Last night was an evening of triumphant returns at the hi-dive. While Red Orange Yellow existed and played a few gigs years ago, the project disbanded and disappeared when drummer Devon Shirley went on tour with his former band, the Photo Atlas, and guitarist Holland Rock-Garden threw himself into his keyboard work with Machine Gun Blues.
Meanwhile, headliner Magic Cyclops had a tricky 2007. After breaking both of his wrists in a bizarre incident at a Dan Deacon show at the hi-dive, the Quad City Madman struggled with his inability to perform and even rebranded himself as Tragic Cyclops for a period. Last night, however, both acts forcefully reclaimed their past glory.
Red Orange Yellow’s set got off to an inauspicious start. The quartet sheepishly made its way onto the stage and each musician took his place while looking uncertainly at the others.
As soon as ROY launched into its first song, however, all that hesitation and insecurity was obliterated by the volume, aggression and intensity of the outfit’s largely instrumental compositions. While Kyle Gray thrashed and danced into his Moog, Nick Martin maintained a Kraftwerk-like stillness behind his digital gear. Meanwhile, Rock-Garden scraped, tapped and strummed his ax with shoegazing intensity. The resulting sounds ranged from lush atmospherics to gritty bass borborygmi.
The focal and musical centerpiece of Red Orange Yellow, however, was Shirley. He not only provided the rhythmic backbone of ROY’s songs, but also gave them much of their structure and cohesiveness, proving himself one of Denver’s most musical, athletic and graceful drummers. With hair flying and face contorting like the Muppets’ Animal, the young skinsman thundered away at center stage with energy, aggression and confidence.
Shirley, Gray and Martin all live together, and their chemistry and intuition were apparent in the way they navigated through complex compositions and recovered from a few missteps. Only Rock-Garden, who is the newest member of the group, seemed occasionally disengaged. He clearly needed to concentrate to keep up with the dynamic changes and difficulty of the music. Of course, he also played without a monitor, which made it nearly impossible for him to hear anyone other than himself onstage. Rock-Garden, however, is a first-rate musician with intriguingly enigmatic stage presence, so it will be fun to watch him develop within this context.
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Following ROY’s incendiary performance, the grimy punk-and-roll of Fort Collins’s Harvey Knuckles was a bit anticlimactic. The band was appropriately and convincingly disdainful of the audience, its take on barroom-brawl punk was delightfully sloppy, and the musicianship of the instrumentalists was consistently impressive. Most notably, the rhythm section of bassist Jason Cope and drummer Jon Motley performed some truly impressive feats. Unfortunately, frontman Stimy and guitarist Mike Wing lacked the necessary stage presence and charisma to keep the crowd fully engaged. However, the band wowed the lingering audience with a masterfully performed cover of Devo’s “Freedom of Choice,” presumably performed in tribute to unabashed Spud Boy, Magic Cyclops.
Celebrating the release of his Free Cowboy Hats EP, the comedian/musician who calls himself Magic Cyclops took the stage with his usual mix of ironic bravado and flashy ineptitude. Magic performed in front of a blue backdrop, dappled with cutout clouds and a sun, which reminded me of TV weather forecasts in the days before digital. Another member of the audience likened the set to a sketch from the ancient Denver kids’ show, Blinky’s Fun Club. Sporting his trademark Ferbrache fanny pack and Hulk Hogan headband, Magic performed most of the songs from his new digital-only release, including “Teen Pregnancy Don’t Do It” and the absurdly brief PSA, “Life the Anti-Drug”. Cyclops also dipped into his old standards, performing tunes like “Rainbow of Pain” with hilarious passion.
The Magic Cyclops show was far from a traditional rock performance. With iTunes as his only onstage instrument, Magic danced, leaped, mugged, played air guitar and debased himself in all sorts of unsavory ways, making most of the crowd laugh and dance along, even if they were slightly uncomfortable. Self-conscious hipsters and self-serious rockers will have to look elsewhere for great music or insightful lyrics. Seemingly inspired by equal parts Devo, The Young Ones and Milton Berle, the long-underwear-wearing Magic Cyclops came to have fun and get some laughs, even if some of them might be at his own expense, and that mission was certainly accomplished last night. At the show’s conclusion, Monofog’s Dave Yob exclaimed a ringing endorsement: “I can’t laugh anymore!” –- Eryc Eyl
Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: I’ll listen at least once to anything Devon Shirley tries. I’m also a sucker for anyone who, like Magic Cyclops, performs in his long johns. Random Detail: Though some folks dismiss Magic Cyclops as a joke act, numerous notable supporters were in attendance last night, including members of Sleeperhorse, Laylights, Machine Gun Blues, Monofog and more. By the Way: Make sure to catch Red Orange Yellow before they disband again. Keyboardist and composer Nick Martin will be moving to Japan this summer. And if you’re interested in picking up Magic Cyclops’s latest seven-song release, digital downloads can be purchased at his myspace page.