Live Review: Yuzo Nieto and the Hand that Rocks the Dreidel, Oblio Duo, the Archers, Hunter Dragon and Fridge Magnet at Old Curtis St.

Yuzo Nieto and the Hand that Rocks the Dreidel, Oblio Duo, the Archers, Hunter Dragon and Fridge Magnet Friday, August 8, 2008 Old Curtis St. Better Than: Getting beer spattered on me at another show.

Unfortunately, by the time I made it to Old Curtis St., Tom Ventura (ex-bass player of Ghost Buffalo, formerly of Jagtown) and his band Army of Summer had already played, which is unfortunate: That act was literally a summer project and built just for two shows.

Oblio Duo and the Archers had been on tour earlier this summer and the band displayed remarkable confidence and fluidity during this set. For this show, it seemed as though Steve Lawson and Will Duncan were trading off lead vocal duties, which added a subtle layer of depth. For his part, Lawson played with a higher degree of verve and fire than I’ve seen in a while, and his guitar solos blazed along and intersected well with those of Bryce McPherson.

Although a good deal of what Oblio Duo plays is inflected with country sounds and styles, this band never puts it on like a pose. After many shouted requests, the band played “Colt .45,” a driving yet playful honky tonk from its Nuclear War EP that goes beyond drinking thematically -- no surprise coming from a group whose thoughtful lyrics often seem to be overlooked. The band closed its set with the Hank Williams-esque “If You Have to Ask Why.” The crowd clamored for an encore, but the members graciously exited the stage in order not to rob the following two bands of any time.

Hunter Dragon and Fridge Magnet seemed to be struggling with their gear set-up for the show, and that seemed to slip a bit into their performance. They opened with “Solid Gold,” and it was apparent that something was off: Hunter’s guitar was out of tune enough to notice, beats went awry and keyboard notes didn’t fit in with the rest of the music. Instead of throwing a tantrum, though, the two soldiered on through “Hobo Joe” and got the crowd to do finger snaps at the right times. “Oh No” was a bit ragged throughout, and even Hunter acknowledged at the end that it was a tough one to get through. But the pair managed to close the night with one of their most rousing songs, and the vocal harmonies were perfect, as was the percussion. Lesser acts would have bailed before then, but sometimes you have to try and pull out something good at the end just as this act did.

Before he took stage, I talked with Danny Shyman from Josephine and the Mousepeople and found out I’d seen all three of his bands in the same week by some quirk of fate. It’s just as well, because he’s in three great bands. On this night, he played acoustic with Yuzo Nieto & The Hand that Rocks the Dreidel, a five-piece featuring Yuzo Nieto (Pee Pee, Pink Hawks, Ouroboros) on lead vocals, saxophone, keyboards and acoustic guitar, a guy named Neil on upright bass and two percussionists, one of which was Avi Sherbill also from the Mousepeople.

Calling this an eclectic set would be a bit of an understatement. Even so, this outting was unified by Yuzo’s soulful vocals and the expressive playing style of Nieto and Shyman. Emotive and passionate passages of oddly melodic yet loosely structured jazz improvisation also graced a number of the songs performed. Although millenarian in lyrical content, “13th B’ak’tun” was reminiscent of some of the cooler moments of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s Dazzle Ships with its bouncy synth line. On “Gangster,” the band skewered police brutality and abuse, while “Love Isn’t Enough” punctured the idea that one’s life is completed by just one thing that some marketing type can give to you through one of their client’s products. Dreidel closed the show with a song half-jokingly dedicated to Mike Neff; it would’ve been something of a cheesy love ballad if not for the earnest vocal delivery and obtuse pop music you’d never hear on Top 40 radio.

-- Tom Murphy

Personal Bias: Yuzo Nieto always seems to be involved in interesting, worthwhile music. Random Detail: After Oblio’s fifth song, Will Duncan, by request, told an amusing, though entirely inappropriate, dirty joke about a frog. By the Way: Thanks to Shane Hartman of Black Lamb for not only always being cool but for letting me in as a guest.

This is the 35 in a series of what was supposed to be thirty consecutive shows that Tom Murphy (overachiever) planned on attending. His whole idea was 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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