BDRMPPL, State Bird, The Tanukis, Mad Happy April 6, 2008 Brooks Center Arts Better than: The last party you attended in a church basement.
A show at Brooks Center Arts is a truly unique experience. If you’re strictly accustomed to theater or arena shows with lights and smoke, you’ll feel a little out of your element. If you feel like you’re in a church basement, that’s because you are. If you feel like you’re in some kind of hippie artists’ commune, that’s because you are. But if you let any of that keep you away, you just might miss out on something special, like this weekend’s bizarrely entertaining extravaganza.
The folding chairs that filled the floor space set a pretty laid-back, slightly detached mood that didn’t favor the musicians and made it difficult for the open-minded audience to fully engage. The potluck food spread out on a table at the back of the room and the small children dancing and playing around the space only added to the bittersweet church basement vibe.
BDRMPPL didn’t let the bibles-and-bongwater ambiance stop them from confronting the gathering crowd with an abrasive, tribal set of experimental electronic madness. The duo of Nick Houde and Ryan (just Ryan) knelt on the floor in front of the stage, opened up a couple of battered suitcases, and set up their array of children’s toys, lo-tech gadgets, pedals and other electronic gizmos at the feet of the folks in the front row. While BDRMPPL’s far-from-traditional approach to music-making might have left some audience members longing for melodies or simply holding their hands over their ears, forceful dance beats and the two musicians obvious passion for their work kept everyone intrigued.
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Those who were longing for melodies, however, got a tasty fix from Ohio’s State Bird. Coby Hartzler and Jared Riblet pen gorgeous, slightly off-kilter pop anthems that tread ground that might be familiar to fans of Pavement or Modest Mouse, but perform them like 60s love children who were raised in a thrift store. While the touring incarnation of State Bird includes a bassist and drummer, the focus was undeniably on the charismatic, endearingly goofy stage presence, disarmingly huggable harmonies, and graceful multi-instrumentalism of Hartzler and Riblet. Simply put, the performance was a treat. Next time through Denver – which I hope will be very soon – State Bird could easily pack and delight a mainstream venue like hi-dive, Old Curtis, Lion’s Lair or Larimer Lounge.
Slightly more challenging, but no less entertaining, the Tanukis were next to take the Brooks Center’s makeshift stage. Centering on the astoundingly edgy vocals and angry piano dynamism of Era S – which might remind one of Joanna Newsom, Regina Spektor or even Amanda Palmer of Dresden Dolls – the trio’s dramatic songs pulled folks to the edges of their folding chairs with just the right mixture of honey and vinegar. Era’s voice is jaw-droppingly versatile, especially when she sings in her native Russian. Unfortunately, the band’s set ran about 20 minutes longer than it should have. A shorter performance would have left fewer ears ringing and more ears wanting more.
Next up was Florida’s Mad Happy, a duo who promised to be “crazy electro hip-hop rap.” While Mike iLL and Rivka spit enough syllables to stump the crowd who’d just been immersed in the Tanukis’ Russian world, it would be a stretch to call their R&B-inflected, positivity-laced sing/speaking “rapping.” Similarly, the pair’s backing tracks, which ambitiously combined elements of soul, funk, electro and pop, never quite jelled into the kind of groove you might call either electro or hip-hop, though it still had potential to get a party started. Unfortunately, that potential was undermined by Mad Happy’s uninspired and uninspiring stage presence. The two simply swayed back and forth onstage and looked into each other’s eyes like a latter-day Peaches & Herb. I’ll cut the pair some slack. After all, they were probably just plain tired from touring and unaccustomed to playing a venue as mellow as Brooks. All the same, if you’re going to perform with only a laptop and a couple of microphones, you’d better make the stage show “tight, energetic and emotionally charged,” as the act’s website promises. –- Eryc Eyl
Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: I’m getting really excited about what’s going around town in venues like Brooks and Rhinoceropolis, and at events like Duos. The spirit of experimentation – both artistic and social – is alive and well in Denver. Random Detail: Upstairs in the Brooks Center, I found a rack of free clothes and a dude with a sewing machine happily doing alterations on them. By the Way: Brooks Center Arts is managed and booked by Laura Goldhamer, whose intriguing performances include quirky songs and projections of her own unique animated films. You’ll find her performing at the Brooks Center’s Bizarre Bazaar on Saturday, April 12th. Check out the venue's myspace page for more info.