Over the weekend: Trouble Andrew at the Bluebird

Trouble Andrew, Natural Selection, Boyhollow
Monday, May 25, 2009
Bluebird Theater
Better than:
Celebrating Memorial Day outside in the rain.

Talk about having the odds stacked against you. In addition to playing on a holiday, the acts at the Bluebird on Monday night had to compete with the Nuggets playoff game that was taking place at the Pepsi Center, as well as the steady downpour that turned the streets into miniature waterways for the majority of the evening. The effect of this trio of adverse elements was evident throughout the show. From Boyhollow's opening set, to local quintet Natural Selection's performance, to Trouble Andrew's headlining act, the crowd remained sparse and the energy stayed constrained. But despite these contrary conditions, the performers offered a collective enthusiasm and determination to put on a dynamic show. While the results tended to be hit or miss, the evening boasted some notable moments, including some solid deliveries by local artists.

When local DJ Boyhollow took to the stage, the audience in the Bluebird numbered less than twenty people. As Boyhollow played a varied set that included remixed takes on Nirvana's "Come As You Are," House of Pain's "Jump Around" and Yes' "Owner of a Lonely Heart," the small numbers failed to swell by any observable amount. Indeed, it was one of the slowest nights I've ever seen at the Bluebird, and Boyhollow's soundtrack of tweaked alt-rock, hip-hop and classic rock anthems only seemed to exacerbate the atmosphere. An effective DJ can only thrive in the right atmosphere, an ambience that usually includes a mass of people who are committed on some level to dancing and who have a taste for easily recognizable tunes. The piddling audience made Boyhollow's spins seem hollow, and the empty room made his soundtrack sound similarly vacant.

Luckily, the crowd filled in by a small amount by the time Natural Selection took the stage. The local quintet was the main attraction for me, as I had only had the chance to take in its sounds via its studio recording, Lasers in the Jungle. The album relies heavily on the energy and vim of vocalist Sam Glover and the full, varied sound of bassist Nick Jost in its fusion of funk, soul and techno textures. Monday's switch to a live setting proved a happy transition. Songs like "15 Up to Colfax" and "Down Elevator" drew on the fuller dynamic of a quintet, a configuration that included lush trumpet and saxophone accompaniments, as well as a live drum accompaniment to pre-recorded rhythm tracks.

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While the menu of songs seemed to share a similar sound, Natural Selection's instrumentation helped to more fully define the tunes' tones and themes. The compositional elements boasted some breadth, ranging from sinuous, funk-inspired horn lines to plodding bass lines pulled from vintage dance music. Still, the lack of strings in the ensemble subtracted somewhat from the overall effect. Even the presence of two capable horn players and Jost's rich rhythms on his five-string bass couldn't make up entirely for the lack of a guitar. Considering the band's existing musical vocabulary, such an addition could only make their songs stronger. Despite what seemed like a missing ingredient, the band easily provided the strongest and most approachable set of the evening.
Indeed, Trouble Andrew's performance seemed designed for a niche crowd, one much more specialized and specific. Unfortunately, I couldn't count myself among its target group. The band's odd fusion of theatrics and minimalist, techno-infused rhythms was heavily indebted to the melodrama and bravado of the Insane Clown Posse. The constant onstage presence of "Skull Dude," a silent band member toting an oversized, styrofoam skull mask, seemed an especially obvious cue to ICP's overblown example.

The onstage dramatics were combined with minimalist, staccato-infused songs like "Run Hide" and "Cha$e Money," tunes that drew from simplistic instrumentation (keytars abounded) and understated rhythm lines (drum machines abounded, too). It's an approach that seems to succeed best in a specific context -- namely, in a theater that's at least half-full. While the band's frontman Trevor Andrew joked about the size of the crowd ("Welcome to the most exclusive party you've ever been to," he announced at one point), the band couldn't fully shed the drag of an empty house. But it wasn't a test that Trouble Andrew faced alone. The poor attendance tested all three acts on Monday night, and in this case, the headliner didn't come out on top.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
"Down Elevator" is a personal favorite of mine, and Natural Selection did it justice in a live setting.
Random Detail: A leak in the Bluebird's roof lent for a large puddle on the second tier of the floor. Happily, the crowd was so minimal, no one had to get wet.
By the Way: Even though he wears a large skull mask, Trouble Andrew's "Skull Dude" has a pretty boring schtick. He pretty much just stands on the corner of the stage.

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