3OH!3, Meese, The Photo Atlas, The Pirate Signal Saturday, December 19, 2009 Fillmore Auditorium Better than: Sampling the diversity of Denver's homegrown musical styles at four different venues.
Anyone looking for an in-person illustration of the range of the Mile High city's musical output only had to look as far as the Fillmore stage on Saturday night, as 3OH!3, Meese, the Photo Atlas and the Pirate Signal delivered a varied and vibrant performance. All four acts seemed to play directly to the sold-out, all-ages crowd's contagious and overwhelming energy, tapping into the teeming crowd's contagious energy, offering up explosive vocals and dynamic instrumental stretches. This underlying energy helped make the mish-mash seem more cohesive: Frenetic hip-hop beats, frantic electronic grooves and furious dance-punk guitar riffs shared a single stage during the four-hour show, but somehow, the combination worked.
The Pirate Signal set a frenzied tone with an opening set featuring syncopated hip-hop beats from DJ AWhat! and insistent, urgent rhymes from frontman Yonnas. The effect was contagious - Yonnas used driving beats, funk-laced hooks and punctuated cries from DJ AWhat! as a canvas for his distinctive style, and the growing crowd responded favorably by pumping their fists along. The Pirate Signal's ability to engage the crowd for tunes like "Jiggle It" and "Bloodlines of That Gangsta Shit" was all the more impressive considering the band's early time slot. Much of the audience was still milling about the floor, vying for positions close to the stage, but they still seemed energized by the Pirate Signal's manic energy.
The Photo Atlas' following set couldn't have been more of a stylistic departure. In contrast to the Pirate Signal's frenzied hip-hop, the Photo Atlas offered its familiar brand of speedy dance-punk riffs. But the differences weren't as gaping as you might suspect. Both acts offered an infectious amount of pure performance energy - with the Photo Atlas' onstage appeal rooted squarely in frontman Alan Andrew cutting and anxious vocals. His infectious energy found a complement in the rhythm section of Mark Hawkins, Bill Threlkeld III and Nick Miles. With its up-tempo cadences and cutting tones, The Photo Atlas successfully kept up the energetic feel of the opening act.
It was the third homegrown Denver act that offered the biggest stylistic break of the night. As the penultimate performers, Meese delivered a much more mellow set. With bright guitar tones, poppy piano runs and clear tenor vocals, Meese ramped down the first two acts' insistent and urgent tone. But the injection of musical nuance into the evening's bill didn't appear to bore the crowd, which seemed to build up to more and more impressive numbers in anticipation of the headlining act. The teeming masses responded especially well to group's radio songs.
For all of Meese's success, though, the gathered throng seemed to get impatient for the main act as the set winded down. The anticipation was almost palpable when 3OH!3 finally took to the stage. While the audience had politely acknowledged the opening acts with applause and participation, they got downright crazed when Sean Foreman and Nathaniel Motte bounded onto the stage. The already packed crowd seemed to grow even denser as soon as the pair took to the stage and offered energetic versions of "Richman" and "I Can't Do It Alone." Fans responded by throwing up the group's hand gesture and swaying in time to the punctuated, electronic beats.
As Foreman and Motte leapt about from one corner of the stage to the other, tossed their heads in time to the music and exhorted the audience to wave their hands, everyone seemed to forgive their occasional miscues. The fans became even more hyped during "I'm Not Your Boyfriend" and "Say 'Dem Up." Foreman and Motte took time between numbers to deliver the requisite, "How are you guys feeling out there" cue, but their banter was far from formulaic, as the two thanked fans for their devotion, adding that this was "the best shows we've ever had are with you guys."
With that, the performance of "Still Around" played as a special tribute to the band's roots. Between high energy renditions of "Colorado Sunrise" and "Starstrukk," the pair offered a novel rendition of the slower, simplistic ballad. The audience didn't lose any steam with the mellower number, which Foreman noted hadn't been played live before, and waved cell phones and lighters in the air.
Like the band's onstage set pieces -- cardboard cutouts of snow-capped mountains -- their set served as a tribute to roots. As enthusiastic and energetic as the young crowd was for the performance, the duo seemed just as affected to have attracted such an impressive crowd for its homecoming.
In the end, 3OH!3's performance, like the trio of Denver bands that preceded them, played more like a celebration of native creativity than a large-scale, anonymous rock show. If you could somehow dismiss the clamor of the hundreds of fans in attendance, and forget the airy expanses of the Fillmore theater, it was easy to be transported back to the band's roots in a Boulder basement.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: With the pounding beats and manic energy of the Pirate Signal, the Photo Atlas and even 3OH!3, I took comfort in Meese's slower tempos and more nuanced instrumental work. Random Detail: The Photo Atlas' rhythm guitarist used a capo high on the neck for many tunes to coax a specifically airy tone from the instrument. By the Way: I thought I caught sight of the Fray's Isaac Slade in the wings during Meese's set.