Over the weekend: Cut Off Your Hands at the hi-dive

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Cut Off Your Hands
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Hi-Dive, Denver
Better Than:
Not seeing this band before they're playing bigger venues.

Cut Off Your Hands plays pretty straightforward pop rock. Just the same, frontman Nick Johnston displayed considerable amount of vigor, leaning into the mike and gyrating as though he were fronting a punk band. And his able vocals were bolstered by his bandmates, who all harmonized together beautifully, particularly on tracks like "Oh Girl," in which the players traded backing vocals, with drummer Brent Harris backing lead singer Nick Johnston during choruses, and the guitarists alternating verses. Hardly anyone approaches harmonies like that, and it really gave the song unexpected dimensions.

The band's guitar work was equally noteworthy. Both angular and sparklingly melodic, the guitar lines combined with the rhythms to create an unexpected force that gave each song a buoyant, dynamic feel. "You Still Love Me," from the band's Happy As Can Be EP, opened with a U2-esque riff, and the instrumentation swelled into a burst of emotion that contained all the tenderness and headiness to match the song's romantic lyrical overtones. The pace slowed considerably during "Nostalgia," but drummer Brent Harris kept up a colossal bit of percussion that was later aided by bassist Phil Hadfield, who frequently lunged down when particularly moving parts of the song struck him. Even though the song was far moodier than every other piece in the set, it had an intense, understated energy.

The head-long pop returned with "Let's Get Outta Here." The jangly guitar work and Robert Smith-ish vocals could easily ellicit comparisons to the Strokes among casual listeners, only this Auckland, New Zealand, quartet sidesteps the detached cool of that particular act. Overall, Cut Off Your Hands played with an engaging verve that carried over thoughout its entirely too short set, which closed with the fantastically fractured "Expectations."

Personal Bias: I can't think of a New Zealand band that I don't truly like.
Random Detail: Guitarist Michael Ramirez played what looked like a Fender Jazzmaster with all the lettering on the headstock sanded off.
By the Way: In most other towns, this band played bigger venues like Neumo's in Seattle and El Rey in Los Angeles, so I felt pretty lucky to have been able to see them at a small club like the hi-dive.

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