middle of last year, Vitamins has more or less been on a kind of hiatus but the group seems to have bounced back admirably. This incarnation seems more focused, laying down dark grooves that somehow manage to never be gloomy. The band's former playfulness is still intact, but the set reminded me of that expression Jeremy Bentham coined: "deep play." Except instead of a foolhardy excursion, the players are taking chances with their music by reinventing it for themselves and coming up with an even more powerful expression of their collective creativity. This was one of the act's most gripping shows yet.

Personal Bias: I love all these bands.
Random Detail: Finding parking for this venue is not the easiest thing on a busy night, even though I happened to luck out and find something in front.
By the Way: Apparently it was '80s metal night at Moe's on the PA. Need we ever hear again the insipid strains of Dokken's "It's Not Love"? "New Thing," by Enuff Z'Nuff, was better by comparison.

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