You would have been forgiven if you wandered into the Fillmore Auditorium last night and thought you been transported back in time 30 years. That’s not because the venue itself had changed a stitch of its absurdly ostentatious, silk-purse-from-a-sow’s-ear décor. Rather, it’s because both acts on last night’s bill are proud throwbacks to days of denim jackets and Dodge Darts. As evidenced by the wide ranges of ages represented in the crowd, this appealed both to folks who were there the first time around, as well as to those who were born ten – or even twenty – years after Styx released its first album.
Denver is turning into a punctual town when it comes to music, and that’s especially noticeable at high-dollar shows like this one. If you strolled into the auditorium-cum-high school gymnasium at five minutes past eight, you would have found opener Birds of Avalon already one song into its sizzling set. The North Carolina quintet brought serious rock credibility to its warm-up slot, playing a unique brand of rear-view-mirror rock that managed to marry the metallic thundering and soaring guitars of Iron Maiden to the pop sensibilities and tight songwriting of Boston. If you ever dug the Camaro rock of the Cherry Valence, you might have recognized sweethearts Cheetie Kumar and Paul Siler, whose dual lead guitar attack was undoubtedly the focus of last night’s impressive set. Credit also to Scott Nurkin for his metal-as-anything drum calisthenics and, of course, vocalist and tambourine tosser Craig Tilley for his powerful, soulful and – most remarkably – on-key histrionics. The only downer was the sound. I’m no audiophile, but it seemed to me that the mix had been tweaked so much to accentuate the vocals (no mean feat, granted) that everything else was left in a compressed and unsatisfying mid-range mush. The bass was hardly audible and the cymbals had no sizzle, which was a shame. I really look forward to catching these guys next time at a smaller venue.
After a short break, a sizeable crowd greeted the Raconteurs with screaming adoration. Jack White took the stage with undeniable rock star charisma, while his power pop partner-in-crime, Brendan Benson, appeared with slightly less swagger. Opening with the first track from the new album, the Raconteurs had the audience eating out of the palm of its hand. The yin and yang of White and Benson worked exceptionally well, with both frontmen showing off their guitar and vocal chops and sharing the spotlight magnanimously. But the Bonham-esque drumming of Patrick Keeler and the bluesy bass – and gorgeous harmonies – of Jack Lawrence were key to the band’s indie-rock-for-classic-rock-lovers set. Touring member Jack Watrous added flavor with tasty keys, violin, percussion and backing vocals. Even potential lows – like a slowed-down, bluesy take on “Store Bought Bones” – held the crowd’s attention, thanks largely to the whole group’s compelling stage presence. The outfit went out with a bang, with an encore that included the closing tracks from both albums. “Blue Veins” was given a bottleneck blues treatment, while “Carolina Drama” sprawled out across several minutes to include an audience sing-along and no shortage of, well, drama from White. The impact was stunning and satisfying.
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Personal Bias: I think Brendan Benson’s solo work and his contribution to the Raconteurs is criminally underappreciated.
Random Detail: Speaking of the above, at one point, I stood next to a macho dude who screamed “Jack!” throughout the night with the ardor of a teenaged girl, and booed and held up a thumbs-down whenever Benson sang. A friend informed me that man-crushes on Jack White are quite common. Personally, I don’t get it.
By the Way: Do yourself a favor and check out last week's Daytrotter session with Birds of Avalon.