Last Night's Show: These Are Powers at Rhinoceropolis

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These Are Powers, Extra Life, Bad Weather California, Zach Kahn, Masculine, Neon Knights
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Better Than:
A show that doesn't feature gratuitous nudity on the rooftop of the venue.

Ah, another chaotic night at Rhinoceropolis. The first of six groups to take the, uh, floor was The Masculine, a quartet of young lads from Denver currently working their way through the Big Book o' Post-Punk Sounds; last night they alternated mostly between Chapter 4: The Fall, and Chapter 19: Interpol. The group did better when it leaned more toward the former -- fuzzier, more aggressive -- than the latter, which the members were not yet confident enough to pull off. But switching around instruments and using a chair for auxiliary percussion kept the band from being too predictable. Here's hoping this not-as-hard-to-Google-as-you-might-think group decides on a direction soon.

Next up were the endlessly entertaining gentlemen of Bad Weather California, who sound like what you might think the Flaming Lips sound like if all you knew was that they were from Oklahoma and played psych rock. The band's jaunty, twangy weirdness was almost too sunny to make a good fit on this bill, but thankfully that didn't matter at all; the band drew a good crowd despite its early slot, and held its attention with intricate songs and frontman Chris Adolf's amusingly bizarre and oft-repeated clamoring for the rather mellow audience to "chill out."

In the opposite corner of the room, Zach Kahn of Painbow followed Bad Weather California with a short set of noise that included lots of samples, some tongue-in-cheek simple synth riffs, a bit of auxiliary percussion and enough random piercing feedback that I wondered if it was intentional. It was pretty rough around the edges, but as Kahn explained, Painbow, which had a spot on the bill, had just broken up, so his set was thrown together at the last minute. Given those circumstances, the ad-hoc feel of his set was understandable.

As if to compensate, New York's Extra Life, which followed Kahn, was well-rehearsed enough for ten bands. The band's rather theatrical aggro-prog, which features violin and that rarest of sights, a wind synth, in addition to its traditional vox/guitar/bass/drums instrumentation, snapped us all quickly to attention with its power and intricacy. The band blasts with the ferocity and ultraprecision of the best metal bands, and its songs utilize rhythms and time signatures complex enough to match the most highbrow of jazz or classical music. You know a band is going to be playing some serious shit when not only are two members (besides the drummer) sitting down, but the drummer is using sheet music as well. It was all maybe a bit nerdy for my taste, but there was no denying the talent, precision and unique vision on display.

When These Are Powers last came to Denver, it was a new band that had just released its first album, and it played a unique and compelling brand of murky, drone-y post-punk that probably could have been explored much further. In the year since, however, the band has released an EP and a second album, All Aboard Future, and has morphed into a completely different animal. Frontwoman Anna Barie has ditched her guitar in favor of electronics, and the band has embraced dance music -- albeit in the way that only a noise-rock band can.  

Last year, the band did a pretty good job of holding the crowd's attention, especially for an opening band; last night, despite sound troubles (Rhinoceropolis seems yet to have fully smoothed out its new PA), the band absolutely owned the room. Freeing Barie from the guitar has given her the physical freedom to become an unbelievably charismatic performer, and she danced and flailed around her lanky frame as much as she could in her small space. She practically mauled a photographer standing next to me (who loved it, by the way); she backed into me and pushed me back a few feet; she made some delightful banter between songs.  

And the music: Lots of avant-rock bands have embraced their dance sides lately, but These Are Powers has done so as well as any of them. The band's hypnotic beats drew equally from hip-hop and house, and when combined with Pat Noecker's now-screeching, now-belching bass guitar and Barie's now-deadpan, now-howling vocals, the result was mesmerizing. The band's new sound and phenomenal stage presence have it poised to join Animal Collective, Black Dice and Gang Gang Dance in the upper echelon of American avant-pop.

The completely thankless task of following the headliners fell to Windsor-based Neon Knights, a duo who also struggled with the PA and ultimately played a short set of serviceable Daft Punk impressions to the couple dozen people left. The music had a ways to go before graduating from mere imitation, but props to the group for sequencing the songs together, as in a DJ set, and for using a real, old-school vocoder. The group finished around 1:45, and then it was night-night time, at least for me.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
The tribal/dance/noise school of These Are Powers and the others I mentioned above is absolutely my favorite direction in music right now.
Random Detail: As I stood outside with some friends after Extra Life's set, somebody looked up at the roof and yelled, "Boobies!" And, yes, for some reason, a topless woman was standing on the rooftop, and she appeared and disappeared a few times in the space of a few minutes, staring down at us for a few seconds at a time. This was followed by a rooftop mooning, although in this case the bare flesh in question was definitely male. I have no idea what to make of this.
By The Way: Last night was Anna Barie's birthday.

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