Live Review: Tickle Me Pink at Cervantes'

Photo: Jon Solomon

See a slideshow of Sunday's show, plus other music and arts slideshows, at westword.com/slideshow.

Tickle Me Pink, Foxy Shazam, Scary Kids Scaring Kids, Finch Sunday, August 3, 2008 Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom Better than: Remembering a fallen friend with a quiet and staid ceremony.

It was the sight of fans in the front row breaking into tears that made the impact of the night hit home for Sean Kennedy. “I wasn’t even thinking of it until I saw two girls up front crying,” said Kennedy, lead singer and bass player for Tickle Me Pink, after the band’s appearance at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom Aug. 3. The show, which marked the Fort Collins-based band’s first Denver appearance since the release of their debut album, Madeline, stood as a more tragic milestone – it marked the outfit's first local performance since the untimely death of the band’s bass player, Johnny Schou, just over a month ago.

Tickle Me Pink’s set list, which drew almost entirely from the new album, seemed to commemorate the loss in a fashion that was both evocative and eerie. While the performance boasted speedy guitar solos from Steven Beck and Joey Barba, rapid rhythms and cymbal-heavy accompaniments from drummer Stefan Runstrom and Ronny James Dio-worthy spates of falsetto from Kennedy, a meditative undercurrent wove through the content of the set.

Photo: Jon Solomon
Joey Barba (second from left).

“So many of the lyrics apply to the current situation,” noted Barba, the former Brotherhood of Dae Han guitarist who's was enlisted to fill Schou’s spot last month. “There’s just a huge meaning.”

Lyrics for songs like “Lush Life,” which explores the perils of alcoholism with statements like “I’m going away” and “I’ll slowly drown” set a stark and somber mood for the night. Even more affecting was the title track from Madeline, a song that tells of a life cut short (“They found her body resting by the river/Oh I never said goodbye”). Kennedy prefaced the performance with an admission and a terse tribute.

“It’s actually really hard being here,” he said. “This goes out to any loved ones you might have lost. It goes out to Johnny.”

Photo: Jon Solomon

The significance and pure emotion of the performance was not lost on the crowd. Though Tickle Me Pink served as the opening band for headliners Foxy Shazam, Scary Kids Scaring Kids and Finch, the floor was packed for the band’s entire set.

“Tonight was amazing," said Kennedy. "It was a whole different emotion.”

For the band, which is in the midst of a touring cycle that will span well into next year, the empathetic response from the native crowd was both a bittersweet commemoration and a guidepost for the future.

Photo: Jon Solomon

“I felt like we had the same common purpose," said Kennedy. "They showed it tonight. We want to have that impact every night. When you have purpose in your music … it lasts longer.”

Photo: Jon Solomon

Considering the solemn tone of the show, the band still found space to revel in 1970s rock theatrics and make a tongue-in-cheek tribute to one of its influences. Beck and Barba stood back-to-back at the front of the stage for at least three solos, striking poses and high-fiving the crowd while picking out speedy melodic lines that recalled Randy Rhodes. Kennedy’s vocal style, which alternates neatly between a powerful tenor and a frenzied falsetto, lent the driving pace and high volume of the band a human immediacy.

Photo: Jon Solomon

The band’s performance of “I Believe In a Thing Called Love” by the Darkness proved a fitting finale. With Daisy from Foxy Shazam stepping in on bass, Kennedy had free reign to indulge in rock star exploits. Spitting water playfully into the crowd, hurling himself into the sea of supporting hands, singing directly to members of the audience – Kennedy’s link with the fans was clear. It was a connection that stretched to the band’s other members, musicians both present and absent.

“The fact that we can draw tears says a lot,” Barba remarked.

-- A.H. Goldstein

Personal Bias: The emotional significance of Tickle Me Pink’s performance subtracted from the impact of the show’s headliners. Random detail: Though Madeline has been out less than a month, the audience was filled with the band’s devotees who knew every lyric for every verse. By The Way: The band’s no-holds-barred rendition of “Typical” drew a massive response, which bodes well considering that the music video for the song will premiere on MTV 2 on Aug. 4.

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