Over the weekend: Here We Go Magic at Larimer Lounge

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Here We Go Magic, Vitamins and Achille Lauro
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Larimer Lounge
Better Than:
A straightforward interpretation of a band's album.

This show opened with Denver's own Vitamins. Since coming to the Mile High City from Greeley two years ago, it seems Vitamins have shed a bit of the sunny and innocent sound that characterized much of its earlier material. Instead of hurting the band, I think the outfit wears the darker, slightly grittier sound well. A decided power and drive went into the performance tonight, accented by Lizzy Allen's girlish voice. But instead of the whimsical girl of great songs like "Mitochondria," Allen sounded like she'd long since found her personal power and was comfortable using it. Ryan Ellison laid out deceptively simple bass lines that, along with Crawford Philleo's powerfully precise timekeeping, drove the first two thirds of the performance. The set was comprised entirely of post-Calliope material and a clear signal that Vitamins have plenty of greatness ahead.

Whenever I see Achille Lauro, I wonder how a band like that could have come out of Denver. The band follows no local trends I can identify and its music, at least since late last year, is incredibly polished, masterfully performed and still retains all the imagination, intelligence and emotional content that inspired it. From the incredible opening song, Lauro sounded like it was part Dark Side of the Moon and part Deserter's Songs with dashes of Gaucho and elements of dub. Without missing a beat, these guys once again wowed me with some of the most fully-realized, experimental pop since I last saw Mercury Rev and Lake Trout.

Having listened to the Here We Go Magic's self-titled album, I was not prepared for a live band that was just as good as the record but of an almost completely different sonic character. Instead of beautifully evoked dreamscapes of sound, it was a talented rock combo we got to see. Opening with "Everything's Big," Magic didn't relent with a series of expansive and fiery pop songs. Statuesque bassist Jennifer Turner and that giant man of a drummer, Peter Hale, proved themselves a dynamic anchor off which the other musicians could play without worrying about taking the songs too far off track. The best number of the night was the William Orbit circa Strange Cargo III inflected "Only Pieces." From a meditative opening, it took off to impressive heights of sonic adventure in the interplay between the two guitars and Kristin Lieberson's haunting keyboard work. Magic was clearly having a good time and treated us to an encore that began with a Chic-era Niles Rodgers disco take on "I Just Want To See You Underwater." It could have been a cheesy miscalculation but Here We Go Magic somehow made it work.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I'm a fan of ambitious pop music.
Random Detail: Crawford Philleo of Vitamins loaned Peter Hale of Here We Go Magic his cymbals -- Hale's were left behind in SLC.
By the Way: The album version of Here We Go Magic is a fascinating combination of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts-style world music, indie pop and drone rock.

-- Tom Murphy

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