Gravy Train!!!!, the Pseudo Dates, Triangle Forest and Agent Alejandro Wednesday, July 16, 2008 hi-dive Better Than: A straight-laced dance music show.
Triangle Forest had driven a thousand miles and made it to the hi-dive around 8:30 p.m., the time they were supposed to play. Normally when this happens, your set time is truncated, but no such trespasses were visited upon this electro rock band from Providence, Rhode Island. The outfit sounded like it could’ve written the score for a sequel to Electric Dreams. If Mose Giganticus doesn’t tour with these guys soon, someone should try to arrange that.
At any rate, nice low-end on the synths gave the electronic sound some warmth and depth that is often missing from this type of music. Flashes of Bronski Beat, early Erasure, early ‘80s ELO, Technique-era New Order and Air surfaced throughout the act’s set. Brendon Britton played a wicked keytar on the group’s fifth or sixth song, while his brother Benjamin played one of the best electronic drum kits I’ve yet seen or heard – a Roland V-Drum with a kick drum module. At first I had my doubts about the unit, but the members played with such emotional force it humanized all of their songs to the extent that even when the vocoder was engaged for the singing, the music never failed to come off as real and passionate. The final number reminded me of an old Corey Hart song (yes, “Sunglasses at Night”), and it was just as dark but with better vocals and more dangerous sounding than Hart and Howard Jones ever imagined.
Apparently some jerk in the crowd didn’t think the Pseudo Dates, who were up next, played enough dance music and felt the need to say so. The famous words of Steve Martin when he encountered a heckler kept coming to mind, “I remember my first beer.” Fact is, the Pseudeo Dates are probably the most danceable indie pop band for hundreds of miles around.
On this night, the rhythm section was strong and powerful throughout. Nathan Brazil has always been an impressive guitar player in terms of his songwriting but in various songs he was laying down some tastefully blazing guitar solos that came as pleasantly unexpected and never extended to the point of self-indulgence. Brazil’s and Suzi Allegra’s vocal harmonies were also top notch and delivered with the honest enthusiasm I’ve come to expect from this band. The outfit played a new song or two tonight that departed from its perfect pop format and explored more psychedelic, droney sonic territory reminiscent of the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s less dark moments.
On paper, Gravy Train!!!! is one of those acts that should really be a horrible train wreck of ill-advised performance art. And yet, somehow, it’s managed to remain one of the most good-spirited and fun dance bands in recent years. Is it electroclash? Sure. Indie pop? A little. Does it have some of that glorious gaudiness you see and hear at a Lords of Acid show? Absolutely. But this quartet makes every show a party with hyperactive, lyrically salacious music.
Despite all the fun, there is something of a subversive element to the whole deal – the songs are sex positive, queer friendly and against body shame, and the music is a celebration of being alive and being true to being a human being without unnecessary psychological baggage digging holes of neuroses into our psyches.
In the end, Gravy Train!!!!, the B-52s and Cramps of the electroclash scene were as artistically interesting as they were quirky and well-crafted and put on a liberating performance that encourages everyone to join in all the playfulness of the event.
-- Tom Murphy
Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: I’ve liked synth pop since the early ‘80s, when I was in middle school. Random Detail: Agent Alejandro of Slight Harp spun a variety of dance music, but I specifically remember “Deceptacon” by Le Tigre. By the Way: Triangle Forest has incredibly cool t-shirts and its album, Hostile Takeover, is excellent. The band is planning on releasing another before the year is over.
This is the tenth 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.)