Last Night: Rachael Pollard at GlobGlobGlob

Rachael Pollard, Doo Crowder, Spoke Shaver, Rotaree, Temples
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Better than:
Not falling asleep at work, which I'm now certain to do tomorrow.

In military operations, planes often fly at low altitudes to avoid radar detection. If that's true in cliché form as well, then the show at GlobGlobGlob on Thursday night was so far under the radar, it was pretty much lying on the ground. And it may or may not have been passed out. Which is not to say that it wasn't a good show. But when your headliner is Denver's most unapologetically acoustic guitar-wielding singer-songwriter, you can't really expect balls-out shredding. And when the show takes place in a space that serves double duty as a living room, it starts to feel less like a show and more like the time toward the end of a friendly get-together when a few musicians start taking turns with someone's guitar, and everyone settles in. No stage antics, no packed bar, just twenty or so people hanging out on couches, listening to the music.

I showed up in time to catch Rotaree -- so named, I'm told, for a tremolo-like effect through which the banjoist ran her instrument. The mere presence of a banjo is enough to make a non-bluegrass band hard to classify; throw in accordion, trumpet and happily off-key female vocals, you get something like what riot grrl might sound like as interpreted by scurvy swabs, or perhaps the result of a jam sesh between Tom Waits and his eight-year-old neice. Rotaree closed with a Cat Stevens cover, and while the band was utterly unlike Stevens in sound, it was kin in spirit: earnest to the point of being almost irritating, but with an enthusiasm that can't help but be infectious.

Spoke Shaver was the only conventional rock and roll band at the show, and it seemed a little misplaced. But in spite of the problems -- the mix wasn't great, and the crowd was in irreversible chill-out mode -- Spoke Shaver did a good job with what it had. The band has a jangly, Modest Mouse kind of sound, but there were distinct moments of P.J. Harvey palm-muting, and at least one breakdown that was vintage Dio. And the band's keys do a nice job of filling out the jangle; the last song, a slow-burn build with washing synths and a music-box Rhodes line, would have put Isaac Brock to shame.

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Doo Crowder was up next, and I've yet to see him play to a crowd that didn't walk away impressed. Having performed over the last few years with his band Pee Pee, Crowder has been spending more time on stage on his own lately, doing a routine that involves loop pedals, beat-boxing, dancing and some rapping. The show is weird and a little retarded, and there's an element of innocent shamelessness to it, like a kid in a tutu performing a pageant for her parents. But it works, mostly because Crowder's songwriting is beautiful and brilliant, and his wide-eyed lyricism compliments the ADD performance.

It takes a lot to stand out from the acoustic guitar-playing masses, but Rachael Pollard does just that, with catchy songs just strange enough to capture the attention. While the timbre of her voice is all Laura Veirs, both in guitar playing and ebbing vocal cadence, Pollard recalls "Busload of Faith"-era Lou Reed, except for on-key. And while Reed's voice is a one-trick pony, Pollard's is affected, practiced and calculated; she uses it like an instrument.

Her stage persona is sweet and distracted, and this show was especially casual. She made mistakes, chattered aimlessly between songs, looked around for her capo, thought about what song she would play next. But she's about to go on tour. This show was as much a going-away party as a show, and people were there as much to hang out with her as to see her play.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: Way back in the day, I recorded an EP in the bedroom closet of a house where Rich from Spoke Shaver was living.
Random Detail: Believing his guitar to be cursed, Doo Crowder elected not to bring it, and borrowed Rachael Pollard's instead. Then he borrowed her capo. To play a Rachael Pollard cover.
By the way: Pollard's off to the west coast, but Crowder will be at Bar Bar with Yuzo Nieto tomorrow night, and Spoke Shaver is at the Meadowlark next Friday.

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