Photo: Tom Murphy
Gata Negra and Hot Robots Sunday, July 20, 2008 Larimer Lounge, Denver Better Than: I thought relatively straight ahead guitar rock could sound. Unfortunately I made it to the Larimer Lounge fairly late due to practicing with my own band so I missed Only Thunder, Astra Moveo and Red Orange Yellow—all acts I’d recommend to almost anyone.
Gata Negra was a three-piece band including Whitney Rehr who plays bass in I’m A Boy but plays a left-handed Telecaster in this band. Rehr doesn’t just play that Telecaster, as with any guitar hero, or even burgeoning guitar hero, it’s an extension of her body and psyche. No lie, to me a lot of Gata Negra’s material was pretty straight forward guitar rock inspired by music that predates the ‘80s. But where this band parts company with other acts following that well-worn path is in writing a new version of it. At times they could sound punky and bluesy like The Gits and at others like The Pretenders but without the same level of desperation that band displayed on their first two records.
Ultimately they didn’t sound like they were trying to be another band. They did play like they really wanted to be The Who or Zeppelin or Jimi. But the musicianship was there. Rehr could probably solo with the best of them and sure did plenty of that across the band’s set but none of it was boring and it all fit in with the mood of the song—something a lot of guitar wizards seem to forget, all-too impressed with their own ability.
Rehr also seems to have intelligent, thoughtful lyrics that cut to the core of their subjects with incisiveness and sensitivity. The most impressive song of the set was “When I Was an Addict.” The title says it all but few have articulated the lies, self-betrayal and detachment from reality that is the life of an addict as well as she does in this song. Musically it was haunting and sweeping like the best material on Jeff Buckely’s Mystery White Boy. It was also a break from the sonic texture of the rest of the set and it sounded like a dream of times past and bordered on nostalgic except that it came off more like the narrator was looking honestly at a time of life that would be utterly alien had it not happened to her. I wasn’t as similarly affected by the entire set but it was a solid, strong performance all around, the rhythm section was flawless, and images of Tommy Bolin and Galaxie 500 flashed into my mind throughout.
Photo by Tom Murphy
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Hot Robots was a five-piece ensemble with the usual instrumental arrangement for rock and roll. They could rightly be called a power pop band since they had some killer hooks and melodies but rocked like Bruce Springsteen’s mightiest moments. Their singer had a powerful and forceful voice and presence and all the players were obviously skilled and had mastered these songs without working them to death.
They kept joking around in Liverpudlian accents to break the awkward moments and they brought good spirits to the show. A song I think was called “The Different Atmospheres” was one of the strongest of their performance and it reminded ever so slightly of late-era Replacements, specifically Pleased to Meet Me when that band had shed some of its shambolic vibe in favor of impassioned, yet well-crafted, guitar pop. These guys had a great deal of charisma and their songcraft was superb. -- Tom Murphy
Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: I’d been meaning to check out Hot Robots for months and finally got to. Random Detail: Jimmy from Hot Robots has a Hi-Watt amp. By the Way: Neither band has a record out and Hot Robots doesn’t even have recordings up to listen to on their website. Get to it, people!
This is the fifteenth in a series of thirty consecutive shows that Tom Murphy is planning on attending. His whole idea is to prove that there's cool stuff going on any night of the week in Denver, if you bother to make any effort whatsoever to find it. He suggested naming this series, "This Band Could Be Your Life," a fitting designation to be sure. Since there's already a similarly titled book, however, we opted to file these entries under Last Night's Show -- you know, to avoid being sued an all. (Sorry, Tom.)