Nada Surf, Cold War Kids, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Silversun Pickups Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2008 Manifest Hope Art Gallery Better than: Hanging out in the industrial stretches of north Denver when the DNC is not in town.
By 6 p.m., the evening was quickly becoming frustrating, aggravating and enervating. As the sound check rang from the improvised stage off of Walnut and 30th streets Wednesday, Aug. 27, the growing crowd assembled for the Manifest Hope Art Gallery concert started grumbling.
The show was already 20 minutes late, and though the stage was within sight, the gatekeepers held the burgeoning audience at bay. “This is just disorganized,” one young girl noted as the steady chorus of “Check, check, check” came from the restricted area for what seemed like the fiftieth time.
I was not exempt from the shared aggravation. After battling traffic, after walking 15 city blocks and after receiving eight different answers from eight different people regarding my tickets, my patience was threadbare.
Happily, the program, when it finally started, proved a salve to the night’s initial pitfalls. After the gates finally opened at about 6:30 p.m., a consistently enjoyable set helped dissolve the frustration of the entry process. Free bottles of vitamin drinks also served to take the edge off.
The first set, which featured a stripped down configuration of Nada Surf, helped set a calming and relaxing tone for the rest of the show. Lead singer and guitarist Matthew Caws provided the sole stringed instrumentation on an acoustic six-string, while drummer Ira Elliot provided harmonies and a steady rhythmic banging on a wooden box between his legs.
The sparse versions of tunes like “Ice on the Wing,” “What is the Secret,” “Whose Authority” and “Always Love” lent the performance a degree of intimacy and immediacy that helped set the tone of the evening. Caws’ skill in maintaining deft rhythmic chord structures and soaring vocals made the two-man approach sound full, and also worked to obviate the frustration of waiting in line for hours.
Long Beach, Calif. Mayor Bob Foster introduced Cold War Kids, extolling the quartet as one of his cities finest cultural exports.
Guitarist Jonnie Russell’s dissonant, purposefully clumsy approach to melody voicing and melodies, combined with bassist Matt Maust’s pulsing, aggressive lines functioned as the canvas for Nathan Willet’s frenzied vocals. With his straightforward, pounding rhythms, drummer Matt Aveiro hammered out cadences that energized the growing crowd.
The Cold War Kids combined performances of well-known tunes like “Hang Me Up to Dry” with new material like “Mexican Dogs.” The combination of old and new, crowd favorites and experimental forays into distorted noise, raised the audience to its feet after the relatively soothing Nada Surf set.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah took the stage after a politically insistent introduction by San Francisco mayor and event organizer Gavin Newsom. The politico-turned-emcee urged the assembled crowd, composed largely of fans under 30, to resist apathy and vote in November.
It was a quick reminder, as Clap Your Hands wasted no time in starting their set marked by poppy beats and lead singer Alec Ounsworth’s nasally piercing lead vocals. While tunes like “Satan Said Dance” and “Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood” lacked some luster in their live incarnations compared to their recorded counterparts, the band made up for it in pure stage presence.
The band’s paean to the musical geeky giants of the past included traces of David Byrne and They Might Be Giants’ two Johns. Their energy and stage antics made up for the somewhat tepid performance.
Similarly, the Silversun Pickups’ set included more theatrical bravura than musical brilliance. The Los Angeles-based indie quartet touted a set composed of speedy guitars, straightforward bass lines and distorted tones, a formula that became wearisome a bit too quickly, even with musical input from a guest DJ. Still, the band helped maintain the recovered enthusiasm of the evening, and their set proved a fitting finale for the night.
The opening strain of frustration and anger would soon return, as I was turned away from the following VIP concert held at the gallery, a show that included Modest Mouse and Jenny Lewis. I trekked back to the car, past the throngs of delegates coming from the Pepsi Center, past the motorcades whizzing by on crowded downtown streets. At least the show itself proved a respite from the stress of this week.
Personal bias: I’m a sucker for acoustic sets, so Nada Surf’s minimalist performance made an especially pleasant impression.
Random detail: The forum was plastered with Obama posters, even as the audience was largely clad in campaign tees and other sartorial cues. One of the most eye-catching and most bizarre posters showed the Democratic candidate’s face photoshopped into Abraham Lincoln’s head. -- Adam Goldstein