Mini Mansions is defined by comparisons. First, to Queens of the Stone Age, because Michael Shuman is a member of both. And while the two bands have little in common musically, it is interesting to think about what this has all been like for Shuman. Queens of the Stone Age headline festivals and get described as seminal, and Mini Mansions just played a show to a semi-engaged crowd of less than fifty at a barbecue restaurant/bowling alley. Not a trajectory most musicians dream about.
It's worth pointing out that Shuman has only been a member of QOTSA for three of the bands' thirteen years of existence, so it's safe to say that that band doesn't define him. It's also worth pointing out that, as barbecue restaurants go, Moe's is an excellent venue for live music.
It's still a sort of strange shape, with the stage tucked in the back, but the staff at Moe's have upgraded the sound system recently, and now the venue is capable of simultaneous flattening volume and discernible vocals. Which is good, because first opener Action Friend actually needed both this time.
How Action Friend works usually is: ridiculous technical ability employed in pretty much every musical style you can produce with a guitar, bass and drum set. The songs are schizophrenic, and changes in meter and tempo come at an ankle-breaking pace. In short: Action Friend makes a mockery of anyone trying to bob his head.
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At the request of the band, the Big XII Championship game was left on the stage's projector screen, which is where the Tostitos promo came from. The game was well into the fourth quarter as Action Friend took the stage, which means we all watched Oklahoma celebrate with this as our soundtrack.
It's tough to be an instrumental band. People always ask why you have no vocalist, no one can sing along and it's harder to gain a following. No more for Action Friend. Its penultimate song, "Hit Single," featured actual, factual singing from bassist Aaron. And no sudden changes. It was a joke -- the final song of the set was a dense, drawn-out return to form with about a dozen false endings. Still, "Hit Single"? Kind of a hit. And someone sang along to the final chorus, much to the delight of Aaron, who was happy to declare the moment a first in band history.
Wire Faces followed. The Fort Collins-based band is one of the least inscrutable on the Bocumast imprint, and they are a triumphant frenzy live. The crowd by the stage swelled to its largest of the evening. Shane Zweygardt plays drums like he has four arms, and he pulls double duty as lead singer. Wire Faces played a couple new songs at this show, and it doesn't sound like the band is planning to evolve its post-punk sound much. Not that we're complaining. Wire Faces ended its set with repeated appeals to the crowd to stick around for Mini Mansions. The majority listened, and this is where we get to the second comparison Mini Mansions is defined by: the Beatles. Particularly late Beatles and John Lennon's ensuing solo stuff. It's a very easy comparison to understand: Go listen for yourself. But there are a couple of problems. Comparing a band to the Beatles is like comparing a story to the Bible. They defined and redefined pop music as we know it, and you can imagine their heritage in almost every band that has ever written a verse and chorus. The comparison is more readily drawn with Mini Mansions because the way they sound like the Beatles is vocally. And, as members of Action Friend will surely tell you, people remember bands most vividly by their vocals. So if you sing harmonies nasally (as Mini Mansions do), it's very easy to throw you in the Beatles bin and be done with it.
And that's a shame, because the musicians in Mini Mansions are excellent in their own right. Their psychedelia is rarely aimless, and they allow an occasional exposed ugliness that delivers them from 60s revivalism.
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Personal Bias: After seeing them live, I appreciate all three of these bands more than I did before.
Random Detail: At the end of Action Friend's set, a drunk heckler responded to Aaron's banter with, "Ughhh...hrrrrrr. I'm a fuckin' pirate too."
By the Way: This is at least the third time Mini Mansions has played in Colorado, despite the fact that the band's only been in existence since 2009.