Concert Reviews

Last night: School of Seven Bells - 09/24/10

With Active Child and DJ Peter Black
09.24.10 | Larimer Lounge, Denver

Peter Black kicked off the evening with an hour-long set of remixes he's done for various artists, including songs by Chris & Cosey, Blonde Redhead and Glasser. Black moved in time with the music and focused on manipulating the mixes; if you didn't know better, you'd think he was performing his own music from the way he put his personal stamp on the songs and made everything fit together extremely well. Black's choice of songs and the sequence in which he played them accentuated their sonic commonality and demonstrated a rare discernment of sounds and rhythm combined with an encyclopedic knowledge of music.

Active Child, a two-piece led by Pat Grossi, followed Black. For the first two songs, Grossi played a kind of electric harp that created some beautiful tones and added texture and physicality that grounded the atmospheres he and his bandmate created.

Grossi's falsetto, which is impressive, recalled Jimmy Sommerville's work with Bronksi Beat. And there was a kind of '80s synth-pop vibe to Active Child's sound, like a cross between Alphaville, Bronski Beat and New Order, but with modern sensibilities, as if Xiu Xiu were doing electro pop.

There was something uplifting and gloriously melodic about Active Child's set, and instead of seeming retro -- toward the end of the set, the duo performed a cover of "Ceremony," by New Order -- it brought that sound into the present and reinvented it for our own time in a way that gave the music a warm and soulful immediacy.

Playing with a live drummer, School of Seven Bells opened with ethereal atmospheres created between streaming, overdriven single notes on guitar echoing out and the shimmer of lightly struck cymbals. The band then kicked into what sounded like "Half Asleep."

The Deheza sisters sound beautifully harmonic on the band's albums, and it became clear early in the set that while Alejandra Deheza is more of the lead singer, without Claudia joining on choruses, the band's vocal sound wouldn't be nearly as strong.

The disarming warmth of Alejandra's voice grounded music that had already projected into distant horizons. There was a poignant honesty in the singing, but also in the words, that conveyed a delicacy of feeling and wisdom about the inner workings of the heart and mind.

The deep layers of sound pinned to the rhythm and wrapped around the vocals is obvious on the band's recordings, but getting to see how all of it came together live was even more impressive: Not only did already excellent songs like "Babylonia," "I L U," "Heart Is Strange" and "Bye Bye Bye" sound different live, but they seemed larger than life. The drummer really put himself avidly to the task of rendering the percussion with accuracy, but he also gave the music a further dimension of physicality that is difficult to convey on a recording.

Although School of Seven Bells didn't employ a lot of overt theater in its performance, there was an unmistakable sense that this band takes what it does very seriously and isn't interested in being a knockoff of its heroes. Before the encore, Alejandra told us that while she doesn't chat much, that doesn't mean she didn't appreciate us being there.

From the way the outfit threw themselves into their performance and the way Claudia Deheza seemed to quietly enjoy the enthusiasm of the crowd, that appreciation seemed obvious as they closed the show with what sounded like an alternate take on "My Cabal," sprucing up what was already a fine song.

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Bands that share an aesthetic with a past era without aspiring to be from that era are okay with me. Random Detail: Both guitarists in School of Seven Bells had Hagstrom guitars. By the Way: The crowd at this show was a lot more diverse in terms of gender, age and ethnicity than I ever expect at a rock show.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.