Almost literally straight off of a roughly sixteen-day of tour, Lust-Cats of the Gutters would have been excused for showing some of that fatigue in its set. But, instead, Alex Edgeworth and Robin Edwards played with the raw verve they always seem to be able to bring to each show. If anything, the tour seems to have honed the act's knack for making an unfettered expression of unfiltered emotions -- joy, frustration, desperation, affection -- seem like a necessary catharsis.
Starting off with "You're the One I Want," Thee Goochi Boiz played one of its most solid, together sets. Not that this band really aims for technical perfection so much as it plays its songs with a youthful exuberance like the early Ramones (or later Ramones, for that matter). The combination of vulnerability and bemused defiance has always set this group apart from yet another group of yobs who have discovered the joys of garage rock combined with punk's disregard for convention.
At the end of the set, the bandmembers debated among themselves about playing another song given there was ample time but decided not to. An admirable decision, not because it wouldn't have been a treat to see hear another song, but because too many bands succumb to that temptation.
If you talked to anyone who saw Shannon and the Clams the last couple of times the band played Denver, you only heard people talk about how great they were. Well, the rumors are true. The band's seemingly simple melodies were informed by an impressive musicianship all around. The drummer, for instance, knocked out an insistent tribal beat while also creating shimmering textures with snare and cymbals and numerous other percussive tricks - providing not just a rhythm for the songs, but also an ambience that a lot of drummers wouldn't try.
Cody Blanchard's upper-register croon served as an interesting counterpoint to Shannon Shaw's throaty vocals. But with Shaw, it went beyond that. Her power and versatility as a singer was impressive as she effortlessly created gutsy, gritty and sweet-sounding vocal lines with a rare ability to channel her passionate delivery in a conventionally musical, as well as emotional, way.
Shaw's voice is classically good but used in a way that makes you really feel these songs in a deep way. The band got a lot of people in the audience to dance, and you don't see much of that in Denver these days, so the Clams must have had something special in the mix. Was the music retro? Vintage? None of these considerations matter when the band is delivering music that is so lively and performed with conviction.
When the Punx took the stage, a guy with "Hunx" written across his chest in some kind of light red or pinkish stripes announced the show. Later, Robin Edwards pointed out this was Daniel Pitout from Vancouver, BC's noise-rock band Nü Sensae. Opening with "Hey Rocky," the band played for a bit before the real Hunx walked through the crowd to take the stage. And thus began one of the most amusing, fun and excellent shows to take place at the hi-dive in recent memory.
Before going into "Lover's Lane" and introducing the band, Hunx also warned us that if we were at the front of the stage, he'd probably knock over our drinks and that if he put his crotch in our faces not to touch him. And that now that the "rules" for this concert were established... "Just kidding," he declared. "There are no rules!" And with that Hunx put his feet on people's shoulders and waved his mid-section in people's faces playfully, and everyone seemed to take it as a fun part of the show, as they should (including yours truly).
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For "Cruising," Hunx put on a leather jacket that he took off at the end of the song, like he was also taking off his Al Pacino costume from the movie of more or less the same name. And all through the show, Hunx joked with the audience with goofy comments and hilarious wisecracks, and it was nice to see that people got it, even when he acted slightly put out and asked Xandy Whitesel to turn down the fog machine -- something the sound guy clearly had no control over. Before "Dream On," Hunx cautioned us that it was a four-part harmony and that it was the most ridiculous song ever. And it kind of was, but like all the band's songs, it had its playful charm.
At the end of the set, Hunx said he was going to tell us a joke that went something like, "Imagine you're in Hell and we're playing for the rest of your life..." The guy had his swagger and his banter down, and his natural charisma is undeniable. As for the band, the Punx were like Shannon and the Clams in terms of musicianship, which is why the songs worked so well. No surprise, as Shannon Shaw is also the bass player for this band.
Hunx and his Punx don't really do encores, but Hunx told us they would play one more song, the beloved "Good Kisser" -- a great way to end a remarkably entertaining show. This band brought an inspirational sense of fun and a willingness to go with whatever Hunx had in his performance bag of tricks.
Critic's Notebook: Personal Bias: Been a fan of Seth Bogart's stage antics for a while. Random Detail: Ran into the guys from the Conjugal Visits at the show. By the Way: Too Young to Be in Love is one of the best rock-and-roll albums of 2011 so far.