Fell, Astrophagus, Peña September 4, 2009 Larimer Lounge Better Than:Watching one of your friends squirt out a kid and get lame. Barely better.
More up-front bias from Columbia boy (that's me!). I like noisy shows in sparse bars. They remind me of the good ol' days at Mojo's some three blocks and a million miles from the frat bars downtown. Which means I couldn't wait to watch Fell decimate the Larimer Lounge on Friday, just like they had at The Skylark during UMS. I have some good news and some bad news, friends.
First the bad news: Fell absolutely sucked. At one point I just scribbled the word "barf" in my notes. To be fair, I'm pretty sure they had about as much fun as I did (which, just to be clear, was none). There were blown amps and all of two dozen audience members, which has to be disheartening for a CD release show. They played a fuck-it set that lasted maybe half an hour. It ended with a proverbial shrug.
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I wasn't particularly sympathetic, however. The new direction of the band makes me think they've taken to sitting around all day watching that gawdawful U2 movie and shooting each other with horse tranquilizers. This is a band that I've seen absolutely demolish people with glorious, relentless distortion and noise. Oh it was beautiful. They sent me soaring. Again, I couldn't wait to go to Friday's show. But now they've got this pretentious projection-screen effect going on, and I knew the ass-kicking I so desperately sought out of Fell wasn't coming the second they brought a stool onstage and started tuning a fucking acoustic guitar. Josh Wambeke actually played the thing during the set, so I stood there grimacing for a few minutes before heading to the bar. Sorry guys - I'm sure this new stuff means a lot to you. I hope it means a lot to a bunch of people who will buy your new album. It's just... you're not the Fell I fell for. And you have to grow. I understand that. It's not you. It's me.
Now, the good news: Astrophagus killed. Like I said, I was looking for big ass walls of sound, and that isn't exactly Astrophagus's bag. Doesn't matter. They were so good I was giddy out there, trying to figure out whether they remind me more of New Order (only on what Jason Cain called the new stuff) or what Radiohead might have been right after The Bends. I didn't get either of those things when I listened to the record, though I certainly enjoy it. What I'm saying is they have to be seen to be believed. If the apocalypse comes, I want Astrophagus to be my soundtrack when I emerge from the bomb shelter and set about hunter-gathering my way through nuclear winter.
They're also damn cool up there and seem extremely intelligent and kind, and they've got an awesome free jazz trumpet player. I guess what I'm saying is keep an eye on these guys. Peña opened for Astrophagus. They played five songs in an hour. They don't have a singer, but who cares about that when you can play your instruments like this band can? They were lush and dramatic and heady. They do have a very disinterested stage presence, which can make for some really vacant moments when you're halfway through a twenty-minute groove epic. Just to be clear, they aren't a jam band - post-rock is appropriate. It all feels a bit too much like a plateau not worth climbing to me, but they're very good at what they do.
Critic's Notebook: Personal Bias: See above. Random Detail: September 19: Astrophagus at the Hi-Dive. Again, that was September 19 at the Hi-Dive. Just sayin'. By The Way: I don't hate kids. I really don't.