Over the weekend: Damon and Naomi at the hi-dive

A Hawk and a Hacksaw, The Hand That Rocks the Dreidel and Damon and Naomi
Friday, October 16, 2009
Better Than:
Having to see the out of town bands at a bigger venue.

The Hand That Rocks the Dreidel, a four-piece this time out including two drummers -- one with a more traditional, albeit minimal, set and the other with three conga drums of various tones -- kicked this show off. With upright bass giving the music a smooth low-end and Yuzo Nieto's inspired saxophone work and resonant, soulful vocals, the band played what sounded like a combination of Afro-Cuban jazz and Mexican folk music with a hint of off-the-beaten-path rock.

Up next was Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang who played a spare set comprising an acoustic guitar and keyboard. As with all of the duo's musical ventures, Krukowski and Yang have made the bare minimum go a long way in terms of the emotional impact, allowing the emphasis to fall on the strength of the songwriting rather than bombastic gimmicks. Opening with a cover of Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren," Damon and Naomi exuded a quiet intensity of feeling that continued through the final song.

Throughout the set, Krukowski displayed an impressive sensitivity to understated dynamics and voicings that made even the most minimal of passages rich with subtle textures. Yang's spectral keyboard work served as the sonic spirit of the music, augmenting the beautifully ethereal character of her voice. Krukowski's own singing was passionate without distorting his voice or ever coming across as overwrought. After a short set that included "Lilac Land," "New York City," and "I'm Yours," the duo closed with a hushed and dreamy take on a Leonard Cohen classic, "Bird on a Wire." It's rare that you would call a band's music graceful, but that was a salient trait of this performance--tasteful yet powerfully and emotionally honest.

A Hawk and a Hacksaw closed the night with some rustic, eccentric Americana/Eastern European-inflected music. The band played with such a sense of fun it would have been easy to ignore the blazing talents of its individual players. Violinist Heather Trost phenomenal, playing her violin with the same flair as the star lead guitarist would in a rock band. She also played an odd instrument that was like a violin but had a horn coming out of it like the bell of a trumpet and a spool of wire she would pull upon to make fascinatingly eerie sounds. Never a dull moment in the set, this band is clearly doing this music right.

Damon and Naomi have written some of my favorite music of all time.
RANDOM DETAIL: Krukowski and Yang had never been to Denver before with this project and only once before in another, presumably Galaxie 500 or Magic Hour.
BY THE WAY: Off stage, Damon and Naomi are as gracious, humble and friendly as they appeared to be on stage.

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