Denver Art Rock Collective Saturday, May 24, 2008 Toad Tavern Better than: The Des Moines Art Rock Collective.
The Denver Art Rock Collective, a group of diverse local bands not easily pigeonholed into safe categories or genres, presented a sampling of the five acts in their collective this past Saturday at The Toad Tavern. One twist: each band was encouraged to play a cover of a song from another D.A.R.C. band. Here's a rundown of the event, by by band, reviewed in capsule form.
Action Friend: "We sound like what would have happened if Frank Zappa had created ring tones." That's how guitarist Jeremy McLean described Action Friend's eclectic mix of modalities. This description is pretty spot on, considering that every Action Friend song is really about eight songs in one. The kilt-wearing McLean, with drummer Paul Alexander and the bassist known only as Holtz, took their audience on a careening, genre-hopping journey that brazenly defied simple categorization. The outfit opened with "Plus Size Model," which, like all the songs that followed, was the closest to what most people would describe as art-rock -- i.e., distorted guitars that give way to valleys of jazz-inspired dreaminess, then go on to something completely different.
Amphibious Jones: With an emphasis on the "rock" aspect of the term "art rock," Amphibious Jones was the most cohesive act of the night. Barefoot and screaming, lead singer Jimmy Curtis the group through an urgent set of feedback-drenched buzz that recalled '70s post-punk acts like Television and Gang of Four. Amphibious Jones's restrained fury instigated a mosh pit during "Lament," a treatise on global warming. The bespectacled Curtis evoked Elvis Costello in his younger, angry years, with a stripped-down, jangly pop sensibility, and no fear of ad-libbing impromptu lyrics. Sadly, Curtis announced the impending departure of the rhythm section, but promised to continue on with co-guitarist Chad Duvall.
The Inactivists: Scott Livingston is a genius. When he appeared onstage with his bright-pink Hello Kitty guitar and rainbow suspenders, it was impossible not to smirk. After opening with their track, "Open Road," the hilarity ensued as Livingston and his band played not one, but six covers from the bands appearing on that night's bill. The other bands' members gathered in front of the stage and howled with laughter as Livingston cranked out his comic versions of their songs. Amphibious Jones's "Lament" was reborn as a Tejano song, complete with accordion. The New Ancient Astronauts' tune "Mergatroid" carried the Inactivists' trademark nerd-rock humor, complete with theremin solo.
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New Ancient Astronauts: The Astronauts played a set of science fiction metal, heavy as an asteroid, and embedded with existential lyrical themes. Fittingly, mist from a fog machine enveloped the stage as lead singer Aaron Schilling switched between guitar and saxophone, while the rest of the band pounded away on early Pink Floydian space rock. "Monkeys In Outer Space" lamented humanity's abuse from a celestial perspective.
Yerkish: These monkey-lovers opened with their new song "When Glaciers..." The 26/8 time signature of the song seemed to pose no challenge for these progressive rockers. With equal aplomb, lead singer Tim Kaminski took the menu handed to him from the crowd and sang the appetizer offerings. It worked. On a makeshift screen, the band showed their homemade, chimp-centric video. Guitarist Nate Huisgen produced extraterrestrial jungle noises from his wide array of effects, while the crowd chanted along with the angry chorus "Keep Your Eyes Closed." During "Stasis," their last song, Kaminski worked himself into a frenzy and knocked out the microphone cord, which served as a fitting end to the evening.
-- Kevin Galaba
Personal Bias: Any band with a theremin player. Random Detail: The New Ancient Astronauts have somehow turned the 1975 movie Jaws into a drinking game. By the way: There are three people named Steve Mercer in the D.A.R.C.