Live Review: The Slants with Tornado Alley, Valet Park This and Sofo

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Photo: Tom Murphy Valet Park This

The Slants w/Tornado Alley, Valet Park This and Sofo Monday, July 21, 2008 Lion’s Lair Better Than: Pretty much anything else Denver has going down on a quiet summer Monday.

Since I play in Tornado Alley any commentary seems entirely inappropriate.

Valet Park This, however, set the stage properly for the rest of the show with their unrestrained enthusiasm. They opened with “4869 A Romance to Die For” and showed that you can shamelessly and fearlessly hash together forms of music that, separately, could be grating or just loudly boring, and make them interesting and exciting by doing all of it in a way that flouts the convention of all of them.

Yes, there’s a lot of the new metal in their sound. Sure, there’s a good deal of that screamo that was the child of death metal. But a lot of the single-note guitar riffing is right out of punk rock and Katie, their singer – even though she looks like she could be a model for some gothic clothing line – is almost too convincing with her demonic, guttural vocalizations. She doesn’t just stick to that style of singing, though. She often sounds like a sassy teenager, nearly snarling lyrics with an enviable force. In other songs there was genuinely beautiful singing.

The band absolutely came off like cascading bursts of hellfire but few people make it seem more fun. They were a playful band that just happened to play heavy music—we don’t see that combination often. Maybe Anthrax in the mid-‘80s with “I’m the Man.” I think it was during “Tea Party Ellipses” that they used part of a See ‘N’ Say into the mic – something about Minnie Mouse and her pink dress. They closed with one of their best songs, “Say Nope to the Armless Pope.” Some woman heckled them lamely from a drunken corner, an uninspired comment about shopping at Hot Topic too, but these girls brushed it off like the surface nuisance it was. When you’re as badass as Valet Park This, the idiots aren’t worth your time.

Photo: Tom Murphy The Slants

The Slants hit the stage like a tsunami of new wave, synth-punk goodness. Their excellent album, Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts revealed a band that had mastered the art of writing catchy pop music utilizing creative electronic soundscaping mixed with more traditional instrumentation. Live, they were a forceful unit that rocked as much as they made you want to dance.

Singer Aron is a surprisingly commanding figure with a melodious voice that sounds as though he had honed it during his previous tenure in the punk underground. The guy has his moves down but none of it ever comes off contrived. Rather, it seems honed from having to deliver in front of people on the regular basis this band maintains during their extensive tour schedule.

The whole band was similarly impressive. Michael, aka Gaijin, played a Steinberger guitar of some sort and through his bank of processors and his amp, he was able to get a sound that was gritty and aggressive but atmospheric at the same time. Simon Young played a Fender Jaguar and was able to create tones and dynamics that some might have assumed to be a synth but in fact was just him playing more creatively than most bassists. The band wisely kept with an acoustic drum set and John, their drummer, played with keen accents on the rhythm that a lot of rock drummers don’t seem to understand as well. Jen Cho’s keytar and synth layers both uplifted the music as well as mixed in low end drones with bright, expansive sounds that gave all of the band’s songs rich atmospheres. Her backing vocals also added an element of dreaminess that truly gave the songs where they were present gilded edges.

Never displaying a dull moment, The Slants are easily one of the best bands I’ve ever seen doing this kind of thing. They reminded me a little bit of The Epoxies but they don’t parlay some kitschy science fiction thing in their songs, they just remind you that synth pop doesn’t have to be hopelessly retro and silly, it can be fun and have something to say.

Photo: Tom Murphy Sofo

Sofo didn’t play a long set but they sure weren’t the indie folk/pop band that I had thought they were going in. Instead, they sounded more like what Smashing Pumpkins would have become after their first two albums had they stopped whining so much and focused on finding a sound that could be heavy and emotive at the same time. Aron from The Slants pointed out to me that one of their songs sounded a bit like Gish-era Pumpkins.

I was especially impressed with how the band stacked together their sound so that all rhythms interlinked and complemented and augmented each other so that their songs were heady, muscular and melodic in a way that not many bands mining similar territory are. Kudos to Tom, their guitarist, for verbally kicking the heckler in the eye and stating how rude it is to be disrespectful of someone on the stage when it’s just as easy to leave if you don’t like what you’re seeing. I thought people who are into Braid, including myself, might like this band a lot. -- Tom Murphy

Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: I love a band that has the temerity to call themselves The Slants and have Asian-heritage band members. Random Detail: DJ Von Felt and Steve Mercer of The Skivies made it to the show. By the Way: Dave Cuthbert actually knows how to make the Lion’s Lair sound good. And The Slants will be back the weekend of September 12 to play at Nan Desu Kan.

This is the sixteenth 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.)

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