Over the Weekend: Single File at Gothic

Single File, Epilogues, Set Forth, Frequent Sea
Friday, April 3
Gothic Theatre
Better than:
Celebrating Denver's native music scene at home alone.

An almost palpable sense of native pride seemed to float through the Gothic Theatre during Single File's CD release show Friday night. The feeling of homegrown accomplishment came through in the dense and diverse group of Single File fans, eager followers who've watched the group's mainstream successes grow during the past three years. It came in the three local acts that preceded the headliners, native groups who developed their sounds within the confines of the Denver scene. It came in the warm introductions from local radio DJs, addresses that spoke to the growing inertia of the city's burgeoning scene.

The reach of Denver's music output has progressed far beyond the city's own clubs and radio stations, and Friday's show hinted at this widening scope and influence. This Single File's show seemed to speak at future commercial conquests in store for local music. For the most part, all of the bands offered sets seemingly designed for airplay, music that sounded as if it were crafted to garner attention on a national scale. It was a dynamic that lent for its own strengths and weaknesses. The audience's enthusiastic response proved contagious. Likewise, the performers' impressive unbridled enthusiasm and energy made for some genuinely affecting moments. But the program also seemed weighed down by a definite lack of musical risk taking, slowed by a uniformity and simplicity that left one yearning for input from other corners of the city's musical community.

While the Freqent Sea's opening set failed to fully rouse the partial crowd, the band laid a solid foundation for the rest of the show. Performances of original tunes like "False Hope and Mixed Messages" and a cover of Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell" revealed a mixed bag of influences -- vocals that combined plaintive pleas and confrontational bravado seemed to summon Tool and Helmet, while moments of syncopated,  synthesized melodies recalled '70s arena bands and New Wave progenitors. It was a safe opening set, and though the band's performance revealed much room for improvement, the band had established a fair amount of audience involvement and engagement by the time it left the stage.

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Set Forth quickly picked up on the crowd's growing sense of involvement, as lead singer and keyboard player Steve Melton's poppy approach and the band's skill at laying down catchy, dynamic pop tunes drew rapid reactions from the audience. Songs like "Crazy" and "Starting Line" combined an odd assortment of pop music cues, aural ingredients that ranged from sweeping piano intros reminiscent of Journey's "Faithfully" to speedy, chromatic song structures that recalled Maroon 5. At its worst moments, the fusion of Melton's bright vocals and synthesized piano chords with guitarist Ryan Buller's choppy, distorted riffs became downright bizarre -- giving off faint aural whiffs of adult contemporary piano pop. But, the band's immediate connection to the audience was undeniable, and their skill at pulling off a solid, radio-friendly set was inescapable.

The Epilogues' set offered similar moments of engagement and dynamism, both in the band's set and in its stagecraft. With a setup that included red, white and blue lit panels and a ferocious smoke machine, the band infused the Gothic's small stage with a taste of arena theatrics. And the setup was apt for the epic feel of the Epilogues' set. Nathaniel Hammond's driving, poppy synth lines and Jeff Swoboda's punctuated drum lines drove Chris Heckman's ragged vocals, which brimmed with boastful bravado. The band's sound grew denser and more driving as the set progressed, and by the time they played "King Arthur," a speedy dance anthem informed by '80s club music, they had safely and thoroughly captured the audience.

If the crowd's enthusiasm grew steadily through the opening bands' sets, it reached a fevered pitch as Single File took the stage. As the band jumped into songs like "Girlfriends," "Airports" and "Miss Cherry Lipgloss" from the forthcoming Common Struggles album, an audible chorus of fans singing along marked the performances. Though the album enjoys its official release on Tuesday, the crowd's familiarity with the band's catalogue seemed to predate its committal to disc. Indeed, the overall mood during the band's set seemed congratulatory, as if the crowd was celebrating a victory for a home team.

Single File took the hometown adulation in stride, and worked an impressive amount of old-fashioned theatrics and showmanship into the performance. Buoyed by guest guitarist Jason Marcus, the trio's core members -- Sloan Anderson, Joe Ginsberg and Chris Depew -- seemed to revel in the attention from their native fan base, keeping up a consistent amount of energy and intensity. Indeed, the band's onstage commitment stayed constant and consistent during speedy songs like "Lipgloss" and more driving, pensive numbers like "Dear Meghan."

Like the bands that preceded them, Single File showed a special skill for playing to their fan base in a live setting, for providing an hour-plus worth of poppy, radio friendly anthems that immediately won the crowd. And the value of this talent was clear in the fan base - which ranged from teenagers to middle-aged parents wearing Common Struggles T-shirts. Sure, I could have used some representatives from Denver's other musical realms to help balance the commercialism of the evening. I could have used more augmented chords, drearier vocal musings and more extended solos, but that also would have defeated the purpose of the evening.

Denver's growing music scene is diverse enough to offer a varied menu of performers to the rest of the country and, indeed, the world. For every radio-friendly band that makes it big on the more commercial stations, there's a Yerkish or a DeVotchKa around to fill the other niches. Single File represent just one of Denver's multiple musical categories, and the outfit represents it with enthusiasm and energy. On Friday, the homegrown fans loved them for it.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: Sloan Anderson used a stand-up bass at one point, but the night saw largely a standard lineup of instruments (guitar, bass, drums, key). For a show that spanned almost three hours, I could have used a more diverse approach to instrumentation. Heck, throw in a violin or an oboe to mix things up.
Random Detail: The fact that a camera crew was on hand for the entire performance hints that the show may reappear in the form of a live CD or DVD.
By the way: Single File pulled off the chorus of whistles in the song "Girlfriends" without a hitch.

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