By the time midnight rolled around on Friday night, the Bluebird was dark. A few stragglers stood by the doors. The marquee had already been changed for Saturday night. What had happened here was one of the strangest shows in recent memory, and not just because it was over at 11:30pm.
The bill featured three of Denver's most promising bands. They are not especially similar bands otherwise. And while you can make the case that there is a get-off-your-ass vibe that they share, they do it in markedly different ways and have very different fan bases.
Pictureplane kicked things off around 9pm. He played warm up for a crowd of 25 or 30 people, almost none of whom seemed to have any idea who he was. A group of kids who came for the Chain Gang snickered through his set, sarcastically whooping after each song and heckling him with increasing boldness.
In fairness, most of the early-comers were open minded enough to appreciate what a ridiculous talent they were watching, but it is still disorienting to see Pictureplane cast into the role of first-opener punching bag. He is, after all, the most nationally recognizable name on this bill, and most of his shows in Denver are jam-packed with fans who are more like believers, people who melt at his every knob twist and dance move. But those shows are at places like Rhinoceropolis, where he lives. And a relatively enormous venue by comparison like the Bluebird, featuring two Warped Tour veterans on top of the lineup, is simply not the sort of thing that draws his usual crowd.
Normally, Pictureplane sets are sloppy and brilliant, with Travis Egedy sparing no energy, pouring himself into his music and chopping his songs into glitchy jewels. On Friday, he might as well have been playing album cuts from Dark Rift. This isn't a bad thing, exactly -- the album is plenty daring on its own. It's just not the show Egedy would prefer to be playing.
Although all the time he's spent on the road lately has given his set real polish, and if this was your first time seeing him play, the set would have certainly seemed to be the A game. The Pirate Signal is a band that catches you off guard every time you see them. Yonnas Abraham and DJ A-What don't so much play songs as unleash them. Abraham thrashes around the stage, standing as close to the crowd as possible, eyes wide, demanding that people put their fucking hands UP! And people do because it is impossible to avoid getting caught up in moment.
A-What! pulls double-duty, playing hype man behind the wheels of steel. His echoed shouts, peppered into chaotic beats, make the two-man band sound like an army. They play every show like it has to be their best, like this is their shot, like whatever audience they have is the first and last one they'll ever have.
Asses were shaken and hearts were won, and it's no mean feat to get both of those.
The most remarkable thing about the Chain Gang of 1974's set was that it lasted barely more than half an hour because Kamtin Mohager was losing his voice. By way of a concession, Mohager and his band ended with a string of hits followed by a new song that has a really strong New Order vibe going on.
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If that wasn't enough to placate the crowd, which after all almost exclusively came for him, he offered Chain Gang t-shirts at no charge. His albums, of course, are free already.
Mohager has the look of a bona-fide rock star at this point. He's had plenty of success on his own, and staring down the 3OH!3 crowd as a member of their live band surely bolstered his swagger. The Chain Gang of 1974, playing at considerably less than full strength, was a bizarre contrast from The Pirate Signal -- hot then cold.
It seems clear that Mohager put this lineup together, picking his two openers based on bands he's played with before and liked. Pictureplane made a reference to their last show together, at the Marquis, where Egedy was booted from the stage. And Abraham mentioned their time together on the Warped Tour. So the connections are there.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Let's just say I'd have flipped this bill from top to bottom. By The Way: Where was everybody? The crowd barely filled the bottom two sections of the Bluebird.