Over the Weekend: Hot Congress at the Oriental

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Hot Congress Comp. 1 Release Party Achille Lauro, The Vitamins, Fissure Mystic, Action Packed Thrill Ride October 12, 2009 The Oriental Theater Better Than: A community garden, or most other team projects you can think of.

There is more than music to address here because Hot Congress is more than music. It is bands and beat poets and video artists and whatever else. It is a collective, and maybe the connotations therein are apt and maybe they are not. All I can say for sure is that Action Packed Thrill Ride's Mark Cawthray addressed the definition of Hot Congress like this: "We're just trying to get decent health care."

Towards the end of Saturday's show, they screened the first 13 installments of the Tangled: We Weave project. The project is collaboration between Seattle photographer Jennifer Brookes and Denver musician Eric Peterson. Brookes makes a thirty second stop motion movie of her photos each week and Peterson, separately and without seeing the photos, writes and records a thirty second song, which becomes the soundtrack.

The whole point of Hot Congress is to champion creativity in Denver, which is enough relevance to screen the thing. But the Tangled: We Weave project is also very much like Hot Congress in thesis. It is the combination of different artistic visions, and if the whole is not more interesting than the parts, it is at least reaching a wider audience. And I think Peterson, Brookes, and the founders of Hot Congress are of the opinion that sometimes fate or synergy or whatever works out and the sum is greater than the parts. For Tangled: We Weave, this is often true. Hot Congress is still working on getting the recipe just right, and Saturday's version had its share of disconnects.

The compilation Hot Congress was officially releasing Saturday night at the Oriental features ten bands and one beat poet, Ken Arkind, who played MC. He also performed a poem about Denver. It was similar to his poem about Los Angeles, which appears on the compilation, in that its general theme was: I love you because you're fucked up. If passion is honesty in art, then Arkind is George Washington in the orchard.

Arkind's contributions were not a disconnect from the music, however. Rather, his fine MC work and interlude made the thing feel like more of a collaboration. He was glue or bridges. What was a disconnect was the video art, which I failed to keep close enough track of to credit the creators, but I think it was at least two or three different artists. The Oriental seems like a perfect venue to screen video behind a band because there is a cinema-sized backdrop. The problem is that only one of the four bands (Action Packed Thrill Ride) got video accompaniment that did any sort of enhancement of the music, and two others got videos so unsettling or disturbing that the band was forced to compete for attention. With the exception of Achille Lauro, none of the bands put on their best show. Action Packed Thrill Ride could entertain most any given crowd even on its worst night - the group's new-look arrival in the promised land of rock and roll from the dusty trail of country lives up to the promise of their name. And the members visibly enjoy performance, laughing (gasp!) and flailing around up there -- which is nice because we don't see live music just to listen to the record really loud. Fissure Mystic and The Vitamins were the two with unlucky video art behind them. Fissure Mystic got graphic childbirth and black-and-white footage from the slaughterhouse and close-ups of ants doing violent things -- all of which is sort of nauseating when it's 25 feet tall. Fissure Mystic is a loud freaking band. At first, the onslaught of noise from frantic drums and throbbing guitars feels like what a friend once described as mental surfing. But the band wears you down after one five-minute-plus track after another. The music becomes aurally blinding, and I found myself having to close my eyes and move to the back of the venue to try and make sense of it. Or maybe I just needed to get away from the Godzilla-sized oozing vagina with a head coming out of it. The Vitamins are similarly loud. The resemblance is particularly prominent in the drums, where both bands go for broke pretty much constantly. The Vitamins have a wrinkle to add, however, which is a frontwoman who is much like Joanna Newsome half and octave lower and completely devoid of the arduous bookishness. And, of course, she has an actual rock and roll band with riffs and basslines and some actual up and down instead of a god damn harp.

Achille Lauro is a ridiculously good band. Listening to it is like having the volume turned down on everything else you've heard recently. The act's range of influence is so huge -- from '90s guitar rock to reggae to hip-hop to electronica to shameless chart-topper pop -- and it incorporates these disparate elements in a way that is both natural and unique. Achille Lauro is the rare sort of group whose artistic vision is completely uncompromising and matched only by its ability to make people dance. The outfit started off its set with technical difficulties and didn't even seem like it was completely satisfied with its performance (a grimace here, a sidelong glance there). Doesn't matter. It was jaw-dropping.

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I've been wearing out the comp in the past couple weeks. I was particularly excited about Action Packed Thrill Ride, who met my expectations. Achille Lauro obviously exceeded them. By The Way: The Oriental has many things going for it. It's in a cool part of town you don't normally find yourself in. The sound system is excellent. Every spot in the place has a good view of the stage. It is, however, the least intimate venue of its size in Denver. Random Detail: They were giving away comps, and none were left at the end of the night. This seems obvious, but you'd be surprised how hard some bands find it to give away their music. This bodes very well for Hot Congress, whether they simply limited supply or won a shitload of converts.

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