Wednesday night's gig at the hi-dive will be the last Nathan & Stephen show ever — really.
Unless, of course, it isn’t.
For Nathan McGarvey and Stephen Till, the decision to retire their indie-rock band Nathan & Stephen back around 2008 has looked less and less permanent with every show they’ve played. In the eleven years since breaking up, they’ve opened for Lucero, played at Red Rocks for the Illegal Pete’s Twentieth Anniversary show, and performed on CPR.
Now that the act has been broken up for more than twice as long as it was together, no one really seems to able to explain why a modest indie-rock band from fifteen years ago lives on.
“It’s pretty hilarious to think about the amount of shows or random things we’ve played over the years since breaking up,” says Till. “Without having written any new songs in that time, it’s still surprisingly fun to play. It’s surprising how cathartic the songs still are.
“We’re not trying to do anything other than let everything flow out, which is nice," he adds. "There’s no agenda. And it’s a great excuse to play music and hang out.”
“We really have legitimately thought that the last one was going to be the last one every time,” says McGarvey. “And when we played in the beginning after the breakup, we were like, ‘I wonder if this is going to be it?'"
With guitarist (and Stephen's brother) Matthew Till moving to Minnesota, their upcoming show on April 3 at the hi-dive is being treated as the final, truly last show.
Yet this isn’t even the first time a bandmember has moved away and effectively re-ended the band that was still technically broken up.
“It’s as official as it’s ever been,” says McGarvey. “But I moved to Nashville once, and we did a last show, and we still played after that. So there’s no real telling. Every one is the last one until there’s some other reason to do it.”
Since their first split, the band has actually grown in size. Originally an acoustic duo of Till playing and McGarvey singing, Nathan & Stephen had grown to a total of seven members by 2008, and has since added two more: Aside from McGarvey and Till, there's Till's wife, Leanor, and his brothers, Matthew and Jonathan, plus Dan Craig, Justin Croft, Rob Burleson and Phil Donovan.
“[Burleson] was not in the band when we first broke up, and now he’s by far our longest-term drummer, which is pretty hilarious,” says McGarvey. “It’s pretty weird. I honestly don’t get it, but it’s fun, so we keep showing up.”
For all McGarvey and Till's insistence that they aren’t sure why their indie-rock outfit continues to live on, the most likely answer is straightforward enough: This particular band has deep roots in a part of the Denver music scene that continues to thrive, and the group has actually improved its live show over the years.
McGarvey, the general manager of Sputnik, was once the manager next door at the hi-dive; Till remains an active musician around town with his band Niike.
Neither are as heavily embedded in the Denver music community as they once were, but as they continue to orbit the scene, reasons to come out of retirement keep popping up.
“Occasionally someone will ask us to play, and if the reason is interesting enough, we’ll do it,” says McGarvey. “Usually if one person is really behind it and wants to do it, it’s their responsibility to reach out to everybody and schedule it and figure everything out."
“With these shows, I think we play better than when we were an actual band,” says Till. “I think our gear has gotten better, and for being so many people in a band, we play with a lot more space now between instruments.
“We used to be like, ‘Turn everything up to eleven,’ so it’s funny to watch these songs evolve. I think having better gear and being more respectful of where parts are, it’s fun to hear them now, even though they’re the same songs.”
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Till adds, “We were all friends first, and we all stayed friends, so I think that’s why it has stayed easy to play these shows.”
Roughly twenty years since becoming friends, McGarvey and Till now have children old enough to appreciate and enjoy their fathers masquerading around as rock stars for a night. Though the band remains “broken up,” their shows have become something close to annual family reunions.
“We really do enjoy playing with each other, so I think there’s always an inkling of, ‘Ah, we could do this more often,’” says McGarvey. “But then we realize that it’s a nine-piece band, and we’re all super-busy, and we’re not going to do anything until anybody asks us to do another thing. We’re all pretty much on the same page of not being a band but playing every once in a while.”