Concert Reviews

Over the Weekend: Peña at the Rocket Room, Colorado Springs

Peña, Cougar Legs and Eyes Caught Fire
Saturday, April 18, 2009
The Rocket Room, Colorado Springs
Better Than:
Missing such a beautiful show due to Colorado's Jeckyl and Hyde weather.

Dave Kurtz and Joshua Trinidad opened the show as Cougar Legs, with the former performing arhythmic jazz percussion in masterful time with the latter's doleful trumpet playing. With the horn looped and drawn out with languorous delays, Trinidad harmonized with himself and manipulated the texture and tempo of the layers of sound he generated. The effect, coupled with Kurtz's strong yet finely syncopated performance, evoked dark, lounge music that could have served as an alternate soundtrack to the movie Blade Runner, had Vangelis been more into bebop than modern classical.

Band for band, the Colorado Springs underground scene has one of the densest pools of talent around, and Eyes Caught Fire is one of that small subset's shining stars. Kellie Palmblad's vocals often get compared to Bjork, because her phrasings and her delivery is similarly passionate. The quintet started its set with the blustery, yet haunting, "Like Monsters," and followed with "Alchemist's Error," transporting us to otherworldly regions of the mind, with Dustin Bingham's ascending, ethereal riff toward the end of the song while Lydia Brown's subtly distinct, sharp synth notes tumbled around like icicles resonating as they hit the floor.

For the song "Cops and Robbers," bassist Noah Winningham played expressively while also holding down the rhythm, augmented by drummer Joel Brown, who played almost counterpoint, explaining some of the band's intense and sweeping dynamism. The band closed with an especially affecting performance of "XOXO" and managed to surprise with the members collective talent and imagination once again.

Up next was Peña, an all-instrumental act somewhere between being a post-rock band, a jazz ensemble and an improvisational rock act. With a bevy of guitar tricks at its disposal, the band could easily have been nothing but a far better than average jam band, but its songwriting spoke of a more artistically ambitious vision. The set began with some light finger tapping on guitar that that escalated into a weighty, almost ominous number. It was a long, expansive piece punctuated by fiery passages of channeled aggression. Joshua Trinidad of Cougar Legs joined the band for a couple of songs and brought his hazy drones to fill in the lines drawn by Peña's interplay.

Instead of communicating ideas with words, Peña expressed them with moods, tempos, modes, textures and micro-harmonies. It was a bit like jazz-fusion without the wanky self-indulgence and cheesy musical ideas cluttering the composition. Each of the musicians also dug into his respective instruments rather than noodle away as though the rest of the world didn't exist. In this respect, this show displayed a band that wrote music in which everyone, the band included, could get lost in, eventually finding each other in the moments of transcendence that crested the best parts of each song.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I'm rather partial to the underground bands from Colorado Springs.
Random Detail: Aaron and Dave of Peña both play Fender Telecasters.
By the Way: All of Cougar Legs' sets are improvisational.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.