Last Night: Evangelicals at the Hi-Dive

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Evangelicals, Holiday Shores, Candy Claws Monday, November 9 The Hi-Dive Better Than: (Sorry about this) The Broncos offense

Maybe it's a low blow, but Josh Jones of Evangelicals was responsible for tingling more spines than Brandon Marshall on Monday night, despite the fact that Marshall had an audience of approximately ten million and Jones had an audience of approximately fifty.

Blame the early start time (8 pm at the Hi-Dive? Were they trying to get people out in time for Bingo at Sputnik or something?) for the weak turnout. This might have devolved into a rant about Denver music fans for not coming to see the absurdly awesome Evangelicals, but even without numbers, this city continues to amaze: with the exception of one request for a song they'd already played, the crowd was engaged and supportive, enough to coax a rare encore from Norman, Oklahoma's best band (that's right, Flaming Lips fans).

Fort Collins' Candy Claws, who appear to be about 16, played soft and distant wearing their trademark double headlamps. They played sitting and gazing down, and if any member of the band moved, I was blinking at the time. Still, their music would be surprisingly excellent and inviting even if they weren't so fresh faced. It's easy to see why Holiday Shores are touring with Evangelicals. They've got a similar warm falsetto and starry keys anchored by prominent basslines. Hailing from Tallahassee, Florida, Holiday Shores' music is just a little ways off the island, handled by a half-dozen scensters staring out at the wrong end of the Atlantic. The band's frontman plays his keyboard on a big slab of plywood. He faces the other guitarist, who also mans a glockenspiel and an effects board. Both men spring to the music, the singer bending as though he can only hit certain notes when he is crouched at certain angles. The bassist stands to the side and hits the occasional harmony, and the drummer plays with a few screws loose on his set so that the bass drum hops off the stage a little and the hi-hat wobbles precariously on the band's satisfying freakouts. They're good, they'll get your head bobbing, but there's nothing especially memorable about Holiday Shores. There is plenty memorable about Evangelicals. Let's start with the stage setup: Two headless tape mannequins flank the band and light up purple. They bring their own lights - green and red floodlights and a strobe, with two white beams to backlight them when things get really climatic.

Guitarist and (now - he used to just play guitar) keyboardist Todd Jackson is the only one with long hair these days. He wore a t-shirt, a scarf, a vest, and jeans ripped so thoroughly at the knees you could see his white long johns underneath. He has Steven Tyler lips and a sharp, sunken facial structure. He plays his guitar with his head bent, jumping to accent the power chords and hopping around on his pedals to accommodate the band's many tonal colors.

Bassist Kyle Davis has a light switch glued to his instrument. It's always switched on. Pick your metaphor. He stands with his legs spread wide and knees bent slightly. His mouth rests on a sort of sneer and he rocks from one side to another, plucking out some of the most memorable bass lines in music. With his parts holding it together, the band departs on huge, strange musical tour through some sort of haunted circus.

Josh Jones leads them there, mincing around the stage in leather boots and wailing small town paranoia and disillusion and laughing manically and, finally, at the very end of the show, revealing his true colors as a beautiful singer, a modern day crooner of the highest order.

Evangelicals music is so many things: Epic, crushing guitar riffs and ghostly organ and jazzy breakdowns and head-splitting noise. They play it more like the record now than they have in the past, which is good news because the record is incredible. So the samples are there and the fun-house echoes and whatever else goes on in Jones' subconscious: all that comes out on stage.

The first song of the encore was a cover of Echo and the Bunnymen's "The Cutter," with Davis feeding the lyrics to a high-spirited but unprepared Jones. They were all smiling at that point, high on the sheer magnitude of the show they'd just played. Or maybe it was just the altitude and they were getting loopy. But there is power to this band - they'll end a song and you wonder if that really just happened. His band left him alone onstage and Jones performed that one last song, a leisurely, emotional rendition of "Stoned Again" about his summer selling Sno-cones in small town Oklahoma. If he hadn't stole your heart by then you don't have one.

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Evangelicals are now safely in my top five favorite live acts and top ten favorite currently recording bands. By The Way: Go, right now, stop whatever you are doing, and listen to "Skeleton Man." Play it as loud as possible, preferably into headphones, and make sure you are in a place where it's OK if your knees give out. Random Detail: Jackson shared with us an interesting little dream he had last night. He'd heard about our pot dispensaries and he dreamt he was at one. The lady asked him how much he'd like and he told her and she set before him the most beautiful weed, and he could not resist the urge to masturbate, right there in the dispensary. Then he saw the security camera and stopped. So yeah... there's that.

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