Live Review: UMS Day One, Baker District

UMS Day One Friday, August 1, 2008 The Baker District, Denver Better Than: Having to miss some of the best bands in Denver in spite of everything.

There were plenty of reasons for me not to go to this festival, but ultimately, it would mean having to miss out on some great shows and getting to see some friends doing what they love. So in brief, here are the bands I got to see and some capsule impressions:

Slight Harp, Skylark, 6:30 p.m. Slight Harp got snarled in some technical difficulties and only played two songs. Once it did get going, the group reminded me of a composite of Palace, Daniel Lanois and Tangerine Dream if those acts had gone for a more low tech sound during the '80s. The outfit's second number conjured images of driving on a moonless night and passing the occasional streetlight on an undeveloped stretch of road in the country. The gently plucked Telecaster helped to make it all sound like a post-rock music box, and all the sounds faded as though slowly taking off into the sky and becoming one with the stars.

Aenka, Skylark, 7:15 p.m. Hushed, introspective free jazz to open. Confident saxophone strides through fields of guitar loops and intermittent swooshes of percussion. Hectic rhythms in the second song with baritone sax staggering about in the dark like a soul coming to grips with its fusion with the logical mind. Becca Mhalek playing with knees crossed, left foot turned inward as though playing with the entire force of her being. Sketches of sound like Pollack taking up pointillist drawing. Escaping from the bustle of the city to a place of infinite horizons, barely free of the orange haze of civilization’s electric taint. It was all improv, and that’s what it sounded like to me.

Reverend Dead Eye, 3 Kings Tavern, 8 p.m. Apparently life on the road has tightened up the Rev’s skills because he played a tight, fiery set of his classics. He opened with “The Bible Thump” and got the crowd going with his snake handler fervor. He also played one of his best and most hilarious songs, “Jesus Knocking.” But when you see and hear him knocking on his Dobro, it’s obvious it’s not a joke and you’re not quite sure what’s going on with Dead Eye. Which is, of course, part of his appeal. He closed with an Appalachian-sounding song railing against the concept of worshipping worldly possessions as a god unto itself.

Bad Weather California, hi-dive, 9:30 p.m. Xandy Whitesel was wearing devil horns, which was funny because while he’s a wickedly good drummer, he’s not such a bad fellow. The band played a solid and impassioned set. Chris Adolf never disappoints me with how much energy and feeling he wields as the frontman. On the band's fourth song, Adam Baumeister unleashed some crazy delay, and for a moment, the band was like some psychedelic outfit. The fifth number was a kind of defiant death song that reminded me of some old Irish ballads, the likes of which New Model Army might have written or the Clancy Brothers might have performed. The song the followed had some interesting use of delay to make things sound a little tripped out like a dub reggae piece.

Overcasters, 3 Kings Tavern, 10:15 p.m. As per usual, the members of Overcasters brought more than just a band to the show, they brought an experience that included video projections created just for that performance. The band's music is deeply atmospheric, but in being so, it is electrifying even though some people seem to think anything that isn’t stripped bare is melancholic. There’s that flavoring in some of the songs too but these guys didn’t once sound sad so much as reflective. With Overcasters, Kurt Ottaway's voice isn't one of despair but of hope and positive self-examination. The group's final song had a section toward the end where the twin cyclone of guitar swirlings collided and sparked incandescently, while the gale force of Erin Tidwell’s beats combined with Jeremy Ziehe’s insistent, throbbing bass pushed the set to an end with beautifully hellish feedback from John Nichols’ amp.

Bad Luck City, 3 Kings Tavern, 11 p.m. These guys were in high form, too, and Dameon Merkl looked like he was having fun as he danced about and gestured like a carnival barker made good. The sight provided a sharp contrast to the luridly detailed and intensely passionate songs about ruination, perils to the soul and vicious murder. The act played some of its more well known songs like “Accident,” “The Girls of St. Magdalene’s Parish” and “Bones” and tapped Hailey Helmericks of Monofog for a wonderful duet of “Stealth.” Bad Luck's final number is probably one of the best songs the group has written to date: “The Blood Trail of McCulloch Gulch.” The second half of the song is some of the most hauntingly chilling music I’ve ever heard.

-- Tom Murphy

Personal Bias: A lot of these musicians are people I respect and admire. Random Detail: Some wag put up a sign at 3 Kings that said, “UMS Indie as Fuck.” How quaint. It’s not that I don’t get it or the spirit in which it was hung there, but come on. On the scale of cleverness it’s a four out of ten. By the Way: The festival organizers arranged a shuttle bus to go from Baker district to Herman’s Hideaway.

This is the twenty-seventh 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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