As visuals flashed, streamed, scrolled, blinked, increased in luminosity and otherwise conspired to reflect the jittery, glitchy, sometimes manic and always dynamic flow of sounds being produced by Mouse on Mars, Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner stood behind a bank of synths and other devices manipulating things. The two injected a visceral quality into the music with with their focused engagement in the constantly shifting soundscape. Tomas seemed the most physically active, occasionally taking off his glasses during certain parts of the set, as he moved with the beats as much as the people dancing in the crowd.
See also: - Jan St. Werner of Mouse on Mars on how there's no rules for behaving to his music - Blasting off with Jan St. Werner of Mouse on Mars - Ethan Converse of Flashlights on the bands early acclaim
Three screens provided the visuals with a larger screen in the background and one in front of both St. Werner and Toma. In some moments, it was like the clips were rendered with a 3D double line, with a two color effect on each of the lines, making for a kind of disorienting quality that made you think your eyes weren't working right for a few seconds. But this visual cognate of the music emphasized the way these guys use multiple layers of sound and rhythm. Often more than two types of electronic bass modulated in ways to change tone and texture and specific rhythms inside the beat.
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At the end of the set, St. Werner brought out a hand-cranked siren, and he fed that sound into the sampler; he and Toma used that as a launching off point into one of the best tracks of the night. The percussion sounded like a hollow, hard plastic item being struck rapidly by a small metal bar. Then a pounding, electronic beat accompanied it alongside a kind of thick, fuzzy sound that sounded like it was being put through a phaser to increase the effect as the tempo accelerated.
The pace reached an especially heady moment when the beat dropped out and a gorgeous, ethereal, soothing tone drew a gently melodic figure. That halcyon passage lasted what seemed like minutes but the beat dropped back in, and the song was over. The guys thanked us, and Werner, whether it was then or earlier, said it was very worth it to come to Denver. But the crowd wasn't done and the duo got back up for an encore with a syncopated, intermittent beat that evolved into something far more steady and driving.
Earlier in the evening, RUMTUM played a set, featuring John Hastings singing, playing guitar and two sets of electronic devices -- which he managed to pull off with an impressive level of confidence and aplomb. At times he would sing while manipulating the electronics with both hands, and then he'd go back into bringing in guitar. Sure, that's a matter of practice, but it does require being able to use your brain in an unconventional way.
Hastings's vocals were reminiscent of that of Travis Egedy from Pictureplane circa Dark Rift. The way he assembled the tracks, especially the electronic bass, had shades J Dilla and Flying Lotus. The guitar work was comprised of intricate yet breezy melodies that showed that this guy isn't just using the instrument to create simple sounds and give an added layer of the physical. Overall the set also recalled what High Places was doing when it transitioned between the early tropical pop sound to what it has done since but far more grounded in experimental hip-hop in the beats, dream pop in the melodies.
Flashlights had a new live line-up this show. Of course Ethan Converse was still on vocals, but Elliott Baker pitched in on the synth and beats. The set started off with a kind of just synth and R&B inflected vocals song that it looked like the band was using to gauge the levels for when the heavy bass frequencies came in later in the set starting with the dreamlike yet plaintive "New Hampshire."
By the third song in, it looked like some kinks had been worked out, and Converse was able to get back to his usual knack for being caught up in the music and he translated that energy to the audience even through the thick haze of fog that rolled off the stage. Halfway through the set, Flashlights performed a new song that sounded like a sonic translation of sunrise and sunset in the flow of sound.
Second to last, the band performed a song that really conveyed a sense of place near a large body of water -- an impression you got before Converse's lyrics made it clear that the narrative, as it were, was taking place near a lake. Flashlights closed with a song that had the heaviest, most driving bass of the set with ethereal synth melodies that, taken together, had the same kind of otherworldly but grounded quality that heard in pre-Technique period New Order.
Personal Bias: I've been into Mouse on Mars for a handful of years and feel fortunate to see the duo at a small show like this.
Random Detail: Ran into Charles Ballas of Gemini Trajectory and artist Whitney Stephens at the show.
By the Way: Vinyl 12-inches of Flashlights' So Close to Midnight were available at the show.
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