Saturday night was like the return of Denver’s lost sons. Former Denver residents Jonathan Byerley and Gann Matthews graced the Lion’s Lair stage, along with Blue Light. Meanwhile, in a whole other genre, Zach Brooks, who now lives in Portland, Oregon, brought his newest project to the Larimer Lounge. Across town, at the hi-dive, Mike Herrera – formerly of Blackout Pact – played with his latest band, Sleeper Horse. Maybe Tom Wolfe was wrong. You can go home again.
It could have been the holiday party vibe, or it might have been the fact that members of both bands work at the hi-dive, but last night’s show had the feel of a really good homecoming – one without the Red Lobster dinner and all that lame-ass king and queen bullshit. Members of several area bands, a number of local journalists and even one owner of a competing club were present, making the club feel like the place to be for the night.
Since Swayback dropped off last night’s hi-dive holiday bill with relatively short notice, only two bands remained to play, so the show started relatively late, with Sleeper Horse finally staggering onstage at about 11. Quickly becoming one of the hardest working outfits in town, the punky, poppy hardcore quartet played with a fearsome energy that belied the fact that this was their second show in three days. While co-frontmen Herrera and Josh Friedman were the obvious focal point, the rhythm section of Matt Clark and Ryan Kelly is the group’s real secret weapon. Kelly – who inexplicably brandished a plastic sword – thundered away intensely behind his kit while Clark bounced exuberantly, playing ringing chords and pummeling basslines with nearly automatic proficiency. Meanwhile, Herrera and Friedman traded crunching guitar parts and yowling, polyp-inducing vocals.
After only one song, members of Only Thunder – the band founded by former Blackout Pact-er Justin Hackl – leaped onto the hi-dive’s stage to distribute Jim Beam shots to their buddies, setting the tone for a raucous, whiskey-fueled romp. In its too-brief set, this brash foursome tread over a lot of rather well-worn ground, but did so with such obvious passion, commitment and enjoyment that the show was a joy to experience and whetted my appetite for more.
Unfortunately, headliner Kingdom of Magic’s set got off to a rough start. Technical difficulties that tested the audience’s patience and embarrassed bassist Joe Ramirez delayed the band’s start until nearly midnight. Sleeper Horse’s Clark saved the night by loaning his battered bass guitar to Ramirez. Once the trio had surmounted this obstacle, however, they proceeded to play with their characteristic ferocity. Ramirez, in particular, seemed fueled by his frustration as he flung hair and popped strings with frightening intensity. Drummer Devon Rogers, meanwhile, bruised his skins with beats ranging from fist-clenched slowness to artery-busting speed. Though Luke Fairchild takes on a more reserved persona for Kingdom than he does for the more frenetic Git Some, and he seemed a little worn out, his singing and guitar work still carried more might and menace than most frontmen can muster on their best nights. Kingdom of Magic has earned a reputation for sludgy metal that breaks bones with the slow tension of a vice rather than the rapid blows of a hammer, but Fairchild, Ramirez and Rogers played with a precision and proficiency that is often lacking among the stoner-rock legions. The trio only has a handful of songs in its repertoire – including the mind-blowing “On the Wings of the Mighty Manatee” and the seizure-inducing “Gravity Falcon” – but due to the sprawling nature of the compositions, Kingdom’s set stretched to about 35 minutes before crashing to a halt, leaving the weary crowd spent and satisfied. –- Eryc Eyl
Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: I recently professed my love in this paper for Kingdom of Magic. Check out this year’s “Moovers and Shakers” for a review of the band’s demo. Random Detail: After the show, Mike Herrera debated with Machine Gun Blues’ Aaron Collins over which of their bands could drink more. The jury is still out. By the Way: You can catch Kingdom of Magic again on January 4 at the 3 Kings Tavern, sharing a bill of metal mayhem with the recently-resurrected To Be Eaten.