Live Review: Mustangs and Madras, Action Friend and the Inactivists at the Falcon

The Inactivists absurdity is equaled only by its musicianship. (photos by Tom Murphy).

Mustangs and Madras, Action Friend and the Inactivists Saturday, July 5, 2008 The Falcon Better Than: Most shows that have the nerve to call themselves “punk rock.”

The Inactivists were already playing by the time I made it to the Falcon. It looked like a new member was playing saxophone for the band, but otherwise, it was the same Inactivists you either love, hate or -- unfortunately likelier -- know nothing about. Thirty years ago, this outfit’s pastiche of punk, jazz and art rock would’ve been lumped in with acts like Devo and the Residents, with whom the group shares some artistic sensibilities, while its lyrics, which are so hilariously absurd, recall modern day Situationists having a good Dadaesque laugh at anyone taking them too seriously.

This performance, as with others, while amusing and potentially unnerving because none of the players looks like a musician is “supposed” to look, displayed each musician’s indisputable prowess on their chosen instrument -- like they know you can’t take the piss out of any artform too well if you can’t even hack the discipline. The set featured songs from across the band’s releases including “Punching Each Other,” which sounds for all the world like a demented version of “Money” by Pink Floyd, “The Octopi Occupy,” “United We Stand Still” and “I Hate Myself.”

Action Friend make the complex accessible.

Up next was Action Friend, who was in especially high form for this show. Although the band displayed its customary rapid, abrupt and seemingly perversely placed time signature changes, on at least two compositions, the guys figured out a way to make that sound good even to someone who isn’t as much into John Zorn-esque song structures or John McLaughlin’s dizzying shifts in tone. Having refined its sound to a far greater degree than the last time I caught one of its shows, Action Friend’s development has resulted in the best music the band has written to date. The third distinct song in particular masterfully incorporated Ennio Morricone guitar phrasings with Replacements-ish indie rock sections and Sonic Youth-inspired experimental rock choruses. Throughout its set, the outfit engaged in a good deal of spacey jazz and ended on what sounded like a futuristic spy movie theme.

Mustangs and Madras was sublime and transcendent.

Having seen Mustangs and Madras a number of times, I didn’t recognize any of the four songs in the band’s short set. But familiarity isn’t what makes for a memorable musical experience in my book, and these guys have never been one angstrom shy of heroically phenomenal. Emo has deservedly taking a drubbing by critics and music fans alike as of late. Still, there’s been some great music written under those auspices. Despite all the uninspired, musically bankrupt dreck that has come in its wake, a group like this comes along and raises the bar not just for emo but punk rock in general.

What this show made readily apparent is that these guys have been discovering even more ways to bring together rich, soul-stirring atmospheres and driving rock-and-roll. They take everything that was great about dream pop and about Fugazi-esque emo and produce thick, harrowing atmospheres infused with electrifying rhythms aimed at shattering any kind of emotional or spiritual paralysis going on inside you. Mustangs’ songs are as pure a music of release as you’re likely to find in Denver -- or anywhere else at the moment. Sure, the members have their roots in punk rock and specifically emo, but their sheer intensity and musical invention renders them one of the best experimental rock bands going, and frontman Nick Krier is among the most powerful, charismatic of that dying breed left.

The outfit closed its set with a song that started out as a deserty pop number of sorts, like a long lost early Mojave 3 track, but then burst into an incredibly compelling amalgam of intensity and dreaminess. It’s not often, if ever, that you can call a punk band’s music sublime and transcendent, but this performance embodied all of that. If more visceral bands were this good, the world would be a better place.

-- Tom Murphy

Personal Bias: Everyone seems to sound great and perform well at the Falcon. Random Detail: The sax player for the Inactivists had a Democracy Now t-shirt. By the Way: Too many Denver scenesters are always missing out on the bulk of the best bands on a disgustingly regular basis because of ignorance and snobbery.

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